Atho tamil-burmese fusion dish in chennai

Atho: Tamil-Burmese Crossovers on a Palate

Behind Parrys’, one finds a potpourri cuisine of the city

By Sangeeta Bose

In heart of the colonial part of the city at Parry’s corner, one comes across an array of stalls selling ‘Atho’ – wich comprises of a combination one couldn’t have thought of in their wildest imagination- fried noodles and tamarind- on a single plate.

But what makes this noodle dish different from others is that is not Indian in origin, but brought to this land by the Tamil Burmese who moved into the city in the 1960s after the military dictatorship in Burma drove them out.

‘Atho’ has a unique composition of its own - homemade noodles fried with cabbage leaves, onions, small amounts of tamarind juice, modest sprinkling of Chettinadu (authentic South Indian) spices , making a hallmark of Burmese cuisine part of the Chennai’s must-try foods.

Sahul Amid Atho, who had set up shop here since 1969 after coming from Burma by ship, hands over a steaming hot plate of freshly tossed-up Atho, to a regular weekend customer at his shop. He comes from Kelambakkam Burma colony.

The aroma from the dish seems indeed an irresistible camaraderie that plays with your olfactory senses- it smells of the typical South Indian chettinadu, yet tossed up with Chinese zing of fried noodles, yet not entirely Chinese in its entirety.

“It is because this is a combination dish. When we started cooking Atho here, we knew the typical formula would not work, the street food culture here is already so immersive, we needed to tweak it a bit to make it popular,” adds Munir Yadav, a Burmese, who seems a seasoned veteran when it comes to determining the flavor of the dish.

There are many variations in the dish- Egg Burmese Atho, to regional variations such as vegetarian chettinadu atho to pan fried non vegetarian atho. With so many different offerings within the spectrum of one dish, Atho draws a lot of customers in the city.

The dish represents the perfect Tamil-Burmese crossover on a street food palate- you can taste the authentic homemade noodles, coupled with the tangy and sour sting of the tamarind juices, and the cabbage and the onion add all the more to the texture of this unique fusion dish, and the spices that much-needed extra zing.

A couple of gray pigeons fly away from the old SBI building as the smoke from Sahul’s egg special Atho Noodles frying pan rises up.

Sathisha a regular customer says that his weekend is incomplete without having to sip on the Atho noodles at Sahul’s shop. “This is our mandatory weekend catching-up. Sahul and I have known each other for decades now,” says the middle-aged man.

People like Muni Yandi, who had set up shop in the Parry’s Burma Bazaar area in 1996, still fondly recall memories of his childhood spent growing up in Yangon city.

In a jiff of enthusiasm, Yandi starts explaining how the Burmese language sounds.

Most of them come from refugee families who crossed over borders to India, forced to become penniless overnight, due to the nationalization of businesses by the Myanmar military government.

This was a tradition continuing for a long time now, and some of the Tamil migrated to the country and some to the north east.

The Tamil Nadu government in 1969 arranged separate living areas for them in the form of Burma Colonies in the city, and also built a separate market area for them, and also special trader’s associations catering to their needs.

“Chennai is my home for the last two decades, of the three decades I have been running my shop, maybe for some connection, this is the land of the forefathers, and that is why the government welcomes us with open arms,” says Sahul Amid Kadai, who has been running his own atho shop in the area for three decadesnow.

Sahul travels 17 kilometers everyday from Kelambakkam, the place where his Burma Colony is, to come near Beach Railway Station to his shop to come and sell noodles.

The shop owners share a good camaraderie with each other, Sahul runs to the next shop owner Muni Yandi, and runs to him to explain the history of why he set up the Atho shop.

“It is as if our forefathers have welcomes us back to their land: we feel Chennai is our land, and after the way the government has treated us, we feel happier,” says Myanku Bhat, another Burmese-origin Tamil cook who has come to adopt the land of Tamils, Chennai, as his own.

The Tamil atho shop owners, also feel that they have been lucky in the profession, most of them have been carrying on from their own family business.

“I make around 2000 rupees a day, depending on the sales. My days go on with the blessings of Allah, and this is my sole business,” he adds with a sense of gratitude.

Sahul’s son has just finished law school, and his daughter is studying in the 11th standard. He shows me a Youtube video of how a local television channel covered his dish.

We can see history unfold in this corner of the city, on Second Beach Lane Road, where a dish of South Asian origin, has undergone regional influences of tamarind and Chettinadu spices and is being made by people with ancestors linked to the land, yet their histories different.

“It is because this is a combination dish. When we started cooking Atho here, we knew the typical formula would not work, the street food culture here is already so immersive, we needed to tweak it a bit to make it popular,” adds Munir Yadav, a Burmese, who seems a seasoned veteran when it comes to determining the flavor of the dish.

There are many variations in the dish- Egg Burmese Atho, to regional variations such as vegetarian chettinadu atho to pan fried non vegetarian atho. With so many different offerings within the spectrum of one dish, Atho draws a lot of customers in the city.

The dish represents the perfect Tamil-Burmese crossover on a street food palate- you can taste the authentic homemade noodles, coupled with the tangy and sour sting of the tamarind juices, and the cabbage and the onion add all the more to the texture of this unique fusion dish, and the spices that much-needed extra zing.

A couple of gray pigeons fly away from the old SBI building as the smoke from Sahul’s egg special Atho Noodles frying pan rises up.

Sathisha a regular customer says that his weekend is incomplete without having to sip on the Atho noodles at Sahul’s shop. “This is our mandatory weekend catching-up. Sahul and I have known each other for decades now,” says the middle-aged man.

People like Muni Yandi, who had set up shop in the Parry’s Burma Bazaar area in 1996, still fondly recall memories of his childhood spent growing up in Yangon city.

In a jiff of enthusiasm, Yandi starts explaining how the Burmese language sounds.

Most of them come from refugee families who crossed over borders to India, forced to become penniless overnight, due to the nationalization of businesses by the Myanmar military government.

This was a tradition continuing for a long time now, and some of the Tamil migrated to the country and some to the north east.

The Tamil Nadu government in 1969 arranged separate living areas for them in the form of Burma Colonies in the city, and also built a separate market area for them, and also special trader’s associations catering to their needs.

“Chennai is my home for the last two decades, of the three decades I have been running my shop, maybe for some connection, this is the land of the forefathers, and that is why the government welcomes us with open arms,” says Sahul Amid Kadai, who has been running his own atho shop in the area for three decadesnow.

Sahul travels 17 kilometers everyday from Kelambakkam, the place where his Burma Colony is, to come near Beach Railway Station to his shop to come and sell noodles.

The shop owners share a good camaraderie with each other, Sahul runs to the next shop owner Muni Yandi, and runs to him to explain the history of why he set up the Atho shop.

“It is as if our forefathers have welcomes us back to their land: we feel Chennai is our land, and after the way the government has treated us, we feel happier,” says Myanku Bhat, another Burmese-origin Tamil cook who has come to adopt the land of Tamils, Chennai, as his own.

The Tamil atho shop owners, also feel that they have been lucky in the profession, most of them have been carrying on from their own family business.

“I make around 2000 rupees a day, depending on the sales. My days go on with the blessings of Allah, and this is my sole business,” he adds with a sense of gratitude.

Sahul’s son has just finished law school, and his daughter is studying in the 11th standard. He shows me a Youtube video of how a local television channel covered his dish.

We can see history unfold in this corner of the city, on Second Beach Lane Road, where a dish of South Asian origin, has undergone regional influences of tamarind and Chettinadu spices and is being made by people with ancestors linked to the land, yet their histories different.

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