Chinese Restaurants in Chennai (I) – Once upon a time in Madras

Posted on July 17, 2012


Once upon a time in Madras (it still is for me), there used to be many a genuine Chinese restaurants run by the Chinese immigrants from Kolkata and their children.

Now, the city has a shameful number of genuine Chinese places to show as compared to good old days. My tryst with these restaurants goes a long way back. I can recall many of the places which are just some other establishments or high rise buildings in place of these Chinese restaurants.

Now barring a few restaurants, we have a chain of branded restaurants serving Chinese. Just like old cinemas making way for multiplexes.

The Southern

My favorite place for Chinese was indeed near one such old cinema which has made way for a high-rise building.

There used to be a nice little theater called Anand just after Thousand Lights towards Central, tucked inside a narrow little lane off the Grand Orient. (The story of the now-gone cinemas is for another day)

And just before the narrow lane, there existed a building which had a Madhar Sha showroom and in the same building adjoining the showroom was ‘The Southern’.

Southern was a very fine Chinese restaurant and probably even the best Chennai had.

When you entered the place you heard chimes go off, just like the ones you hear in background of any Sino movie. The place must have had around 10 tables ranging from tables for four to tables for six.

At the other end was a high rise platform, where the owner would be seated overseeing everything – from how the two waiters worked to the satisfaction of customers. The place was dimly-lit but the ambiance made you forget the busy, bright Mount Road just outside. There were Chinese lanterns and artwork displayed all around.

The owner, I never knew his name, was kind enough to give us Chinese calendars on a few occasions. But my mom had to remind him every single time we went there. He got those calendars from China.

The two waiters

One was George, I am pretty sure it was George, must have been in his 40’s. He was familiar with my dad and always served us. He would keenly explain every dish as I asked in curiosity, every time. An Anglo-Indian, he was apparently from Bihar. There were a few occasions when we went there just to hear from the owner that George had gone to Bihar, home.

A nice accent he had and an example how bearers should be. My dad always used to leave him a considerable tip. He was happy and we were happy with the service.

The other guy was younger must have been in his 20’s, he would serve us whenever George was not around and ONLY when he was not around.

The owner

I knew something about the owner, but not his name. His wife runs a beauty parlor in Periyar Road, Kodambakkam, Changs. They have two children, boys, who studied in Asan. This I know because they attended the same maths tuition as mine. They were also regulars at the Sify I-Way game drome (again a place which doesn’t exist anymore) near Vani Mahal to play Ragnarok, Counter Strike and Unreal.

The restaurant shut when I was in school and going for Maths tuition (so must be around 2004-5). My father, when he came to pick me up from tuition, did tell the owner that he should find another place and get Southern back on tracks. Yes, yes, I ll see, would be the constant reply with a gentle smile every time the conversation came up.

But Southern has not come up till now.

They had a bunch of cooks always cutting vegetables, mixing stew or frying chicken, whenever you had a glance into the kitchen when the ‘No Admission’ doors opened.

The taste was great, the price was moderate. For a family of four the bill would be not more than Rs.600, and we always returned filled till our necks.

A copy of their menu is hidden somewhere in my house, but they did not have a special for the day or anything extraordinary. They were just a normal Chinese restaurant with great food.

….. to be concluded

Posted in: Madras