Bhaiya, do pyaaz kachori (brother, I need two onion kachoris), says a customer at Maya Chats, while his friend points to a piping hot kadai, in which yellow chilli bajjis are being fried.
The man changes his mind and asks for two chilli bajjis instead. But evidently, the kachoris still tempt him: he is torn. Nahi bhaiya, kachori hi dijiye (no, we will stick to the kachoris), he says, after a pause. At Maya Chats, every customer is torn about their choices. Kachori or bajji? In the end, most of them decide to eat both.
Located on bustling Audiappa Naicken Street in Sowcarpet, Maya Chats has become a popular chaat joint over the past decade. The proprietors are from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and moved to Chennai in search of a better living. They are affectionately still known as Jodhpur waale in the locality.
This has become the go-to destination for chai-time snacks. The shop seems to be in a good place now, however, Mahendar, the owner, says that they had a rocky beginning. Do recommend us to your friends he says, adding, Thats how we have been growing... by word of mouth.
Mahendar says his nephews help with preparing the food, and handling customers. His nephew Raju chips in: We havent had the time to keep track of the footfall. People keep coming through the day.
Their day, Mahendar says, begins at 7 am and goes on late into the night. Maya Chats hardly has barely any space to sit; but customers dont complain. They queue up outside, munching on their evening snacks.
Inside, a plate filled with spheres of dough stands beside the kadai. Two men flatten them, making small circles. They drop each one into hot oil. In a matter of five minutes, about 20 golden-brown kachoris bob in the pan.
Vitrines display the other sweets and savouries on offer. Among the most popular items is the onion kachori served with jaggery and chilli chutney, according to Mahendar. He adds that the aloo-pyaaz stuffing is what makes it so addictive. It helps that Maya is pocket-friendly: everything is priced at about 30 or below.
Mirchi bajji and moong kachori are equally popular. If kachoris are too spicy for you, try the gulab halwa, priced at 180 for half a kilo. The dessert is made of milk that we source from Pali in Rajasthan, says Mahendar, adding Maybe that is why it is popular.
This column explores the various street foods of Chennai