J Jayalalithaa has delivered a hit with the piping hot, fluffy idlis that her budget canteens or kitchens offer at Re one. The 200 canteens in Chennai have reported the sale of about 2 lakh idlis a day.
The crowd swells at noon, when the lunch menu also has on offer sambar-rice at five rupees and curd-rice at three rupees.
The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister launched the kitchens, run entirely by women's self-help groups, in Chennai, to provide nutritious food at an affordable price for the poor. But among the schoolchildren, daily wagers and other hungry souls making a beeline for the one-rupee idli, are also professionals and people from the upper middle class.
They say the refreshing cleanliness and polite management draws them here. "The sambar and idlis are very nice. It is neat and clean. The management is nice," a customer at a canteen in Chennai said.
Jayaseelan and his colleagues have been lunching at a budget canteen every day over the last one week. Working for a private Mobile phone company he told NDTV, "I save 40 or 50 rupees daily by eating here. It costs just eight rupees for a plate of Sambar Rice and Curd Rice."
The kitchens seem to be earning the Chief Minister many fans. A housewife, Lavanya, who ate at one, said, "definitely in the next elections this scheme will help Amma win. Everybody is talking about this."
Encouraged by the huge response in Chennai, the state government now plans to expand the scheme across Tamil Nadu.
Customers hope there will also be an expansion of the menu to include pongal, vada and dosa for variety.
Ms Jayalalithaa has won elections before on the promise of freebies like mixer-grinders and fans, which may have limited appeal in a state with a chronic electricity shortage. But food is a universal need and in times of high inflation and sky-rocketing food prices, the budget canteens are striking a chord, barely a year before the state votes in the general elections.