Madurai India – Best Places to Eat and Dishes to Taste
The main reason they call Madurai ‘the city that never sleeps’ is that the whole city stays up all night cooking and snacking. You can put away any notions you may have of fine dining restaurants, or restaurants at all for that matter, because the best things to eat in Madurai are all served on the street.
Cuisine in Madurai
Being one of the world’s longest inhabited cities, Madurai has had its fair share of visitors, and as a result, influences from Europe (Portugal, ancient Greece and ancient Rome), the Middle East and Sri Lanka mix with South Indian cuisine to create new and interesting flavours. Street food staples such as idli and vada are available all over the city and served with delectable chutneys and sambars. Biryani is also a Madurai favourite, although here it is more heavily spiced then other places in India, and usually contains mutton. Another typical dish found sizzling over a hot fire all over Madurai is kothu parotta, a dish of fried sliced parotta and vegetables that has its origins in Sri Lanka.
All of the above should always be washed down with a cool glass of jigarthanda, a syrupy sweet drink usually finished with ice-cream, which is said to provide some relief from the dizzying Madurai heat.
Unexpectedly for a temple city, we found meat (mostly mutton) widely available on the menus of Madurai’s ‘messes’ and restaurants, so those hankering for some protein should find their prayers answered!
The temple area surrounding Meenakshi Amman Temple is thronging with street vendors dishing up every South Indian street snack you can imagine, and is a great place to refuel while sightseeing. Everything here, from idli to idiyappam (string hoppers) is tremendously cheap, unlikely to set you back more than INR 20.
We would recommend heading to Prema Vilas Sweets (the main outpost being on Town Hall Rd) for their freshly cooked halwa which is dripping in ghee and so sweet it’ll make your teeth ache.
Another place for a sweet treat is the Famous Jigarthanda shop on East Marrat St, where you can try Madurai’s renowned sweet drink. Don’t forget to do as the locals do and push your way through to order, because when we went there it seemed like the whole city was waiting for a drink!
Head out of your hotel as the sun sets for Maduai’s most bustling hours. At this time, even more street food stalls open up so you’d better prepare your stomach because you’re going to want to eat everything in sight. Take a walk down Kamarajar Salai to taste an array of local flavours. Pop in to Tamilaga Unavu Vidunthi for sizzling non-veg treats at a very low cost, or a little further down at Konar Mess, where they make excellent dosas, uttahappam, and non-veg curries for around INR 100.
Rather than risking restaurant roulette in Madurai, we’ve put together this handy list of some popular must-try eateries.
Murugan Idli Shop – 196 West Masi St
Murugan is a continually popular restaurant dishing up excellent quality dosas, uttahapam, and of course idli. Their idli absolutely melt in the mouth, and the chutneys are delicately spiced and utterly delicious. This place is forever busy and great to visit at any time of the day, just don’t expect the service to be five star.
Sree Sabarees – 56A West Perumal Maistry St
Sree Sabarees is a great place to escape the heat into their air-con restaurant, and it just so happens that they serve delectable utthapam with chutneys, banana-leaf thalis, dosas, and everything in between. Prices are very reasonable and their chai was some of the best we’ve ever tasted. This place is always popular with Madurai locals and gets very busy around dinner time, so expect a wait for a table. We’d advise you to arrive with an empty stomach, because the waiters will top up your thali with as much as you can eat!
Amma Mess – Alagar Kovil Main Rd
Unlike many of the other eateries around, Amma Mess is certainly not a non-veg restaurant. This is one to try if you’re a hardcore carnivore, because the menu is overflowing with meat. Mutton curry, chicken chettinad, masala fried fish, prawn biryani, you name it and it’s served spiced and delicious at Amma Mess. Prices are higher than at the veg restaurants, and there have been reports that quality has gone down a little as it’s become more popular, but Amma remains a great place to try South Indian meat dishes.
Burma Idayappa Kadai – East Veli St (near the Christian Mission Hospital)
There’s only really one thing to order at Burma Idiyappa Kadai, and that’s idiyappam (string hoppers) with chutney and coconut milk. It’s cheap, it’s simple, and it’s incredibly delicious. However, don’t expect anything resembling hospitality, or even a place to sit.
Western and International Food
Those in need of a taste of home or simply a taste of something other than India might despair at the options in Madurai. Western food can be hard to find, especially as Madurai has never been firmly placed on the international tourist circuit. There are a couple of Domino’s Pizza outposts around the city (Ft Road, KK Nagar) if you’re desperate, as well as the options listed below.
Phil's Bistro – 444 Meenakshi St, KK Nagar
The prices at Phil’s Bistro might be moderate to high, but the cost is reflected in the quality of the pastas and mains that Phil serves to his happy guests. We found our pizza to be among the best you can expect to eat in India. Pizzas and pastas will set you back about INR 250 – 300.
Garden All Day – inside the Gateway Hotel, No 40, T P K Road, Pasumalai,
Garden All Day is worth the 6km trip out of central Madurai for its array of cuisines on offer in a stylish, cool setting. Not only does it offer South Indian classics, but also pastas, salads, and sandwiches served to perfection. Prices are higher than average but you’ll be able to satisfy your craving for Western flavours and as the name suggests, enjoy lovely food at any hour of the day.
Cafes and Coffee Houses
If you’re looking for a caffeine fix in Madurai this will mean one of two things; either an Indianized bakery with puffy cakes and filter coffee, or an upscale hotel café.
Puppy’s Bakery (224 Theni Main Rd) is set in a compound with other establishments selling meals and ice-creams. The pastries here are simple and tasty, and the atmosphere clean and well air-conditioned. There’s also the British Bakery (32 West Veli St), which sells very decent coffee for INR 30 as well as other sweet and savoury snacks in a cafeteria-style setting.
Surya Restaurant in the Hotel Supreme (110 West Perumal Maistry St) is a lovely rooftop restaurant serving excellent Chettinad cuisine. What’s more is that their iced coffees are strong and refreshing, making Surya the perfect place to cool down and watch the sunset.