Sunday, December 31, 2017

Srirangam Venkatesa Bhavan

77 year old 'Joint Family' restaurant on Therku Vaasal serves the best ‘afternoon tiffin and snacks’ in Srirangam
Akkara Vadisal on Thursday, Kesari on Saturday and Bun Halwa on Sunday 
            Brothers Ranganathan and Anantharaman

A small almost unnoticed 'Palakkad Iyers' Joint Family run Vegetarian Restaurant on Therku Vaasal, opposite the ‘Ranga Ranga’ Gopuram in Srirangam is one of the best eateries, one that has served high quality homely tiffin and snacks for over 75 years.

72 year old Ranganathan Iyer hails from Palakkad. The 1930s had been a financially terrible period for the family and his father, the then 17 year old Venkatraman moved to Srirangam in 1940 in search of a job that could strengthen the finances of the family.

He found a job in a hotel opposite the police station in Srirangam near the bus stand. Within 6 months, seeing the quality of the food served there, a few residents of the temple town suggested to him to start his own eatery and helped him with a place right next to the Ranga Ranga Gopuram on South Uthira Street. It was a very small shop with an overhead thatched roof. 

Theirs was a large family of 9 members and this was intended to lessen the financial burden.They had to pay a rent of Rs. 50 in the 1940s that went up to Rs. 500 by the early 60s.

A full meal at 4annas
In the initial decades, the shop was open from 6am to 10pm serving Idly, Dosai, Pakoda, Kaara Sev, Bhajji and coffee. An idly was sold at half an anna, dosai at 3/4 anna and the sweet savories at half an anna each. Coffee cost one anna while the most expensive was the ‘limited meals’ at 4 annas.

Ranganathan Iyer looks back at life during his schooling days in the 1950s ‘I never had a ‘slipper’ to wear. I would use the same trouser for months. My mother had to auction her wedding jewellery to fund my SSLC examination fees, such was the state of our family in those decades.’

The residents of Srirangam were delighted at these new entrants and enjoyed the high quality of the food served by the Palakkad Iyers. As the family members were involved in the day to day running of the restaurant, the staffing expense was minimal and they have been able to price it economical right from the beginning. And that has remained a big differentiating factor at Venkatesa Bhavan, named after Ranganathan's grand father.

However, they received a jolt. In 1960, two decades after its launch, the Ranganathaswamy temple served a notice on them to vacate the place and they lost the battle.

Soon, Venkatesa Bhavan moved on to Therku Veethi, a hundred yards from the Ranga Ranga Gopuram. They bought out the place in 1972.
Ranganathan Iyer joined his father in 1963 at the age of 18 and he has been there every day since. His elder brothers Ananatharaman Iyer and (late) Ramani Iyer too joined him.

Sweet Specialities
At this new location, they provided a daily 'sweet' special that has been now been a favourite of his guests for close to 50 years.

The specialities include Sevai, Jeera Boli, Akkara Vadisal, Rava Laadu, Bun Halwa and Kesari. There are five decade old regulars who make it every day to this restaurant that serves home like snacks and tiffin.

With the next gen moving away to more lucrative jobs, Venkatesa Bhavan shortened the timings a few years ago and now serves only between 2pm and 5pm each day. And much to the disappointment of the visitors, on most days they run out of stocks within a couple of hours such has been the customer loyalty at the restaurant.  

The Ever Smiling Selvam
Anantharaman and Ranganathan take care of the Kitchen while Ramani’s son Selvam Iyer engages with the guests. Rarely does he ask his guests and serves the days specials in the order he thinks would best suit them. Even the number of idlies and dosais served to a guest are decided by Selvam, such is his friendly nature. And the customers quietly enjoy his servings.   

Many restaurants have sprung up around the temple in recent times but the loyal guests of Venkatesa Bhavan restrict their entry to this over seven decade old eatery.

Venkatesa Bhavan is located at 75 Therku Vaasal. They can be reached on 78711 24430 / 97518 06262

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