In Chennai, while every nook and corner serves you the staple idli, dosa, sambar and chutney, there is something distinctive about the taste of the sambar that Ratna Café serves.

The franchise is known for its sambar, which is drunk by the litre! The wait staff carry it around in mini-buckets and pour it atop hot servings of idli and dosa.

Ratna Café was established in 1948 by Jaggilal Gupta, who moved from Mathura to Chennai and turned his love for good food into what is today a food landmark of the city.

Lokesh, who is now the fourth generation running Ratna Café, says, “It’s amazing how we have customers who now bring their grandchildren to eat here. The nostalgic value and brand loyalty that Ratna Café enjoys is just unparalleled.”

Speaking about the magic of the sambar made here, he says, “For years now, we have been following the same ratio of onion, tomato, spices and the dal that goes into making the sambar.”

“Despite tasting the sambar every day before it leaves the kitchen, given that I am a fourth-generation restaurateur, my understanding of the sambar comes from what I hear from my customers,” he says.

“To maintain that quality and taste is a huge challenge and adds immense pressure on me,” he says, adding that on average, close to 1,500 litres of sambar is made at this iconic eatery, and there have been days when that number reaches 2,000 litres.

When Ratna Café was established, it served about 10 items — including rava kesari, tomato bhath, sambar-idli, dosa, masala dosa, basundi, and rasmalai.

“While we are known for the sambar we serve, there were a few more items that we popularised like basundi, rasmalai, and rose and badam milk,” he shares.

“It caught on so well that every other South Indian restaurant in the state started serving these. That is the true legacy that Ratna Café has created,” Lokesh adds.

Presently, a plate of idli is charged at Rs 60, and this comes with unlimited sambar and chutney on demand. A meal for a family of four will cost you about Rs 500.

Since its inception, the restaurant has cultivated a loyal legion of patrons. There is often no space to even park your vehicle outside the cafe, and one almost always has to wait to be seated and served.

So next time you visit Chennai, look for the place where its patrons are drinking sambar like one would drink tea out of a saucer — that’s how you’ll know you are at Ratna Café.