Teru challenges Chennai’s ‘chaatscape’

With rare dying delicacies like Mangalore buns and goli soda on the menu, Teru celebrates the taste of south India like never before.

From the snack stalls along the bustling beachside to the ones within the buzzing city, Chennai’s street food has been growing synonymous with non-native dishes. Over the last decade, momo stalls and chaat corners have been replacing traditional south-Indian snacks. Meanwhile, several well-established brands have also made their mark in what is now known as Chennai’s ‘chaatscape’.

Anirudh Rao (25), a first-time entrepreneur, is committed to reversing this trend. His brainchild Teru (Street), a cosy space at Chennai’s Alwarpet, celebrates several unsung cultural dishes from the different towns of south India. From the ambiance to the vegetarian line-up on his menu, Rao leaves no stone unturned, all while doing his day job as a management consultant with a leading global financial servicing company.

The homely interiors at teru, chennai.
The homely interiors of Teru, Chennai.

A nostalgic touch

Even before the food awakes all your senses at Teru, you are likely to experience a dash of comfort. “It is easier to indulge in food when the setting reminds you of home,” believes Rao, “I wanted to achieve that, hence, I opted for an open kitchen.”

Meanwhile, for someone whose ethnic roots are in the south of India, the comfort this ambiance offers is intended to grow on multiple levels and knock on nostalgic doors. To this extent, the netted chairs, the maavu kolam (rice flour rangoli) stickers on the floor tiles, and the antique oil lamp-like lights suspended from the ceiling do justice. Additionally, the music sets the right tone for the food offered. “I curated different instrumental tracks with instruments like thavil, flute, and parai that are native to the south,” adds Rao.

Menu, please!

At present, Teru’s snack menu is about 10 dishes and six beverages strong. It includes some region-specific dishes such as Thattu Vadai Settu, a snack that is famous in Salem, Tamil Nadu, Pungulu, a deep-fried delicacy from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, and Akki Rotti, a breakfast dish from Karnataka. “I took a lot of input from the locals for these recipes. I want the food I serve at Teru to be a good representation of these traditional food items,” says Rao.

Akki rotti on teru’s menu.
Akki Rotti from Karnataka is a flatbread made with rice flour, spices, herbs and vegetables.

He adds, “I want to include street food from Kerala but their street culture is very complicated. Firstly, we are a vegetarian restaurant but Kerala’s street food accommodates more seafood and meat. Secondly, a dish like Pazhampuri, which is a big hit in Kerala, is very similar to a dish we have on the menu already, called Mangalore bun. Both are banana-based dishes. So, I am taking my time with it.”

Further, Rao highlights that he consciously limits the use of plastics in his kitchen. To be eco-friendly, he has introduced biodegradable packaging as well. “This decision has led to some significant cuts in my profits but I honestly don’t mind it,” he admits.

Although the three-month-old store is centred around resurrecting traditional snack items, it has recently started offering a limited lunch menu to cater to the customers who walk into the store in the afternoon “wanting to eat something heavy.” Thayir Sadham (curd rice) remains constant every day and Kalandha Sadham (mixed rice) is alternated throughout the week. The Kalandha Sadham ranges from vegetable biriyani to bisi bele bath.

Rao adds, “We are located in a neighbourhood where there are several corporates around us. We are looking to tie up with one of them for providing lunch as well.”

Additionally, he is also looking to use Teru as a platform for uplifting home cooks who specialise in making pickles and powders. “At the moment, we are selling packaged lemon and tomato pickles along with packaged Paruppu Poondu Podi (dal and garlic powder) and Karuvepillai Podi (curry leaf powder). The home cook we are collaborating with for these products is Jaya Sree from Guntur. She brings her family’s recipes with her. We print her name on the packets as well,” he says. “We regularly check if her kitchen passes the SOPs, of course,” he quickly adds.

The ambitious youngster adds that he is looking to introduce chutney podi from Karnataka soon and is also open to adding vathal (a fried side dish like papad) to his list.

Filter coffee powder is another side hustle that Rao sources from Chikkamagaluru, Karnataka, and sells under his label. It is a mix of Plantation A, Chicory, and Robusta. He uses the same powder for serving the beverage at his store.

Filter coffee served at teru.
Filter coffee served at Teru.

“We have Japanese people walking in and tasting our food since there is a Japanese consulate right down the road. One of them who had had our filter coffee purchased 10 packets and took them back to Japan as souvenirs. I was so pleasantly surprised,” he recalls.

Taste of the past

The young restaurateur, who is high on ambition, took his first step at entrepreneurship at the age of 19. As a student entrepreneur, he founded and ran a re-selling business at his university campus in Sonipat.

Rao fondly recollects, “I have always had a keen interest in food. But I took this plunge because of my time at Ashoka University. The campus is almost 40 kilometres from Delhi. In 2018, there was no option of ordering dishes like pizza, momos, and pasta from the city because of the distance, and the food on campus wasn’t good either. So, I got several food outlets in Delhi to supply food for my business on campus. I sourced their food and re-sold it. We were called Dabba Walas. I had four juniors who worked for me on my team. Even the professors would stand in the long queues to buy food from us.” However, Dabba Walas died down at Ashoka after he graduated and wore his new hat as a management consultant.

“Those two years at the university taught me something: Only food has the power to draw all kinds of people together. It removes labels and statuses and brings people down to the same level. The driving factor for me has to be the satisfaction I got from watching people come together and indulge in good food. I guess the answer was in front of me all those years. It started when I was 19 and it has now finally taken shape as Teru,” he chuckles.

Address: 5, 1st Street, Cenotaph Rd, Alwarpet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018

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