Thursday, November 16, 2006

All I think about is food

Food is a big part of my life and an even bigger part of holidays in India. While I live in London I spend an unholy amount of time thinking of what is being eaten at home and what are the new places to eat out when I am next in India. Food is a big part of my life and an even bigger part of holidays in India. As soon as a holiday is confirmed I begin to rifle through the rolodex in my brain and create a mental post-it note with two main columns: what shall I eat at home and where shall we go out to eat. And in the run up to the holiday I spend all my time thinking about the meals to be eaten, conjuring up images of magnificent plates of food. This is why I am fat.

Last time I was in India I never ate at home. I was rarely up in time to have anything more meaningful than toast as my breakfast. I intensely disliked the cooking of my parents cook who made the same pyaaz-tamatar gravy for everything. His main cooking path every morning was the same. He would make ‘oil with some onion tomato’ base and then proceeded to dump whatever vegetable had been requested of him to make. So I ate lunch out and I ate dinner out.

This time was a bit different. Said cook is no longer in my parents employ for a variety of reasons (one of them being the food floating in oil). And although we ate out a fair amount I ended up eating some very tasty meals at home. My nani is a fantastic chef, and all her food is cooked with a healthy combination of painstaking effort, love and wizardry. My favourite bit was the divine stuffed Karela’s, all wrapped up in string. And my mum made me her heavenly kofta curry twice (yes TWICE) in the span of 6 days. So meals eaten at home were few but delightful, each one of them.

As for eating out where shall I begin? Possibly the most efficient method is to list down where I ate and what it was like.

Flavours: Moolchand Flyover Complex, Defence Colony, New Delhi
Flavours opened when I was in High school (yes I’m that old!). It was a small, higgledy-piggledy hole-in-the-wall place more than a restaurant in the true sense. It was run by an Italian guy who often did the cooking all by himself. He walked around the little tables-that-wouldn’t-balance and talked to us politely. It was my first experience of how schmoozing worked – if we liked it we would recommend it to our friends at school, parents and so on. I rarely had any money and a lunch at Flavours was both affordable and a treat all rolled in one. It served steaming hot generous portions of authentic Italian fare long before we could afford the likes of La Piazza (@the Hyat). The schmoozing worked and the fabulous lasagna soon became a favorite of my father.

This time, after my morning of silver shopping with my best friend, we decided on having lunch at Flavour, to reminisce and eat some wholesome Italian food. My parents joined us and I could tell that my father had been dreaming of nothing but that mean lasagna.

What a disappointment! Flavours has expanded into a full fledged restaurant, taking in the space next to its original tiny home. No sign of Italian man, just lots of thin women running around like headless chickens. It has ugly wrought iron furniture and a cold cold ambiance. The menu is almost as long as before but reads quite badly. And the food was disappointing in everyway – bland, luke warm small portions and terribly rude service to match. The false ceiling had huge damp patches and the only redeeming feature was the fact that the air-conditioning worked. It was not redeeming enough. The four of us talked and laughed through lunch so on that count it was a success. But Flavours is anything but flavoursome now and I do not think I will be going back.

And since they no longer make lasagna my dad certainly won’t be going back!

Wengers: A-16, Inner circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi - 110001
My earliest memories of Wengers involve my father giving the Nik and I a lecture on its status as a near sacred institution and how we were never to go past Connaught Place without bringing him back a chicken patty. In my younger days we’d buy our patty or kebab and go around the corner to Keventers, another institution since well before I was the apple of my fathers eye, and eat our Wengers treasure with a cold coffee or chocolate milk from a big glass bottle. Down the years my family and I have bought enough chicken patties and shami kebabs to have single handedly paid for their renovation to a slicker new look Wengers. A few years ago they underwent a makeover and have made their limited space look slicker and more efficient. They did keep to their original space though and have not done what the greedier would do by expanding. They still have two counters, opposite one another, the one on the left has savouries (our beloved chicken patties, shammi kebabs and my new found love, paneer roll) and the one on the right has bakery items (my mum is partial to the English donut). You point out what you want and one of the guys behind the counter types it into a machine and gives you a slip. You then go to the payment counter, pay and collect a paid slip, come back to the original counter and collect your stuff. And no matter how many people throng the place they follow a particular pace and yes, stuff does run out if you go in too late in the evening - so go early.

This time my parents, the Nik, his girl and I were careening around Delhi looking for a car showroom. Having been unable to find anything that suited the purpose we decided our time would be better spent at Wengers so we rocked up to it on a sweltering Delhi afternoon. Armed with enough patties and shammi kebabs to feed a small army we went around the corner, downed our Keventer’s cold coffee and took home the patties for tea time. Through all its transformations Wengers has maintained its great oldie-worldly feel and continues to produce world class patties that would put any other to shame. There is nothing quite like it anywhere and it always makes my trip to Delhi special. My father is so right on this one.

Golden Dragon: C-Block Marekt, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi
I love Indian Chinese food. Most people just don’t get it, why would we want to eat chilli chicken, paneer schezuan, hakka noodles and hot & sour soup? For me it is the ultimate fusion food – Chinese, with their noodles and semi-glutinous sauces, and Indian spices. Golden Dragon has been home to excellent Chinese food for the longest time and V & I have eaten there innumerable times. Originally we went for proximity, subsequently we went for the fantastic array of dishes they produce and serve in a cosy space. This time a whole large platoon of people went along and we ordered enough food to feed a small country. My nani had the best time of all – enjoying the king prawns and crab to her hearts content. Chinese food fills you up really fast and we ended up packing our leftovers (duly consumed the next day) and groaning our way home. For the laughter, ambiance and food, this one always gets a thumbs up!

Café Coffee Day: All over the place
I would normally not mention a chain of coffee shops that is springing up like Starbucks in every corner of the city. Mainly because I am not a big fan of Starbucks or its so-called Fairtrade image but that is the content of a whole other post. After our very heavy Chinese dinner we decided to wash down the food with a break in our local Café Coffee Day. So sofa’s and great big glasses of cold coffee were ordered. Some pigged out on big chocolate desserts. Others just sipped their coffees. Everyone talked. At. The. Same. Time. And yet everyone could follow all the converstions. It’s an Art. CCD, as the wise Nik calls it, made for the perfect end to a wonderful family evening.

Angeethi Bar-B-Que: Asiad Games Village, Siri Fort Road, New Delhi. Tel: +91 11 6493 995
Situated in the Asiad Games/ Sir Fort complex this is a newer addition to the slew of restaurants that populate this compact. Angeethi is the Tandoori arm of the Indian restaurant (which has changed name numerous times so don’t ask) and is housed in a little circular building with the Tandoor outside. We spent an evening there with my whole family and some old friends of V’s and mine. The food was standard tandoori fare, and once again we went home full and satisfied.

1911: The Imperial, Janpath, New Delhi – 110001. Ph: +91 11 2334 1234
I’m a serious club sandwich and cold coffee person. Allow me to explain. When I’m in India my own special joy and delight is going to a five star coffee shop to indulge in this combination. I judge every hotel by the quality of the coffee shop fare. And this trip was to be no different. Built to fit Lutyens scheme of Central Delhi in 1936 this Raj styled hotel fell upon bad times. After undergoing an extensive renovation a few years ago this once tired signet of a hotel transformed into a breath-takingly beautiful swan. Now it is an enchanting hotel from the first step into the marble foyer to the numerous themed restaurants. Its colonial bearings are brought to the forefront with attention to detail and wonderful artwork and photographs. We had a late lunch on the verandah of the 1911 coffee shop, which overlooks a well manicured lawn - a refreshing oasis in concrete Delhi. The club sandwich was just above average but the cold coffee was superlative. It was a long and leisurely afternoon as a friend of mine joined us and we yacked for India, about everything – from our good old college days to the very present world we live in. Basically, lots of gossip. I love the Imperial more each time I visit it.

We ate at a whole lot more places but these stood out in my estimation. I came away well fed and delighted by my forays into Delhi’s gastronomic delights. I was in for more on the next leg of my journey. Wait for it.

Tamatar: Tomato
Nani: Maternal grandmother
Karela: Indian bitter gourd


  1. maaann! The first paragraph of your post perfectly describes me! In fact I feel a tad guilty that I'm thinking so much about food I'm gonna eat and so less about the people I'm gonna meet!

  2. Know what.. I'm glad I just got off the kitchen cooking dinner or else this post would've made my stomach growl and my mouth to water.

    And I thought in London you could get almost every Indian veggie/ingredient??

    Me going home soon and totally relate to the food planning. :D

  3. Just the thought of Wengers made my mouth water _ I simply cannot think of any bakery in Mumbai that compares...

  4. Ah! Am going to be in Delhi in December - already making notes. For me - it's very crucial that I have at least one plate of gol-gappa every day that I am in India - I round it all up with Aloo Chaat and Aloo Tikki once in four days.

    Oh God - all I want is Chaat. And some very good Rasmalai. Damn you woman! Look what you did! :(

  5. boo hoo i am so hungry :(

  6. I've never had a good club sandwich in a 5 Star or very very rarely anyway, but you made me miss the brief momemnts I'd spend in Delhi and very very hungry.

  7. Shub: The only difference is I don't feel guilty!! I'm just shameless when it comes to the joys of the stomach...

    John:You get most Indian ingredients here but a) you need to root them out ie. go to an Indian area b) the taste of Indian food cooked in India is completely different - you just cannot recreate it here! Lucky boy, going home. Eat eat eat.

    Rohini: There is nothing that compares to Wengers in the whole world, let alone Mumbai.

    Neha Vish: You lucky thing! I didn't talk about the chaat side of things because that's just a given. Every type - aloo tikki, chaat, paani puri etc. In between meals and in so many places - Sunder nagar, Bengali market, Dilli Haat etc....Suner Nagar market has the best Ras Malai. Oh my god, now look what you started!!!

    Prerona: So am I!!!

    Beks: Oh you poor thing. I won't eat a club sandwich if it is't in a 5 Star coffee shop. The best one ever so far is the Oberoi in Mumbai one. In Delhi, Maurya and Shangri-la both do good ones. And I'm all homesick and hungry from reading it too so I guess my writing must be improving somewhat!

  8. Wengers ... oh yes.
    And there used to be a place called Essex Farms at the Hauz Khas - Outer Ring Road crossing - damn thing has been turned into some horrible butter chicken orgy now.


  9. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Nice round up for Delhi 30in2005.Thanks. I'm giving it a link on my front page.

  10. my mouth is watering.

    and the post title fits my state of mind perfectly

  11. JAP: When we were kids my dad used to get ham and sausages and other unavailable meaty goods from the very same Essex Farms store. Then they grew into butter chicken land we had to move our attentions to Jor Bagh market which has this amazing store/ deli....

    Jyotsana: Why, thank you kindly!

    San: I am growing fatter each time I read it!!!

  12. Wengers.........!!!!!!!!!!!11
    man, today was not a good day to have read this post. I just wrote one about getting Delhi pangs, and here you are. I friggin love wenger's- and since I am vegetarian, the Paneer roll has been my long standing favourite- it ha never ever disappointed me...never. it just melts in the mouth...sigh...

    and nehavish, great- now you go and mention golgappas. Daily routine when one goes back...but when will one go back....(my better half is there right not, slogging like mad...but I think she will manage to slip in afew golgappas!)