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Old tastes die hard!

Simple food and snacks at affordable rates have sustained the popularity of this hotel



SUMPTUOUS MEAL The café serves good food and nostalgia in equal measure Photo: K. RAMESH BABU

It's 1.30 p.m, and the scorching summer heat is at its peak. A man clad in his white khadi walks rather unobtrusively into the restaurant located opposite the Nampally Railway Station.

He is greeted with a familiar namaskaram by the hotel owner Satish Nair and the dozen-odd staff present at the place.

The man reciprocates, with equal warmth before he settles down on one of the tables for his favourite south Indian thali.

The restaurant in question is Ambi's Café and the khadi-clad man is C. Bhaganna (70), a former Telugu Desam legislator (1994-99) from Zaheerabad constituency in Medak district.

True, Hyderabad could boast of some of the finest star hotels offering the choicest delicacies and ostentatious ambience.

But then the nondescript Ambi's Cafe at the foot of the railway station hasn't lost its charm either. A purely vegetarian restaurant, set up 70 years ago during the British raj, the café does a roaring business even today. Neither the taste of the food nor the ambience has changed much at this seven-decade old hotel.

The same old, yet, surprisingly intact and immaculately maintained furniture greets the customers visiting the hotel.

A few minor alterations with tiles at the central dining hall is all that a discerning customer could look for at the old, yet sturdy building.

Tasty and economical

"The food served here is homely, tasty, economical and hygienic. Whenever, I come here, it is like having food at my own home," says Bhaganna. The former MLA even during his days as legislator, used to be a regular visitor to the hotel.

"In those days, he used to come with his gunmen and convoy of vehicles," recalled, N. Mahender, a bearer from Palakad, who has been with the hotel for the past four decades. Bhaganna is one of those loyal customers for whom a visit to the city is incomplete without a bite at Ambi's café.

The loyal customers aside, the hotel has a virtual unending stream of regular and floating customers.

The fact that it is strategically located in front of the railway station, offering some steaming south Indian delicacies at modest rates has helped in sustaining its popularity among the quality and price conscious middle class section of people.

Ironically, the hotel though constructed decades ago has a central dining hall, a meals section and a separate family section

While the morning time between 7.30 am, to 10.30 a.m, one witnesses a flurry of customers trying to grab a bite with the piping hot idlis and vadas, the afternoon and night customers are mainly those who would like to have `full meals'.

A south Indian thali costs Rs. 28 which includes, an ice cream, sweet, pooris, unlimited rice and the regular dhals and sabjis.

"Today a plate of idli cost Rs. 8. Whereas, when I joined the hotel it used to cost just 20 paise!" reminisces Mahender.

One Subramanian Iyer from Tamil Nadu initially established the hotel in 1930. Subsequently, the management changed several hands and was taken over two decades ago by Narayanan Panicker. His son-in-law, Satish is managing the hotel now.

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