You can take a Madrasi out of Madras, but not the other way round. Proofs in London's Tooting. Where the streets smell of chennai ( can't say that's good).
Ever since I moved to London, almost every Indian I have met has had one thing to say 'you HAVE to go to Tooting' or 'you haven't been to Tooting yet!?'
So much hype was enough to put my husband off. I haven't come all the way to London to go to a place that smells like India! Sure, I would agree, but I'm always up for exploring and Tooting was right up on the list. I needed my Indian groceries, which is impossible to find at Wimbledon, and Indian vegetables like bhindi. I take a dabba to office everyday, so I need some basic ingredients for dal or sambar or sabzi.
We set out on a Saturday afternoon, a fifteen minute bus ride. From a rich manicured Wimbledon you know you are entering poor cousin Tooting when the streets get narrower, shops start looking run down, and then begin the one pound shops and pawn brokers in a row.
We started on a high with a super fulfilling lunch at Saravanabhavan. It was delightful authentic. I used to hate the South Indian joints in Mumbai. Madras cafe was total hype. And the others were far and too few. The udupi joints in Bangalore are not too bad, but they always screw up the sambar- too red, too sweet.
So we ordered the onion rava dosa, rava masala dosa, ghee pongal, butter milk and thair vadai. Finished it off with a filter coffee which looked like a muffin bursting out of a steel tumbler.
I must comment about the decor. So authentically downmarket. Old chairs and ugly frames on the walls that I can only guess they have specially ordered from India. Cracks on the ceiling plastered with dirty plastic brown tape. I have mixed feelings about that. Do you deliberately like to look 'cheap', because you are certainly not. I guess it's the Indian attitude of 'we are like only' , or 'chalta hai'. But full points for the grub, I would come here again for that.
We went to the Tooting market, which was totally disappointing. I don't know why anyone would go there, unless they are looking for something specific, or they want to buy some garish outfits or show pieces. Indian fortune teller, Chinese medicine woman, plastic flowers, loud print curtains, the house of tacky.
Some of the supermarkets are good, when you want your hadi jeera, or mustard seeds, maggi, masalas, all kinds of dals, imli and even parachute coconut oil. They are not expensive.
Tooting is charming or nostalgic, just the way a T- nagar would be! I think I have had my south Indian fix for now, needless to say I'm not coming back here for a long time, unless I have that nagging craving for good dosa - sambar, or we run out of asofoteda!