When in Chennai, I always make it a point to visit the Murugan Idli Shop. Their ghee podi idlis are fluffy pieces of heaven. Soaked in ghee and smothered with spicy podi, it’s the perfect breakfast when paired with a nice, cold glass of jigarthanda!” says Sanchari Pal, my colleague at The Better India.
When it comes to food, it isn’t easy to win Sanchari’s vote of approval, for the woman is one you can call a true-blue foodie. But one bite into the idlis at Murugan’s, and she was sold!
Well, Sanchari isn’t the only person who was spellbound by the fluffy idlis and tantalising chutneys that this ‘shop’ offers—Chennai has been raving over them ever since the first Murugan Idli Shop was established in GN Chetty Road in 2003.
The shops you come across Chennai, however, are the successors of a small tiffin centre in Madurai, started by a couple in the 60s.
“Fifty-three years ago, my parents started the Murugan Coffee Nilayam in Madurai. It was a small-scale affair, and the place served only coffee and snacks. And, then my mother started making idlis which became very popular,” says S Manoharan, the founder of Murugan Idli Shop.
Interestingly, she began making idlis to support their family of seven. Previously, they sold coffee and evening snacks, which wasn’t sufficient.
In no time, these delicacies became a hit, so much so that an entire day’s production would be sold off in just half an hour!
It was their son, Manoharan, whose ardent love for idlis led him on the path his parents had once trudged upon—almost a generation later.
After completing his masters in peacekeeping, when he told his family that he wanted to take over the business and set up a restaurant just like his father, they were shocked. For his parents didn’t want him to go through the same struggles, but Manoharan was adamant. More than that, he was confident that he would succeed.
And in 1991, he gave Madurai its first Murugan Idli Shop.
The rest, as they say, was history.
Making idlis just the way his mother did, these fluffy delicacies became so popular that people from Chennai requested him to open an outlet in their city.
Finally, in 2003, they got one on T Nagar’s GN Chetty road, with many more to follow.
Along with rebranding of the restaurant, even the menu saw major additions by Manoharan.
With four different types of lip-smacking chutneys, sambar and podi, Manoharan also brought delicacies like ghee pongal, sakkarai pongal, vada and the soul-quenching jigarthanda to the shop—all of which, had an equal fan following!
Funnily enough, the restaurant’s name also holds an interesting story. When Manoharan was deciding on the name, many told him to drop the ‘shop’ and replace it with ‘restaurant’. But he went ahead with the name, as he felt that ‘shop’ would resonate better with the middle-class milieu, whom he had originally wished to serve.
Well, we are glad that he stuck to what he believed in, for today, the Shop has evolved to a much loved and renowned franchise that has 24 outlets in Chennai, two in Madurai, two in Singapore and one even in London!
Serving a legacy that a simple homemaker started decades ago, Murugan’s idlis have remained in the hearts of people for all these years!
When in Chennai, do visit this place. We are sure you won’t be disappointed!
But keep this in mind—it is really hard to find a table here for the number of people thronging it at any given time. Make sure you head there early or are willing to wait for one to become free!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)