Chennai Street Food

Chennai Street Food

Chennai Street Food is largely influenced by the Tamil cuisine of South India, with a rich variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes that feature the use of multiple spices. The cuisine of Chennai is very prominent not just in India, but worldwide, and is commonly what people think of when referring to 'South Indian Cuisine'.

Meals are typically served on a banana leaf, and accompanied by various types of rice, South Indian breads, or legumes. Tamil cuisine includes the cuisines of Chettinad, Madurai, and Kanyakumari. Ingredients such as chicken, fish, mutton, carrots, tomatoes, onions and okra (Lady's fingers) feature in many dishes.

Restaurants that have an acceptable standard of health and hygiene typically use filtered water or bottled water in their preparation of food, instead of tap water. Check with locals for the best examples of restaurants or cafes that practice good hygiene.


Aloo Bhaji is a simple, inexpensive and filling dish popular throughout India. Consisting of potatoes, onions, ginger, black gram beans (Vigna Mungo / Urad), salt, chili and powdered turmeric, it is often eaten as an accompaniment with Indian breads or rice. Aloo Bhaji is also commonly eaten during breakfast, or served as a packed meal for commutes.

Aloo Bhaji 01

Aloo Bhaji 02

Aloo Jeera is another simple potato recipe that is made by frying potatoes with cumin seeds, chili, salt and powdered cumin. It is popular throughout India.

Aloo Jeera 01

Aloo Jeera 02

Aloo Mutter is a dish that originated from the Punjab region of North India. It consists of potatoes and peas in a thick and creamy tomato gravy flavoured with garlic, ginger, onions, cumin seeds, powdered coriander, powdered turmeric, salt and chili.

Aloo Mutter 01

Aloo Mutter 02

Bendakaya Kara Perattal / Okra Curry / Lady's Finger Curry is a spicy dish from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, South India. It's made with okra / lady's finger, onions, tomatoes, tamarind juice, black gram beans (Vigna Mungo / Urad), powdered coriander, powdered turmeric, powdered cumin, fenugreek seeds, salt, garlic and curry leaves. The vegetables should be tender, not crunchy, and the overall dish should be spicy.

Bendakaya Kara Perattal / Okra Curry 01

Bendakaya Kara Perattal / Okra Curry 02

Bhakarwadi is a traditional snack from Central India, the Marathi cuisine. It is a crispy fried roll / pastry, with a dough made from gram flour / chickpeas, maida refined wheat flour, salt and powdered asafoetida / asafetida, and stuffed with a spicy, tangy mixture of dried grated coconut, ginger, powdered coriander, powdered cumin, chili, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.


Biryani Mutton from Chennai. It consists of a flavourful and fragrant spiced Basmati rice, served with chunks of mutton and a whole hard boiled egg.

Biryani Mutton 01

Biryani Mutton 02

Carrot Pak is made with grated carrots, water, sugar, chickpea flour (Besan) and clarified butter (Ghee). It is a variation on the South Indian dessert Mysore Pak.

Carrot Pak 01

Carrot Pak 02

Chettinad cuisine originated from Chennai, and the most famous of all its dishes is the Chettinad Pepper Chicken. It's made with diced chicken, tomatoes, garlic, ginger, powdered coriander, black pepper, chili, lemon juice, powdered cinnamon, powdered cardamom, bay leaves, cloves, fennel seeds and curry leaves. Chettinad Pepper Chicken is a dry curry dish, well known for being very spicy, where every piece of tender chicken meat is nicely coated with the spice mixture. While the chicken is never marianted beforehand, it is often garnished with an additional dash of black pepper and lemon juice just before serving.

Chettinad Pepper Chicken 01

Chettinad Pepper Chicken 02

Chicken Almond Shorba is a thin chicken soup flavoured with almonds and onions, and has small chicken meat balls within. It is slightly spicy, and great during cold weather.

Chicken Almond Shorba 01

Chicken Almond Shorba 02

The most common Chutney flavours in Chennai is Coconut and Tomato.

Chutney Coconut

Chutney Tomato

A typical Cinnamon Roll.

Cinnamon Roll 01

Cinnamon Roll 02

A fusion of Western and Indian influences, the Cornflakes Mixture is a rather uncommon snack in Chennai.

Cornflakes Mixture

Curd Rice / Yoghurt Rice is popular throughout South India, including Chennai. It consists of a slow boiled rice, flavoured with curry leaves, ginger, cumin seeds, chili, whole black gram beans (Vigna Mungo / Urad), powdered asafoetida / asafetida, salt, milk and unsweetened yoghurt. Curd Rice / Yoghurt Rice has a thick consistency, and can be served warm or chilled. It is often eaten to aid digestion, as well as ease the effects of very spicy dishes.

Curd Rice / Yoghurt Rice 01

Curd Rice / Yoghurt Rice 02

Dahi Vada is a rather uncommon snack found throughout India, and isn't very popular. It consists of soaking a crispy, deep fried Vada in a thick, beaten yoghurt till soft, and then flavouring with chili, black pepper, powdered cumin, mint leaves, coriander leaves and shredded coconut. Not many Indians enjoy this, as it's an acquired taste. It has a consistency like a cold, soggy doughnut or cake.

Dahi Vada 01

Dahi Vada 02

A typical Doughnut.

Doughnut 01

Doughnut 02

An Indian interpretation of Fudge Butterscotch, with nuts scattered throughout the dessert.

Fudge Butterscotch

Idly from Chennai.

Idly 01

Idly 02

Indian Tea / Chai is the most popular drink, and is commonly ordered / served at any occasion or meal.

Indian Tea Chai 01

Indian Tea Chai 02

A Kachori is a snack popular throughout India, though they manner in which it is served differs from state to state. In Chennai, Kachori is served dry, and may be eaten on the go. It consists of a thin pastry shell made from maida refined wheat flour, and stuffed with a finely ground mixture of black gram bean flour (Vigna Mungo / Urad), chickpea flour (Besan), salt, black pepper, chili and ginger.

Kachori Travelling

Kaikari Mandi is a traditional vegetable stew / curry from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, that consists of a medley of seasonal vegetables cooked with water, tamarind juice, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves. Common vegetables used include cauliflower, okra, carrots, onions, tomatoes or eggplant.

Kaikari Mandi 01

Kaikari Mandi 02

Kara Boondhi is a light snack that is made with chickpea flour (Besan), rice flour, powdered asafoetida / asafetida, salt, chili, curry leaves, cashew nuts, peanuts, groundnuts, garlic and clarified butter (Ghee). A perforated ladle is used to create its small, round shape.

Kara Boondhi 01

Kara Boondhi 02

Kara Boondhi 03

Kara Boondhi 04

Considered to be an acquired taste, Karela Chips are made with deep fried bitter gourd melon, coated with a batter of salt, rice flour, chickpea flour (Besan) and chili. The vegetable is sliced fairly thin, and is often served as a snack.

Karela Chips 01

Karela Chips 02

Karela Chips 03

Karela Chips 04

Keerai Kootu / Spinach Dhal Curry is a vegetarian curry dish that originated in Chennai, and consists of chopped spinach, yellow mung bean / yellow moong dal, onions, tomatoes, garlic, powdered cumin, water, tamarind juice, salt, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and chili. This dish is very common in South India, as well as in Singapore.

Keerai Kootu / Spinach Dhal Curry 01

Keerai Kootu / Spinach Dhal Curry 02

Kerala Chicken Cutlet, named after its place of origin in Kerala, is a deep fried or baked dish of mashed potatoes, diced onions, and boneless chicken chunks mixed and formed into a patty. It is typically coated with a batter made with garlic, ginger, chili, curry leaves, bread crumbs, egg white, salt, pepper and powdered turmeric.

Kerala Chicken Cutlet 01

Kerala Chicken Cutlet 02

A regional delicacy of Tamil Nadu, South India, and popular in Chennai, Kothu Parotta is a famous street dish. The Parotta is made with maida refined wheat flour, water, egg, salt and clarified butter (Ghee) to get a dough, which is then beaten into thin layers and formed into a round flat bread, then fried on a griddle. The actual dish of Kothu Parotta is then made by using chopped Parotta, cumin seeds, diced onions, garlic, ginger, powdered turmeric, curry powder, chili, powdered cardamom, pepper, powdered cinnamon, powdered cumin, salt, cloves, tomatoes, eggs, cilantro and garam masala. Meat can also be added, popular meats used include diced boneless chicken or minced mutton. All the ingredients are thrown on a hot cast-iron griddle, and minced and mixed by repeated pounding using a heavy iron spatula, the sound of which can be heard for a long distance.

Kothu Parotta 01

Kothu Parotta 02

Laddu is a popular Indian sweet / dessert, which looks like a round ball. The base is made with milk, sugar, water and clarified butter (Ghee), along with 1 type of flour. The flour used differs from region to region, but is commonly either chickpea flour (Besan), semolina, or maida refined wheat flour. This is then shaped into a round ball, which is the basic Plain Laddu / Laddu Plain. Various other ingredients are added to create different types of Laddu. In Chennai, a common Laddu is Energy Laddu / Laddu Energy, sometimes known as Dried Fruit Laddu / Laddu Dried Fruit. The additional ingredients are dried grated coconut, raisins, dates, chopped almonds, peanuts, cashew nuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds and powdered cardamom. Known of giving a burst of energy, this is often eaten by labourers and lactating mothers.

Laddu Dates

Laddu Energy

Lassi is a popular yoghurt drink all over India, and comes in several varieties, including plain, sweet, salty, and mango. Lassi is a traditional remedy for stomach flu.

Lassi Mango 01

Lassi Mango 02

Lassi Mango 03

Mawa Barfi is a type of Indian milk sweet, usually in the shape of a cube. Made with milk solids / mawa, sugar, clarified butter (Ghee), powdered cardamom, powdered cinnamon, milk, chopped almonds, chopped pistachios, saffron and edible silver leaves, then formed into squares / cubes and left to set. It can be served warm or chilled.

Mawa Barfi 01

Mawa Barfi 02

Located next to the sea, Tamil Nadu is known for its fresh fish, and Meen Poondu Kuzhambu is a popular spicy fish curry dish from Chettinad cuisine. It consists of a firm flesh fish like pomfret, seabass or seer fish, with onions, tomatoes, tamarind juice, garlic, chili, coconut milk, curry leaves, powdered turmeric, powdered coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, pepper, salt and lemon juice. The resulting dish has a thick, spicy gravy / curry, and a fragrant aroma. Be careful when eating this dish, as not all places debone the fish before cooking.

Meen Poondu Kuzhambu 01

Meen Poondu Kuzhambu 02

Meen Poondu Kuzhambu 03

Meen Poondu Kuzhambu 04

Murgh Tawa Kebab is a dish from Arabic / Persian / Turkish cuisine, that consists of boneless chicken marianted with onions, ginger, garlic, salt, powdered turmeric, eggs, coriander leaves, chili, lemon juice, pepper and clarified butter (Ghee), then grilled or roasted.

Murgh Tawa Kebab 01

Murgh Tawa Kebab 02

Murukku is a popular South Indian snack made from a dough consisting of rice flour, black gram bean flour (Vigna Mungo / Urad), water, powdered asafoetida / asafetida, cumin seeds / sesame seeds and salt. The dough is then shaped into coils, spirals or twists, then deep fried or baked. Because of its simplicity, savoury taste and crunchy texture, Murukku has since become popular worldwide. Other ingredients can be added to create variations, such as butter, garlic, chili, coconut milk or sugar.

Murukku Butter

Mysore Pak from Chennai.

Mysore Pak

Omelette With Mushroom And Chili from Chennai.

Omelette With Mushroom And Chili 01

Omelette With Mushroom And Chili 02

What North Indians call a Kheer, South Indians call a Payasam. Pal Payasam is a simple dessert made with rice, full cream milk, clarified butter (Ghee) and sugar, brought to a slow boil, then mashed. It can be served warm or chilled, and has a thick, sweet and filling consistency.

Pal Payasam 01

Pal Payasam 02

Papadum from Chennai.

Papadum 01

Papadum 02

Papadum 03

A selection of Western and Asian dishes, Pesto Pasta Salad, Ham And Egg Tri Peppers, Chicken Tikka Chaat, Seafood Salad In Mint Aioli, Seared Beef With Balsamic Onion.

Pesto Pasta Salad, Ham And Egg Tri Peppers, Chicken Tikka Chaat, Seafood Salad In Mint Aioli, Seared Beef With Balsamic Onion

Poha is a flattened rice dish, is made by steaming the flattened rice with onions and a fried spice mix of powdered turmeric, mustard seeds and chili. It is most commonly eaten for breakfast.

Poha 01

Poha 02

Pootharekulu is an Indian sweet / dessert that originated from Andhra Pradesh, South India. It's made with rice flour, black gram bean flour (Vigna Mungo / Urad), water, sugar and clarified butter (Ghee). The mixture is layered into paper thin, translucent sheets. Making Pootharekulu is labour intensive and time consuming, and because of its low profit margin, is typically only made by the poor and sold in the streets, rarely in shops or stalls. The exception is high end restaurants or sweet shops, where Pootharekulu is marketed as a novelty sweet / dessert.

Pootharekulu 01

Pootharekulu 02

Pootharekulu 03

Pootharekulu 04

Puri from Chennai.

Puri 01

Puri 02

Rasgulla is a dessert from Odisha, East India, that consists of cheese balls made from chhena cottage cheese and semolina, cooked in a light, clear sugar syrup until the syrup permeates the cheese balls. It is sweet, with a crumbly and slightly chewy texture. This variation from Chennai is a dry version, where the syrup is contained within.

Rasgulla Dry 01

Rasgulla Dry 02

Rava Upma is a common South Indian dish eaten for breakfast, consisting of semolina, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, onions, chili and salt. It is similar to a thick porridge, and because of its simplicity, many variations can be created by adding different ingredients. Such ingredients may include grated coconut, peas, carrots, tomatoes, capsicum / bell peppers, corn, milk, curry leaves, peanuts, cashew nuts, almonds, pistachios or okra / lady's finger.

Rava Upma 01

Rava Upma 02

Sabudana Kheer is a sweet dessert consisting of sago, full cream milk, sugar, powdered cardamom, chopped almonds and saffron. Sometimes, cashew nuts, raisins or pistachios are added. Sabudana Kheer is often enjoyed during festivals.

Sabudana Kheer 01

Sabudana Kheer 02

Sambhar / Sambar is a thin vegetable soup / broth, made with pigeon peas, tamarind pulp, tomatoes, carrots, okra, potatoes, onions, powdered asafoetida / asafetida, powdered turmeric, salt, coconut meat, lentils, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, pepper and chili. It is very common throughout South India, and is often served as a side dish for a meal.

Sambhar / Sambar 01

Sambhar / Sambar 02

Seer Fish Fry is a popular South Indian fish dish, consisting of a seer fish coated with a simple marinade of chili, pepper, powdered cumin, powdered turmeric, salt, ginger, garlic, vinegar and lemon juice, then deep fried.

Seer Fish Fry

Semiya Payasam is a sweet dessert that consists of vermicelli noodles, full cream milk, sugar, clarified butter (Ghee), cashew nuts, chopped almonds, powdered cardamom, pistachios and raisins. This dish can be tweaked to make a thick dessert consistency, or a thin drink consistency by the amount of full cream milk added.

Semiya Payasam 01

Semiya Payasam 02

Semiya Upma is a savoury dish typically eaten for breakfast. It consists of vermicelli noodles, mustard seeds, curry leaves, chili, onions, tomatoes, ginger, powdered turmeric, whole black gram beans (Vigna Mungo / Urad), chickpeas and powdered asafoetida / asafetida.

Semiya Upma 01

Semiya Upma 02

Senai Varuval / Yam Fry is a quick and simple South Indian dish made with elephant yam chunks, chili, powdered turmeric, pepper, black gram bean flour (Vigna Mungo / Urad), fennel seeds, garlic, salt and tamarind juice.

Senai Varuval / Yam Fry 01

Senai Varuval / Yam Fry 02

Steamed White Rice is a staple food throughout South India, and is often served as part of a meal.

Steamed White Rice 01

Steamed White Rice 02

Thakkali Sadam / Tomato Rice is a simple South Indian rice dish, consisting of white rice flavoured with onions, tomatoes, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, salt, chili, garlic, powdered turmeric, chickpeas and garnished with coriander leaves or cilantro. The resulting dish has a unique red hued rice, with a fragrant aroma of tomatoes and onions.

Thakkali Sadam / Tomato Rice 01

Thakkali Sadam / Tomato Rice 02

Economic Rice (Indian) / Thali from Chennai. This dish is often vegetarian in nature.

Economic Rice (Indian) / Thali

Thosai Plain and Thosai Masala from Chennai.

Thosai Plain 01

Thosai Plain 02

Thosai Masala 01

Thosai Masala 02

Ulli Theeyal is a dish which originated from Kerala. It consists of shallots / small onions, roasted or fried with powdered turmeric, tamarind juice, salt, grated coconut, powdered coriander, chili, mustard seeds, curry leaves, water, tomatoes and sugar. It has a rice, tangy taste and is slightly spicy.

Ulli Theeyal 01

Ulli Theeyal 02