Hotel Sri Ranga Vilas


I’m not a foodie person but I’m an ardent follower of the food connoisseurs who know where to eat, and ‘meat upon’ their selections, once in a while, for a filling effect. My tastes are not epicurean…but I’m getting there!

After returning-for-good and moving to my hometown City, Salem, Tamil Nadu, two years ago, my wife and I have been on the search-mode for a, visit-often, clean, non-airs, non-vegetarian restaurant, to drop in for a healthy, nearest-to-home-cooked, business breakfast, lunch or dinner. The high-end Hotels weren’t in our radar. The few great eat-outs of yester-years that we knew, where we got our stomachs full, were either in the bone-starving mode or had grown-up and taken on new unrecognisable fat avatars. Hotel Sri Parasakthi, whose customers usually spilled over to the nearby railway tacks and which offered mouth-watering street-style chicken delicacies, had moved to a serious, glass air-conditioned home. We did have lunch over there, one Sunday afternoon, and never returned. It wasn’t bad at all, but we couldn’t smell the remains of the old. The then popular Chinese food serving Golden Dragon Restaurant at the dilapidated, once glorious, Santham Super Market area had lost its armor of gold and its fire, and was heading towards a close-down, in keeping with its surroundings. We could just-about recognize the small odours of a glorious past. The nearby Green Park Restaurant was a delight, but the food was costly and wasn’t worth the ambience and the setting. We did keep this is as an option – based on how heavy our purse was at the time.

We tried Junior Kuppanna, Anjappar, Ramalingam Hotel and many other medium to ‘high class’ restaurants, and yet our non-vegetarian hotel search engine stayed open and wouldn’t shutdown. Hotel Mangala Vilas was a hot restaurant during our school days but we didn’t give it a try, as yet. Then there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Restaurant at Salem, and it’s an all-time cracking favorite, especially when I head for my quarterly Car Service at nearby TVS Sundaram Motors. Nevertheless, we wanted to home-in on an Indian style restaurant!

We then shifted to the ‘like & follow mode’. My late father-in-law having been a constantly-on-the-move former Member of the Legislative Assembly, Tamil Nadu Government, had a superior knack for hunting down places to eat and keeping them in memory (Now, we only had him in our memory). During the many times we travelled with him, he would suddenly stop at some nondescript place and drag us –literally by our bellies, to what would appear to be shabby looking restaurant only to be served some of the best food that we had ever tasted. Over a period of time we learnt to blindly trust him and feed upon his judgment.

You may call it serendipity, but one clear Monday morning we were pulled by the presence of a small hotel, near the Collector’s Office and Super Specialty Government Hospital, Salem, frequented by my father-in-law, and a chosen one. Only we couldn’t recall the name; but like two blind mice we searched, and then surely stumbled upon Hotel Sri Ranga Vilas , on the Old Market Street, off the Fort Main Road leading to Gugai and the Tiruchi Road. It was almost hidden by a crowded & bulging Tea & Snack Stall adjacent to it, and fogging a clear & present view, but a huge board showed us the place. We found our way to a small but neat 15 to 20-seater, strikingly plain Hotel, which served only non-vegetarian food. It was the early days of the Government of India’s demonetization drive, when we were struggling to hold on to some cash in our pockets, and there was a smart POS card machine on the Cash Counter – ‘We Accept All Cards’ smiled a sticker. It was about 9.30 am in the morning and the menu was Idli, dosa, with chicken curry and few chicken-fry varieties. A board displayed, ‘briyani for Rs 170’ We ordered chicken-curry, plain-dosa and egg-dosa, which was served on a washed green plantain leaf. While the flawless dosas, dipped in rich curry melted in our mouths and disappeared quickly, we had the feeling that we were eating home-cooked food. The super crisp egg-dosa was even better than what we make at home (declared my wife – you have to take it seriously when the homemaker says so!) and one of the best we had ever eaten. After breakfast we needed a ‘crane of an effort’ to lift ourselves off our seats!

Later, over a chat with the Owner, he revealed many secrets that made this place a healthy non-vegetarian eat-out and even recommended by Doctors owing to the deep concern for hygiene and commitment to serving non-disruptive ‘animal’ food in a home-made style. They are closed on Dark-Moon Days (Amavasai), Sundays and are open between 8am and 6pm: with breakfast – morning tiffin between 8 & 11 am; meals – lunch between 12 noon & 4pm and Dinner – evening tiffin between 4 & 6 pm. The timings seem to be ‘cooked-well’ to ensure a work-life balance for the few dedicated staff. For Lunch you can chose between a rice meal with chicken or mutton curry and side dishes of your choice or go for a chicken of mutton-briyani. The dishes are simple – only chicken and mutton meat, with egg, and not at all complicated. The menu is painted on the wall for a quick browse.

Ever since, I find every opportunity to eat at Hotel Sri Ranga Vilas, most often for a king’s breakfast and once in a while for a gentleman’s lunch. The taste lingers, and wanting–to-get-back for another fill is hard to ignore. Over conversations, I find many have the Sri Ranga Vilas secret tucked inside their tummies – stories to tell, spread the word and show the bulge with pride !



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