Bill of Fare


Many of our classmates take time off their busy schedule to attend the Alumni meeting at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, held during the last weekend of June.  Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely  to relive their childhood and partake of for the tea and food the school mess served.  The menu was based on a weekly ‘Bill of Fare’ which hung on the notice board of the mess.  The only variation during our entire stay at the school (1971-1979) was the date on the top and the name of the vegetable served, mostly based on seasonal availability.

The senior cadets (Grade 8 to 12) were divided into four houses – Chera, Chozha, Pandya and Pallava- named after the ancient Thamizh Kingdoms.  We along with the teaching staff dined on tables which were also placed house-wise.  The waiters were permanent and they served us with love and affection.  They formed an integral part of each house.  They would be the cheer-leaders for most of the inter-house sports competitions and would slip an extra piece of meat or an egg in case we won a competition.

The Cheras were served by Natarajan who was better known as the local banker.  He also reared cows and sold the milk to enhance his income and his banking operations.  The Chozhas were served by Vasu who was more of a neatness freak.  He realised the need for education and got his daughters through graduation who are well settled now.  The Pandyas had Venkatachalam, the most vociferous of all and also the most active.  The Pallavas had Madhavan, who despite his bout with asthma, never allowed his sickness to interfere with his job.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs the school farm reared.  Many cadets on joining the school were reluctant to eat pork due to religious reasons and also because they had never tasted it before.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.  The very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is served to the members of the Alumni and their families during the Alumni meet.  Everyone, including little children of the Alumni look forward to this dinner.


We were served with tea at 5:30 in the morning, before Physical Training.  During the long recess at 11′ o clock it was again tea with biscuits and in the evening before games it was tea and snacks.  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea – it could be the tea leaves, could be the Amaravathi waters, could be the vessel in which it was brewed, could be the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It remains a mystery to all of us to date, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming cups of this divine tea.

Breakfast for us was mostly continental with bread, butter, jam and eggs on all weekdays.  On Saturdays it was Idli-Sambar-Chutney and on Sundays it was Dosa.

The Bill of Fare began with Monday and it was the day we were served fish curry and rice for lunch and mutton curry with roti for dinner.  The dessert for dinner used to be fruit custard.

Mysore-Pak which owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore, was served on Tuesdays.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.  It was a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour.  The sweet added colour to the drab vegetarian dinner we had on Tuesdays.

We all awaited the fried Tilapia fish served for lunch on Wednesdays.  The fish came from the catch of the day at the Amaravathi Dam, co-located with the school campus. What made it very special? Was it the way it was marinated or crispiness of the fried fish or its unique freshness? Indeed it was the very best of all fried fish – it could any day compete with my mother’s fish fry at home.

When I got married, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the coming Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  My most relished combination with Dosa was chicken masala which was served for Thursdays’ dinner at the school mess.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the Dosa (3 to 5 mm thick) made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

Dosa, a thin pancake, is made from a batter of ground lentils and rice.  Its origin can be traced back to the Thamizh Brahmins, who are strict vegetarians.  The batter is fermented overnight and is poured over an oil-coated hot granite griddle like a crepe and turned over to cook both sides.  The modern version of the crispy, paper-thin variety is rather a deviation from its original.  Some restaurants in South India still serve the original thick Dosa and is called Kallu (Stone) Dosa.

Fish cutlet was the specialty for Friday Lunch.  The main ingredient again was the fresh Tilapia from the Amaravathi Dam.  The secret recipe for this cutlet still remains unsolved – even our classmate Vijaya Bhaskaran, Executive Chef at Le Meridian, Bangalore, has failed to replicate it.   Jalebi was the dessert for the dinner, which owes its origin to Arabia and was brought to India by Persian traders.

Saturday was the movie day and hence we were served dinner early.  It was Biryani – either chicken or mutton – but what every cadet looked forward to was the sweet dish.  It was Khaja – a delicious flaky pastry, shaped out of a layered dough and dipped in sugar syrup.

One can very well imagine the effort taken by the mess staff for ensuring that quality and taste of food served to the cadets is of a high standard and they need to be commended for their care and culinary skills. The fact that one of the key attractions for most Alumni to get back to the Alma Mater is the food being served, says it all.

Post Script
:  I dedicate this post to Mr Venkatachalam, our waiter of Pandya House, who passed away on  11 August 2016.  He will remain in the hearts of all those who were served by him, with all his love, affection and dedication, in Pandya House.  Our friends from Pandya House will remember him for ever.

18 thoughts on “Bill of Fare

  1. A nice piece of article again Reji. Taking us back to our good old days in SSA. How we hated many of the served food items at the beginning of our school days but later became our favourite dishes. RIP Mr Venkatachalam, our favourite waiter who was the annadatha of we Pandyans…….KK

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  2. Nice recall, and a good write up. Sorry to hear of Venkatachalam’s demise. In his younger days he was a good footballer, he used to bring the morning tea when we were in Barathi house. In my senior years I was in Pandya house and was also its house captain with Mr Cherian as the house master and Vasu was our Mess waiter.We won many of the competitions and were the champion house in 1969/70 !Warm regards Bala

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  3. Time spent at Sainik Schools during childhood was always homely with such dedicated people around to look after you; it was kind of extended family and that’s why one always rejoices making visits to alma-mater. But the beauty of your narration is vivid recall of the people and details. Great

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  4. Sorry to hear the passing away of Mr Venkatachalam, he was not just a waiter, he was very much part of Pandya house.
    Well written Reji, I think we used to get Bun’s rather than biscuits for 11 AM Tea.

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  5. This brought back many happy memories. I well recall sitting at the head of the Pandya House table but have forgotten most of what I ate. i do recall idli sambar for breakfast which was far too hot for my Western palate. When I asked for an omelette instead it came with green chillis!
    I don’t remember eating pork in the mess but definitely had it at Cherian’s house – he was on very good terms with the Mess Manager (Ranganathan?). The tea I do recall particularly the early morning bed tea at my house. The distinctive thing to me was that it was made with buffalo milk.
    Masala dosa was a favourite at the cafeteria run by Swami with his waiter Rajamini. The coffee there was excellent and i remember Swami cooling it by pouring it from cup to cup with the cups about two feet apart.
    The best food was served up at the staff parties where the tables were packed with dishes of all types. I particularly like the big potato cakes.
    Happy days – 47 years since I arrived at the school by jeep driven by Menon with the enormous moustache.

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  6. Indeed a nostalgic narration of Sainik School Amaravathinagar days of Col Reji and his school mates. I can visualise the bond all of you had. I wonder how can someone remember the names of waiters of every house even after so many years. Now I can understand why there is such a strong bond among School Types in the Army. RIP Mr Venkatachalam… you deserved all accolades from ur boys.

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  7. Really sad for Venkatachalam. Pray The Almighty to rest his soul in peace. It would have been much better if you would have mentioned Ponurangam. Another nice man amongst the other waiters. Tea in that old metal tumbler is the real taste. The secret of the taste of tea lies in that tumbler.

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  8. Super ! just brings back the memories ! i tried replicating the pork mince curry last week when the Amaravian Gang was here ! alas it was far from the original !! Reji you have paid an excellent tribute to our dear Venkatachalam ! he served us the way our mothers would do with love and affection, keep it going Reji !

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  9. Excellent tribute to Mr Venkitachalam who fed us in our growing up age. He took great pride in looking after the children in the absence of their parents and paid individual attention to each one of us and it is very difficult to find such committed people these days. Met him last in 2000 when I visited school and he was one of the few persons in the School who could recollect my name. May his soul rest in peace.

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  10. Dear Reji, Very nice write up. Mr.Venkatachalam was a multi faceted personality and was one of the best in the mess. He was quite capable of taking care of the children in distress. Thanks a lot for sharing our experience of the great Amaravian days.

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  11. Dear Regi, Thanks for dedicating this to Mr. Venkatachalam, Mess staff, who are often ignored or forgotten, when they also contribute a lot to our well being while at the school. He will be missed. May his soul rest in peace.
    Nice write up buddy. Do u have a stack of old diaries from school days. While i do recollect some details i really can’t think up the whole bill of fare.
    while on the same lines why not a write up on the Bill of fare of NDA. although forced to memorise that during our cadet days i hardly have any recollection of what and when. help us jog our memories.
    Once again a great job.
    Balaji A, Lt Col, 864 SSA

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  12. Sir again a great piece of writing…..
    The food initially was not to our taste but slowly we all developed a taste for it ….
    Towards the fag end we started relishing it ….
    The chicken,Fish and pork were always looked forward to …. Mutton somehow at school I avoided maybe because one day I saw it being cut live …
    Ponurangan was another waiter who was a bit of a nut case but a loving character …. Sirji nostalgia ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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