Late last year we spent a whirlwind nine days in Tamil Nadu. I haven't written about it much here ... there were details and photographs to save for a feature story in SBS Feast (it ran in the April issue) and columns about about street coffee, dosa and "risky" eating in Wall Street Journal Asia. Tamil Nadu was one of our most delicious trips of recent years, but it happened not long after we'd returned from Turkey and shortly before Christmas. Discoveries and revelations were lost to the holidays and preparation for travel in early 2014.
Our journey took us to Chennai, Madurai and Karaikudi. Of course street food was a focus. Ironically one of the most memorable places that we ate at in Chennai wasn't of Chennai at all. Bombay Lassi, opened over 50 years ago by -- no surprise here -- a native of Bombay, came at the end of a long day of eating. Reviewing my notes, I find that we'd started the morning with pickles and sweets at a small shop in Mylapore, and then moved a few doors down for curd vadai (an urad lentil ball soaked in fresh yogurt seasoned with curry leaf and cumin and mustard seeds) and curd rice (steamed rice mixed with yogurt) -- no photos because the proprietor of the mess where we ate would not allow it. Then came coffee and a thali rice meal with 12 components followed by a selection of milk sweets, and then a few hours later MORE sweets at a sweets shop.
The day was furnace hot; we did little walking. By the time we arrived at Bombay Lassi I was uncomfortable, ready for a liedown. The last thing I wanted to do was eat.
But, but ..... the place had all the signs of a find. It was well off the main street, several blocks down an alley and then to the left down a narrow lane. Despite this, and the fact that the neighborhood was not densely populated (a large theater occupies the lot facing the shop) and it was at least an hour past work hours the place was hopping, the lane on which the shop sits filled with standing (because there are no seats at Bombay Lassi), happily munching customers.
Every one of these people would have had to go at least a bit out of his or her way to get to Bombay Lassi. The crowd suggested that the effort was worth it.
Despite its name Bombay Lassi's biggest seller is samosa (there's lassi too, "savouriest lassi", as the shop's sign says -- and sweets like jalebi, milk halwa, and gulab jamun). These thick-skinned beauties, larger than others we sampled while in India, are made in a room adjacent to the sales counter and fried by an impressively bearded and bellied man just out front, on the street,
As soon as my companion dug into his somosa I quickly caved and accepted one, then asked for another. Despite their hefty skins the samosa were nearly greaseless, crispy, chewy ... inside I found onion, potato, peas flavored with garam masala, ginger and garlic, the vegetables distinct rather than part of a mush. The samosa's relatively "heavy" filling was lightened by the freshness of the mint chutney and the sweet tanginess of the tamarind sauce.
Lacking experience eating samosa in, well, Bombay I couldn't say whether or not the smash-before-service technique is common. But it's a brilliant way to release heat while creating cracks and crevices via which the chutney and tamarind sauce can seep into the wrapper and mingle with the filling.
The proprietor was happy to properly plate a few samosa for a photo,
Bombay Lassi, Ellis Road (behind Devi Theater), Chennai.