In the 1970s and early 1980s, bureaucrats, rulers and politicians preferred Madurai to spend the night whenever they were on tour of southern districts. The primary reason for this desire was the hot ‘idlis,’ served with tasty ‘chutnis’ and ‘sambar’ on roadside shops throughout the night. Even famous hotels had their “by-night” extensions. The night business was never fly-by-night.
Madurai, in the past, has always been described as a “city that never sleeps.” This also meant that the day began at dusk, especially in the case of thousands of people from peripheral villages who visited the city on some business or other.
Even today, it is difficult to drive a vehicle along Vakkil New Street and Simmakkal areas after midnight as the area is swarmed by traders.
For Madurai, it is a tradition. Sangam poets describe the presence of two types of shops in the city – ‘ naalangadi’ (day market) and ‘ allangadi’ (night market).
There is specific reference to the sale of food in the night market. ‘ Maduraikanchi’ refers to two types of food served in these markets – ‘ oonsoru’ (rice mixed with meat) and ‘modhagam.’ The ‘allangadi’ became operational during second ‘jaamam’ (around midnight) and remained open till people went to sleep.
In the Sangam period, people in different attire and speaking different languages were seen in the night market. [
Contemporary Madurai serves not only ‘oonsoru’ but also ‘oon’ mixed with all kinds of offerings on the roadside. Vendors sell ‘ modhagam’ at bus stops in Anna Bus Stand, Goripalayam and Tamukkam. Over the years, many items have joined the list, starting from nutritious ‘ paruththi paal’ to ‘keerai vadai.’
But ‘vadai’ is a permanent fixture in both day and night shops. It will be a record of sorts if one were to count the millions of vadais fried in used and reused oil every day all over the city.
The standard night eatery serves you ‘idli,’ dosa and eggs. Value addition is more in the case of those serving non-vegetarian items.
It is very difficult to spot an eatery that serves pure vegetarian dishes. A study undertaken by an agency in Madurai in early 1990s revealed that the food served on the roadside was not so unhygienic as people perceived it to be. The advantage of the roadside ‘idli’ shops is that the other dishes are made at home. These shops have always been popular because of accessibility and cost. It is not uncommon to find families having their food on the roadside after 9 p.m. These shops help to tide over a crisis whenever relatives descend on you in droves.
The all-night activity has remained pleasant till the 1990s. Till recently, a grocery shop used to remain open till around 3 a.m. at Goripalayam. When the crime graph went up, the city police decided to regulate the operation of night shops. They were not allowed to remain open after 2.30 a.m. This time limit came down gradually to the end of “second show” cinema around 1.30 a.m. In the last few weeks, all night eateries are asked to down shutters by 11 p.m. The aroma and music played by cooks while making ‘koththu parotta’ are conspicuously absent after midnight. This may even lead one to wonder whether he has entered the wrong city.