Fremont, CA – Jan. 14 was a big day at Idly Express as the restaurant chain used their Fremont location as a main kitchen for the first time to prepare 500 deliveries, each serving two individuals, that would feed 1000 people on Pongal or Sankranti. 

It was also the first time owner Jay Jayaraman was delivering a hot menu special for Pongal, a festival of the end of the Winter Solstice to welcome the incoming harvest.

He and his team of cooks created a classic Tamil menu consisting of paruppu vadai, drumstick bellpepper sambar, more kozhumbu, beans usili, mysore rasam, pongal kootu and sakkarai pongal. The Pongal Special Menu sold out within 36 hours of posting on Mr. Jayaraman’s Mylapore Express social media account.

Here’s a look at what went on behind the scenes that morning.

A mix of chillies, curry leaves and spices to be used in rasam sits in the kitchen at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Rasam is poured into a large stock pot at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Rasam sits in a large stock pot at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
César Hérnández gets help as paruppu is poured into a large stock pot to be mixed with beans, part of the beans usili dish, at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Jay Jayaraman gives the sakkarai pongal a stir at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Rasam is poured into delivery cups at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Dilbagh Singh stirs the beans usili as it cooks at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
César Hernández stirs the more kozhumbu and the pongal kootu at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Paruppu vadai is fried in batches at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Empty pots and and a ladle of sakkarai pongal wait to be cleaned at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Dilbagh Singh (left) walks over to the sink station at Idly Express in Fremont, Calif. on Jan. 14, 2023. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.
Aditya Kumar and Nandini Ramanan pick up their Pongal Special Menu bag by Idly Express on Jan. 14, 2023 in Cupertino, Calif. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

This story was produced in partnership with CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local Visual Storytelling Initiative. To learn more about this collaborative model for local visual journalism, sign up for CatchLight’s newsletter.

Sree Sripathy

Sree Sripathy joined India Currents as a photojournalist and CatchLight Local Fellow as part of CatchLight's California Local Visual Desk program in June 2022. Reach out with story ideas or comments at...