On a rainy evening in Chennai, just head to Burma Bazaar, a place known to house generations of Tamil refugees from Burma. During 1964, Indians in Burma were expelled under the order of General Ne Win owing to a civil war in the country. It saw the return of many Tamilians to Chennai over the next few years. The Government of Tamil Nadu set aside land for these refugees and Burma Bazaar was set up in 1969 to improve their condition. Apart from other influences of Burmese tradition, they brought popular dishes from the country to the city. Atho is one such import.
Head straight to 2nd Line Beach Road and you will find at least 5 to 6 stalls selling Burmese cuisine. Atho is a favourite of Chennaiites among them.
Atho, which is noodles tossed in garlic oil with cabbage, tamarind juice, chilli powder, a special kind of papad known as the pajo appalam (made of maize and corn flour) and a dash of lime to balance the flavour, is popular street food in Burma. It is often mixed by hand and served with a sprinkling of fried onions and garlic.
The cooking style is similar to Chinese noodles sans the sauces.
If you find atho a little too dry, take a large ladle of an ever-steaming plantain stem soup that is available with most atho sellers and pour it around the plate of noodles. The orange noodle with greenish soup is full of heat and spice. It might leave smoke coming out of ears, but you will surely want to try it again.
If you are not very happy with the vegetarian variety, ask a stall owner to give you atho fry, which is essentially atho simmered on a tawa with scrambled eggs. It is equally tasty and will fulfil your non-vegetarian cravings.
On any given day, one can find a crowd waiting at each of these stalls to get their bowl of atho. Usually the stalls open after 5 pm.