“Athithi Dhevo Bhava” which means the guest is god; is the concept behind the popular Annalakshmi Restaurant in Chennai city. This chain of vegetarian restaurants was first opened in Malaysia in 1984 and now has branches in Australia, Singapore and India.
Annalakshmi, which is named after the Hindu goddess of plenty, is a voluntary organization that follows the philosophy set forth by Swami Shantanand Saraswathi. His basic teaching is “to serve, to love and to give”. This is exactly how Annalakshmi works.
It is completely run by volunteers or “Annalakshmees” – they have no chefs or servers. The entire operation is run from beginning to end by followers who come from all walks of life. Many of the restaurants are run on an “eat to your heart’s content, pay what your heart feels” basis.
The profits from the Annalakshmi restaurants are used to provide much needed medical and nutritional needs for the poor. They also support the promotion of Indian fine arts.
When you eat at Annalakshmi, expect to dine on a really simple, superbly prepared home-style vegetarian meal. The menu changes daily and what is served is determined by the many housewives who volunteer their time to come in and set the menu and cook the foods for the day. Though the primary focus is on South Indian food, there are dishes from all parts of India as the volunteers span the length and breadth of the country.
Eating at Annalakshmi is really like eating out of your mother’s kitchen. The great principal behind this organization seeps onto the plate and into the psyche of all who work and eat there and that’s what makes dinning at Annalakshmi a divine experience.
Here is some of what we ate:
POMEGRANATE AND HONEY LEMON JUICE
We began with a very light, brothy tomato soup which was very refreshing.
The thali (platter) was served with a paneer korma (Indian cheese with curry), a black daal with rajma (black lentils with kidney beans), fried sesame bitter gourd, chou chou or chayote curry, cucumber and pineapple salad and raita (yogurt based condiment).
CUMIN & CASHEW NUT PULLAO & TOMATO RICE
I loved both their rices. They were both so different, so fresh and really really tasty.
Rasam is a South Indian specialty. It’s a very thin broth made with tomato, tamarind and pepper.
WHITE RICE (SADAM) WITH PODIS, SEEDS & VATHA KOLUMBU
I love this part of the meal. It is when you get hot white rice, which is either topped off with ghee (clarified butter) or gingley oil. You then can choose from a variety of podis (made from dry roasted powdered lentils, spices and herbs).
We were also served a variety of dried and salted seeds out of which my favorite was the neem flower seed. I also loved the vatha kolumbu which is a tangy curry made with tamarind.
SAMBAR & RICE
We were then served rice with sambar, which is a spicy lentil and vegetable dish typical of South India.
ASSORTED PICKLES AND CHUTNEYS
They served us freshly made spicy mango and lemon pickles and a delicious tomato chutney.
Curd rice is always served at the end of the meal. He curds are meant to cool off all the spices that have been consumed during the meal.
This dessert is made with sweetened milk and made for a very nice needing to the meal
I love that in Indian restaurant, you can wash your hands right at the table. At the end of the meal we were brought a finger bowl – a bowl of warm water with a little slice of lemon in it, which is used as the soap to clean ones hands.
MY RATINGS FOR THIS MEAL
Food: ☆☆☆ ½