Serving the poor, one dosa at a time

On a small street near the Woraiyur police station in Tiruchi, a nondescript building with clay tile roofing is the home and shop of S. Chinnathambi. Hungry visitors come here from across the city for his dosa.

Crossing into a quiet part of the locality, away from the busy Woraiyur Market, one can see steam evaporating from a hot pan. Here is Chinnathambi’s shop, which opened five years ago. It sells small dosas for ₹2 each so as to serve the poor. If ‘idly podi’ is sprinkled on it, it costs ₹3 each. If it is made like an ‘uttapam’, dressed with onions and carrots, it is priced at ₹4. Small plastic stools are lined up in front of the shop, which is open from 7 p.m. till midnight.

Mr. Chinnathambi had worked as a cook at a hotel nearby until five years ago. The hotel owner himself helped him set up the shop. “We made a conscious decision to serve dinner. While lunch is available at pushcarts across the city, a good dinner is difficult to come by. One must not sleep on an empty stomach,” he says.

“We manage to carry on the business since our family is involved in it; we do not do it for the profit. There are people who come with just ₹10 and eat three dosas and an omelette. There have been many nights when I have gone to sleep hungry, and I do not wish it upon my worst enemies,” he says.

Mr. Chinnathambi wakes up at 4 a.m. to soak rice and urad dal for the batter. “The rice and the dal soak until 11 a.m. when it is ground. The batter is left to ferment until we are ready to open the shop,” he says.

In the meantime, Mr. Chinnathambi and his wife prepare coconut and ‘kara’ chutney, two varieties of kurma and sambhar. His two daughters, one in Class 12 and the other in Class 10, help them. “We grind 9 kg of rice every night. There have been nights when we have run out of batter and have had to buy it from nearby stores,” he says.

On average, over 100 customers have dinner at Mr. Chinnathambi’s shop every day. He makes 600 to 800 dosas a day. Among his customers are people who work through the day at the Woraiyur market and many youth. “The youngsters have watched YouTube videos on my shop and come to try it out,” he says. Kids living in the locality, too, rush to the shop to eat one or two dosas.

“They tell me that they get dinner for the price of a chocolate,” he laughs.

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