Chennai’s Margazhi Sabha Canteens: where to go, what to eat?

Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha

Every family member of the legendary caterer, late ‘Arusuvai’ Arasu Natarajan is present at Parthasarathy Swami Sabha in Bheema Sena Garden Street through the month of Margazhi says Soumya Ramesh, daughter of Arusuvai Natarajan. After a decade ­long break, Soumya and her family launched into the December canteen scene last year.

“This year we are serving Andhra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu­ style meals for lunch with one sweet and two types of payasams,” says Kamesh Narayanan, part of the third generation of the family. “Coffee will be served through the day and we have set up a sales counter for sweets and savouries this year,” adds N Revathy, another daughter of Arusuvai Natarajan.

The Thanga Thambalam Fest by Arusuvai Arasu Catering Services at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

While lunch is served pandhi style with customers seated in rows, the tiffin service at 4pm is served in a restaurant-­like set up. The highlight is their vada, dosa, idli, sevai, kuzhipaniyarams, adai and nombu adai served hot with a piping cup of filter coffee. The coffee, which is strong and heady, is a special blend created for the season.

Must try: Nombu adai served with white butter, payasam made with jaggery, filter coffee

@Arusuvai Arasu Catering Services, Vidya Bharti Kalyana Mandapam, Royapettah. Lunch is ₹550 between 11am and 3pm. Breakfast is on from 7am to 10am and dinner is from 6pm to 10pm. Call 9962151204 for details. On till January 3

Narada Gana Sabha

K Ramesh of Sri Saasthalaya catering services is busy serving the guests at Narada Gana Sabha and has just enough time for a quick chat. Since last year, he has been serving mini meals for lunch with three types of rice, a vegetable, sweet, pickle and papad. “We are known for our tiffin items served during breakfast and dinner. Our live Chettinad counter seems to be bringing large numbers to the venue,” says R Gowtham, Ramesh’s son. He adds that their thatte idli, appam, vella paniyaram, kuzhipaniyaram, adai­avial and a variety of dosas are served from 6.30pm onwards.

Kuzhi paniyaram live counter at Narada Gana Sabha’s canteen by Sri Saasthalaya catering services

Kuzhi paniyaram live counter at Narada Gana Sabha’s canteen by Sri Saasthalaya catering services
| Photo Credit:
JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

This year’s focus are payasams, with their elaneer payasams being a huge hit. Seasonal fruits are used to prepare the dish. The fruits also find their way into the kesari — chikoo and pineapple kesari are on the menu this year. Their signature khoa jangri, ashoka halwa and Arcot makan peda are back as well.

Must try: Kuzhipaniyaram with kaara chutney, elaneer payasam and onion rava dosa

@Sri Saasthalaya Catering Services, TTK Road. Mini meals are ₹300, between 11am and 3pm. Breakfast is from 7am to 10.30am, Snacks from 3.30pm to 6pm and dinner from 6.30pm to 11pm. Dosa and coffee will be served throughout the day. Call 9500028384 for details. On till January 1.

Lunch at Narada Gana Sabha’s sabha canteen during the Margazhi music season

Lunch at Narada Gana Sabha’s sabha canteen during the Margazhi music season
| Photo Credit:
JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Vani Mahal

S Rangarajan of Anu catering service ran the canteen at this venue successfully for two decades but wound up his services 12 years ago. On popular request, he has been chosen to run the canteen again since 2020. “If rasikas have to eat at canteens everyday, it has to be simple meal. Therefore we decided to offer the ela sappad (meals on banana leaf) at ₹250. We have rice, sambar, rasam, vathakulambu along with three side dishes, papad and pickle. Each day there will be a variety of payasam that will be served hot,” he says.

Lunch served at the Vani Mahal sabha canteen

Lunch served at the Vani Mahal sabha canteen
| Photo Credit:
Akhila Easwaran

Srinath Rangarajan, who assists his father at the canteen. He adds that the menu is strictly has a ‘no onion, no garlic’ policy. “From 4pm onwards we serve raw banana bajji, sevai, keerai vada, Kasi halwa, ashoka halwa, wheat halwa and coffee. For dinner there is idli, dosa, chapathi, poori and one type of variety rice,” says Rangarajan.

Must Try: Kasi Halwa, Idiyappam kurma and Adai aviyal

@Anu Catering Service, T Nagar. Lunch is ₹250 served from 11.30pm to 2.30pm; snacks from 3pm to 6pm and dinner from 6.30pm to 10pm. Phone: 9444035804. Till January 10.

Music Academy and Mylapore Fine Arts Club

Singer Sriranjani Santhanagopalan’s voice floats out of the speaker placed strategically at the sabha canteen in Music Academy as guests read the evening specials, written on a board — morkali, strawberry kesari, vethalai bajji, arisi upma kozhakattai…


People having a lunch at the Music Academy’s sabha canteen set up by  Sastha catering services, Porur.

People having a lunch at the Music Academy’s sabha canteen set up by Sastha catering services, Porur.
| Photo Credit:
SRINATH M

“The Music Academy is prestigious. Not just for the singers, but for us who run the canteens as well,” says Venkatesan Krishnan, who runs Sastha Catering Services, Porur. It is Sastha’s first time running the canteen at the Music Academy. They  have a canteen at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club as well, for the fourth consecutive year. From large groups planning year-end lunch get-togethers to office-goers in addition to the rasikas who stop by between concerts for a meal, the canteens have a steady stream of people coming in. 

In both sabhas, the menus are the same and Venkatesan says big teams, which include a 100-member one at the Academy, begin work from the crack of dawn to serve up breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “For breakfast which starts at 7: 30 am, we have different tiffin varieties, including an extensive dosa menu. There’s Kumbakonam kadappa, and chennai-style vadacurry among the accompaniments which I’m excited for people to try,” he says. 

Lunch service in progress at the Music Academy’s sabha canteen

Lunch service in progress at the Music Academy’s sabha canteen
| Photo Credit:
SRINATH M

A menu detailing every dish in their elaborate South Indian lunch meals to be served for the next twenty days has been published in advance, and is being circulated extensively. “People need to know what is on the menu, and can plan their lunches accordingly. Even if the prices of vegetables we have in our planned menus shoot up, it will still be served,” Venkatesan says. 

The variety and innovation in their menu planning is hard to miss – right down to the appalam, pappadam, vadam, chips, thayir pachidis, sweet pachidis, thuvaiyals, and pickles to be served. There’s a different variant planned for each day. “We have also factored in a north indian dish in every meal. There’s chapati and dal makhni, mini alu paratha and subzi, pooris and dum aloo, and methi poori and paneer butter masala which will feature on the menu on different days. Our focus is on serving up an extensive traditional spread, with as many varieties as possible,” says Venkatesan. 

The snacks and dinner spread isn’t short on options either. This year, there’s a seven taste uthappam which comprises small uthappams in different flavours, pineapple and beetroot dosas, pesarettu, and navadhaniyam dosa. The nucleus of their canteens, a dedicated counter for coffee, tea, and masala milk, will function round-the-clock as well. 

Must try: strawberry kesari, vethala bajji, seven taste uthappam.

@Sastha Catering Services Porur,TTK Road. The canteen is open from 7.30am to 9.30 pm till January 9, 2024. Lunch meals are priced at Rs 550. For more details, call 99529 19460

Krishna Gana Sabha

People having coffee at Sattvaa catering service’s canteen at Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai

People having coffee at Sattvaa catering service’s canteen at Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai
| Photo Credit:
Akhila Easwaran

The tall chettinad-style pillars and slanting tiled roofs in a corner of the neatly laid out garden at Krishna Gana Sabha makes the canteen there one of the more aesthetic spaces to sit down and grab a bite at, this margazhi season. Even at 9am in the morning, the setting is tranquil and perfect for the simple breakfast menu they have on offer — nei pongal, medhu vada, podi dosa, and poori. 

“All the food here is prepared without onion and garlic, and we have a different menu each day. Our speciality is the south-Indian lunch meals on a banana leaf. We try to incorporate dishes from different districts including Thanjavur, Tirunelveli and Kumbakonam,” says R Sundarakumar, who runs Sattvaa catering. The wedding-style banana leaf meal begins with a payasam, and has variants of sambar, kozhambu and rasam that change on a daily basis.

The coffee counter at Krishna Gana Sabha

The coffee counter at Krishna Gana Sabha
| Photo Credit:
Akhila Easwaran

For the upcoming Natya Kala Conference hosted by Krishna Gana Sabha, the canteen will serve up a special lunch menu each day which will be based on the cuisines of the four southern states. Their filter coffee, Mr Sundarakumar says, is their crown jewel. “We serve anywhere between 800 to 1,000 cups a day,” he says. 

Must try: Karupatti sweets, bonda morekozhambu, and kichdi.

@Sattvaa catering service, Maharajapuram Santhanam Salai. The lunch meals are priced at Rs 300. Breakfast is from 7 am to 9 am, lunch is from 11.30 am to 3 pm, snacks from 4 pm to 6 pm and dinner from 7 pm to 10 pm. Contact 98403 03403.


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