In Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI), Chanai and Chaya Café is well known and a favourite food haunt for many years now. The stall was started by Devayani Nair back in 1985.
Chanai and Chaya Café, which is located on the second floor of TTDI wet market, specialises in South Indian cooking and attracts people of all races.
Today, her daughter Pathmavati Nair runs the business and is a familiar face with wet marketgoers here.
“My mother was a legend here,” said Pathmavati. “She taught me how to cook and trained me to run the food business. Running the food stall is not just a business to me; over the years it has become a lot more than that.
“It’s an honest means to earn a living by serving good food to customers who have gradually become my close friends,” she added.
The stall is known for its paal appam (RM2) that is prepared using a spoonful of thick coconut milk added to the doughy centre.
When cooked, the centre is firm to the touch but remains soft inside and is sweeter as a result of the coconut milk.
Pathmavati uses an appachatti, a shallow iron pot with a curved bottom and metal lid that gives the dish its unique bowl-like shape, to cook the appam.
Once the pot is sufficiently hot, she pours a ladleful of the pale bubbling batter into the pot and deftly swirls it around so that the batter spreads evenly to cover all the sides.
Within seconds, the pot is back on the stove, with the lid firmly clamped on.
Pathmavati does not have the conscious showmanship of a chef on television but she has all the skill and experience of one.
A minute later, she lifts the lid and adds a dollop of sweetened coconut milk to the centre of the appam and the lid goes back on.
Another minute passes and the paal appam is done.
It arrives at the table steaming hot, golden brown, with lacy edges all around and a thick spongy centre. The crust is paper thin and crispy to a fault.
The interior, where the coconut-centre resides, is firm to the touch yet soft and gooey inside.
I tear off a chunk and dip it into the coconut milk, allowing any excess to drip off first, before popping the appam into my mouth.
It is just like how my grandmother used to make them using an age-old recipe.
The stall also serves egg appam, thosai, idli, chapati, roti canai, roti telur, roti planta, roti sardin, roti pisang, roti bom and fried noodles.
Pathmavati said business is generally good but she has introduced the self-service concept at her stall as she lacked manpower.
Nowadays, she takes a back seat and allows her son, Vijendran Nair, to run the business while teaching her daughter-in-law the tricks of the trade.The stall is open daily except for Mondays and its advisable to go there early during the weekends and public holidays to avoid the breakfast crowd.
The stall is open from 7.30am to 12.30pm.