Biharis cook their way into Chennai hearts
CHENNAI: Kargil, Circuit and Mahi are among a bunch of more than 250 Bihari men who have endeared themselves to people in Chennai with their culinary skills.
Networks of these home-service cooks prepare chapattis and a variety of north Indian dishes mostly for students and IT professionals from other states who long for a taste of home. But many Chennaiites too are taking a fancy to the fare they’re dishing out.
The cooks live in settlements across IT hubs and in localities near educational institutions, including Tambaram, Velachery, Kelambakkam, Kottivakkam, along ECR and near Camp Road junction, and even in Mamallapuram. Most of these Biharis, armed with a matriculation or senior secondary certificate, came to the city in search of employment.
Manish alias Kargil, 21 from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, came to Chennai in search of a job during the Kargil War. While working as a delivery boy in a courier company, he affixed a small tricolour on his bicycle as a mark of respect to India’s soldiers. The bicycle still has a prominent sticker that says ‘ARMY’.
Vinod, 23 from Vaishali in the same state, was nicknamed Circuit as he can mimic the mannerisms and lines of Arshad Warsi’s character in ‘Munnabhai’. Chanchal aka Mahi, 24, from Lakhisarai, lights an incense stick every morning before a picture of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. “We cook chapattis and chokha (finely chopped onions, coriander leaves, lemon juice and smoked red chill mixed with mashed potatoes),” says Kargil. “My specialty is Dehati Chicken, which is popular in villages across Bihar. Rather than powdered spices, I use a mixture of black cumin, aniseed, fenugreek and mustard with pounded raw garlic and ginger.”
Most of them have been working for over five years and even and brought their relatives to Chennai to expand their business. Their typical working hours are between 10am and 2pm and from 4pm to 10pm.
As powdered baked gram (sattu) is not easily available in Chennai they procure it from Bihar. The cooks can easily prepare special bihari delicacies like makuni (parathas stuffed with baked gram powder) and litti (sattu with other condiments stuffed into wheat ball and either barbecued or deep fried). Dheeraj, an IT professional and regular customer, vouches for the food that these Bihari cooks whip up. “Unlike them, the eateries that sell north Indian food are either expensive or the dishes are not authentic,” he says.