Tamilians in Burma
Though the Tamil/Indian population in Burma (today’s Myanmar) is hardly anything compared to what it was during the rule of the British in the 19th century. Indians then, were quite the backbone of the civil administration ‘n were influential in Burmese society. The Chettiar community from Tamil Nadu had established themselves as prominent businessmen ‘n powerful moneylenders in Burma during the earlier days of the British raj. Over the years, the native Burmese developed quite a hostile attitude towards Indians in general. It was during the civil unrest of the 60′s in Burma that many Indians were forced to leave the country. Many of the Tamil populace came back to Chennai ‘n settled in ‘n around the north of Chennai. Burma Bazaar consisted of traders who’d come from Burma. And typically became known for a grey market for electronics. Not everyone was a trader ‘n some of the Tamilians also brought back interesting street food from Burma ‘n set shop here.
Atho – An interesting street food story
Kauk Swe Thoke’s a popular street food dish in Burma. Roundish-thick noodles tossed with cabbage, gravy, fried onion ‘n an assortment of condiments. So the Tamilians from Burma set up their street food stalls near the Burma Bazaar. I was directed to Broadway by my friend Thiagarajan Kumararaja, a Tamil film director whose directed the award winning Tamil film Aaranya Kaandam. He told me about this street there where one can find Burmese style noodles. Aha! That little spark was enough for me. Burmese style noodles in Chennai. I ain’t gonna miss that for nuthin’ in this world.
I’d never gone to North Chennai before. And it took me a good hour and a half before I figured that the Burmese style noodles called ‘Atho’ is available on a street by the name 2nd Line Beach road. That’s parallel to Rajaji Salai. Found a vendor right at the entrance. Expectations were sky-high. Finally I thought I could tell off all our dear ‘Food Connoisseurs’ who pride themselves in comparing notes on where to find the best Khau swe in which Five Star hotel. The first bite of the noodle salad. And Alas! I didn’t know where to spit. The stuff looked really appetizing, but the guys were putting just too much cabbage alongwith the noodles. Kya yaar! I was so disappointed. Politely paid the bill ‘n moved on. There were quite a few of these stalls. And each of ‘em had 5-10 guys in front tucking into the noodles. I thought to myself. There’s gotta to be more to this. So I took help from a local person. And asked him in my deeply-fractured Tamil “Anna. Ingay best Burmese noodle where to find?? The guy took pity on me ‘n pointed me to a noodle stall that wasn’t in this lane. But just off the parallel Rajaji Salai. ‘Avalada best taste’ is what he told me. Hopes were a little higher now ’n I trudged on. I found this stall, which was a little away from the rest of the stalls. And I think there was a clear reason, why so.
So the guy’s name’s Abdul Aziz. His noodles weren’t bad. But far better that the rest of the lot. But still didn’t justify the hype. I thought a little bit of shrimp paste would do wonders to dish. But this was street food in India. The dynamics of food on the street work differently here. So I decided to also try the eggs that he was offering. The way the boiled eggs were stacked on top on another. And fried onion stuffed in from the top. It looked interesting. Aziz bhai put an egg into a soup bowl. Cut it up. Added some flavoured oil. Salt water. Tamarind extract. And a bit of pounded red chilly. He then filled the bowl with a stew. Tasting the stew, I thought it to be mutton or chicken. But couldn’t correctly place the flavour. Abdul Aziz then told me that this was completely vegetarian. Made from banana stem. I thought woah! That took me completely by surprise.
So the soup had ginger, pepper, coconut ‘n flavoured with banana stem. The result was quite outstanding. I’ve never had anything like this on the street. The noodles didn’t impress that much. But the egg stew was exceptional. Very very impressive! I came to the realisation that Atho, I guess grows on you. The locals of North Chennai love it. And queue up to eat this. For me, the egg stew was the unique ‘n inspiring. I’m still waiting for the Atho to grow on me.
Details of Abdul Aziz’s Atho stall
Address – The stall’s located in a lane in between Rajaji Salai ‘n 2nd Line Beach road. Next to SBI ATM ‘n opposite to Dass Camera Centre. The stall isn’t like 100% spic ‘n spac but not too bad either.
Timing – 430 pm to 11 pm everyday.
Pricing – The Atho’s priced at Rs. 40. And the egg stew at Rs.35.
Phone number - (+91) 9884386064
Location of this interesting street food stall on Google maps
View Atho stall by Abdul Aziz in a larger map
About Chowder Singh’s Chennai local food guide
This guide has references to Chowder Singh’s favourite street ‘n local food in Chennai ‘n offbeat eating places. Along with original photos ‘n location on Google maps. Kindly note that Chowder Singh pays for all his meals. There are no listings against freebies or payment. And absolutely no going around looking for free jigarthanda. If you’ve had Atho or other interesting street food in Chennai. Please do share your experiences. Either in the comments section below. Or in the Chowder Singh facebook group.
Here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/groups/chowdersingh/
Also, please remember that the pricing of dishes that I’ve mentioned, are when I’ve visited. They might change over a period of time. I’ve still included these as a general guideline. And, please do remember that I write mostly about street food. I try ‘n write only about those places, which not only serve good food, but seem to maintain good hygiene practices. I suggest, for safety’s sake, it’s always better to eat at a street food place which’s busy. Also, neat ‘n clean. If they’re making an effort to keep the place clean, you can be reasonably sure that they’re also making an effort to serve hygienic food. But I’d say always go by your own instinct. And if you’re not sure, but still like to try, then have only the cooked stuff that’s still warm. Safer that way.
Happy hunting food Atho ‘n other interesting street food in Chennai ‘n chow-chow!