Inti Bhojanam: Several hits and some misses

Ringing in the flavours of Vijayawada, Inti Bhojanam in Chennai offers a promising vegetarian menu but struggles with a non-vegetarian classic.

A couple of weeks ago, my Instagram was buzzing with high praises for the Vijayawada flavours that Inti Bhojanam (rougly translates to ‘homely food’ in Telugu), Chennai’s new dine-in, has to offer. A short while after skimming through the appetising pictures of their food, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and see what the fuss was all about.

As someone who enjoys the tingling sensation on their tongue upon savouring spicy food, I was ready to be swept by their Telugu spice mix. I had invited a food companion (who shares my love for spicy food) to make up for my small appetite and vegetarian preferences.

We reached the location with no difficulty on a Monday afternoon for our 1:30 pm reservation. Upon entering the lobby, we were captivated by the vibrant lights — contemporary pendants with traditionally woven baskets around them. However, there was no sign or board in the lift or the lobby to guide us to the floor where the restaurant was located.

We reached the first floor where an opaque door (again, with no sign or board whatsoever) turned out to be the entrance to the restaurant.

The cosy glass wall corners inside inti bhojanam restaurant. Image: nidharshana raju.
The cosy glass wall corners inside Inti Bhojanam restaurant. Image: Nidharshana Raju.

With a huge see-through glass wall inside, the restaurant sits overlooking Alwarpet’s busy roads. I looked around the air-conditioned store and found it spacious, well lit, with high tables and cushioned chairs. A long, warli-inspired art piece ran across the walls.

The interiors of inti bhojanam feature warli-inspired walls. Image: nidharshana raju.
The interiors of Inti Bhojanam feature warli-inspired walls. Image: Nidharshana Raju.

As I admired the ambience in, a waiter led us to our table by the glass wall and handed us a dated menu. The menu was categorised into a full meals section for vegetarians, options for sides (both veg and non-veg), and a biriyani section for non-vegetarians. After learning that chicken and prawn fry weren’t available that afternoon, we placed our orders.

While I ordered the vegetarian meals along with Masala Baby Potato from the sides menu, my companion ordered a Chicken Dum Biriyani (how could we not order Biriyani at an Andhra restaurant?) and Mamsam Vepudu (mutton fry). The waiter carefully laid our banana leaves and spared us some time to clean them with water. Shortly after, he started mindfully placing the chutneys and vegetables for my thali.

The vegetarian vijayawada-style meals at inti bhojanam are served on a banana leaf. Image: nidharshana raju.
The vegetarian Vijayawada-style meals at Inti Bhojanam are served on a banana leaf. Image: Nidharshana Raju.

From left to right on the top half of the leaf, he served the Cabbage Roti Pacchadi (cabbage chutney), followed by Boiled Cabbage fry, Thotakura Pappu (amaranth leafy vegetable dal), and Chamadumpala Pulusu (arbi curry). As he served them, he mentioned that these four side dishes alone are substituted with different vegetables every day of the week. “Okra one day, ivy gourd another day, and so on,” he said.

On the bottom half, he served Mudda Pappu (dal) followed by a generous amount of rice and papad. Then, he placed a cup of ghee and three containers with Pappula Podi (dal powder), Curry leaf Podi, and Avakaya Pacchadi (mango pickle).

Meanwhile, another waiter arrived from the kitchen with the rest of our order. The classic Chicken Dum Biriyani looked glorious in a pot. It came with a cup of Salan, onion, and raita. Both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian sides arrived in a starter bowl.

Chicken dum biriyani, served with salan, raita, and the mutton fry at inti bhojanam. Image: nidharshana raju.
Chicken Dum Biriyani, served with Salan, Raita, and the Mutton Fry at Inti Bhojanam. Image: Nidharshana Raju.

With tall expectations, my food companion dug into the hot pot of biriyani. He was pleasantly surprised at the two big pieces of chicken (leg and breast pieces) in it. “Most restaurants serve one piece only,” he commented with sheer excitement. Unfortunately, his excitement died soon after he tasted the rice.

I tasted after him only to find that the masala in the biriyani lacked the balance and punch. As a result, the well-cooked chicken pieces in the biriyani didn’t deliver either. Both of us agreed that the biriyani almost tasted bland. However, the right spice mix in the Salan rescued the whole meal.

Meanwhile, the Mamsam Vepudu (mutton fry) didn’t disappoint. Each piece of the boneless meat was well cooked. The dish had the right amount of spice and was rich in flavour. The acidic undertones of the pungent curry leaves paired well with the mutton pieces.

My companion enjoyed the mutton fry so much that he had the leftovers packed for dinner.

The vegetarian dishes, on the other hand, didn’t miss the mark. True to its brand name, several dishes such as the potato fry, Mudda Pappu (thick dal), Pappu Charu (similar to sambar), Majjaga Pulusu (a buttermilk-based curry), Beetroot Rasam (tamarind-based liquid), Boiled Cabbage and Podis (powders) delivered the comfort of a home-cooked meal. The Thotakura Pappu (amaranth leafy vegetable dal) wasn’t to my liking but my companion thought otherwise and enjoyed its sour notes.

The rest of the meal was quite noteworthy. Firstly, the cabbage chutney was one of a kind. Unlike most chutneys, its consistency was thick and sticky; and its spice came from ginger. The sweet and hot ginger leant itself to the cabbage, thereby, causing a riot of flavour. Secondly, in the Chamadumpala Pulusu (arbi curry), with taro root as its main ingredient, the balance between the chilli’s spice and the tamarind’s sweetness was incredible.  

My favourite part of the vegetarian meal was the Pachi Pulusu (a watery curry). The waiter (who mentioned that he was from Vijayawada) adviced me to mix it in rice with some Mudda Pappu (thick dal) for more flavour. I did so. The curry had chopped green chillies and chopped raw onions. However, upon tasting it with rice and Mudda Pappu, the spicy curry left a sweet aftertaste. Puzzled by its flavour profile, I asked the waiter to explain the sweetness. “Jaggery water, ma’am,” he clarified. I relished every last bite of the sweet and spicy goodness.

The curd they served was another noteworthy item since they had made it from buffalo milk. It was extremely creamy and the taste was incredible.

Both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals came to an end with their dessert — Bellam Pongal (milk and rice kheer). In Andhra, this dessert is called Paramannam — the ultimate food for the gods. The sweetness of jaggery didn’t overpower the dish and it truly was the perfect way to end our meal.

As we paid the bill and waited for the lift, we found a couple of confused faces. My companion didn’t bat an eye. “Inti Bhojanam is behind that door,” he told them. As the lift went down, we shared a light-hearted laugh over the fact that we weren’t the only ones looking for a sign that afternoon.

Address: 67, Kavignar Bharathidasan Road, Seetammal Colony, MIG Colony, Alwarpet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018
Timings: Open between 12 noon and 4 pm

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (Max: 5 stars)
Food: 7/10
Service: 10/10
Interiors/Décor: 8/10 
Vibe: 9/10
One dish we loved: Pachi Pulusu
One dish that didn’t work for us: Chicken Dum Biriyani

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