Bagundi (Delhi, December 2018)

From Bombay to Delhi; from one city with horrendous traffic to another. But how do the food scenes compare? Bombay’ites will be appalled to even find this question being posed but it’s a fair one. It’s true that Bombay has southwestern coastal food of a quality that has never been available in Delhi as well as far better Gujarati and Parsi food, and it probably has better western-ized restaurants. But is that enough? My friend Paromita, with whom I ate out in Bombay a lot, holds some heretical views on the subject. She says that Delhi may in fact be a more cosmopolitan city than Bombay—Bombay-ites will register a claim like this as might New Yorkers being told that Los Angeles is a more cosmopolitan city than New York. But certainly, a seemingly non-intuitive case could be made for this on the food front.

I think it could be argued, for instance, that the most interesting experiments with “modern” Indian food have happened not in Bombay but in Delhi, at restaurants like Indian Accent, Varq, Masala Art and Cafe Lota; whereas Bombay is where outposts of Morimoto etc. first open. And outside the high-end while Bombay is doubtless the financial capital of the country and is a city of migrants it is not clear to me to what degree the food identity of the city has been shaped by more recent arrivals. As noted above, when asking about Bombay food, you are most likely to be directed to Malvani/Konkani/Goan, Gujarati or Parsi restaurants; in other words, the cuisines of people native to the region. In Delhi, on the other hand, while Punjabi food reigns supreme in sheer numerical terms, there is a wide range of regional food available. And you are quite likely to be pointed first towards restaurants serving the food of Kerala, Bihar, Bengal or the states of the North-East. In other words, if by “cosmopolitan” you mean “anglophone and/or westernized” Bombay takes the crown; but it you mean a broader Indian cosmopolitanism then Delhi may be the place to look.

There are two reasons for this, I think. The first has to do with Delhi University which attracts students from all over India, many of whom remain in the city (which has a number of regional enclaves). The second has to do with the central government whose offices likewise employ people from all over the country and around which orbit the various state bhavans (sort of like embassies/missions of each state in the country) in whose canteens/lunch halls and restaurants can be found down-home cooking from all over the country. Indeed for a long time one of the most iconic foodie destinations in Delhi has been the canteen at the Andhra Bhavan not too far from Connaught Place. I try to go there on every trip—though I haven’t on the last two on account of the fact that, like many of the state bhavan canteens, the Andhra Bhavan canteen is a bit too hectic to manage with small children. On this trip I was by myself and so ate at a few of the bhavans. This meal, however. while featuring Andhra food was not eaten at the Andhra Bhavan but at Bagundi, a new’ish restaurant on Connaught Place’s Outer Circle—not too far from Sagar Ratna. I’d read a brief review of it last year—can’t remember where—and had filed it away in my head, and when work on my first full day in Delhi took me to CP, I made it a point to stop in.

What did I find? A very attractive restaurant for one thing. The interior has been designed in a somewhat eclectic style with more traditional markers of Andhra culture juxtaposed with more playful touches. Yes, there are some kitschy elements here but nothing that takes it close to the village-exotica of a place like Desi Vibes. There appear to be two floors but I did not go up to the first floor (in India we begin with the ground floor). The ground floor dining room was pretty empty when I arrived a bit after noon but do keep in mind that Indians eat very late. It had begun to fill up as I was eating and for what it’s worth, much of the clientele seemed to be out of Andhra central casting. The menu is not large but features many well-known Andhra dishes. It’s a resolutely non-veg place by the way: the menu did not include things like curd rice or lemon rice but did have a lot of chicken, mutton and fish/seafood dishes. It does also have the inevitable nods to North Indian palates with standard-issue kababs, but interestingly no butter chicken or dal makhni.

As I was eating alone I got a thali. The base thali is vegetarian and costs a mere Rs.300 (just over $4) but I upgraded to the mutton thali which adds on two mutton dishes and another Rs. 200 (taking it to just over $7). It’s an expansive thali with rasam, sambhar, dal, veg etc. with everything but the mutton add-ons available for refill as you desire. It was all very tasty indeed and packed some nice heat (though it was not as hardcore on this front as Andhra food can be). For pictures of the thali and the restaurant please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service etc. and to see what’s coming next.

Service was present and pleasant. People from Andhra Pradesh/Telangana might disagree but this diasporic Delhi’ite thought the food was very tasty. I hope to go back again with the family on our next trip (probably next Jan) and try more of the menu. I’m not sure that I’d say that the food was, on the whole, better than the fare at Andhra Bhavan but on the plus side, you don’t have to wait endlessly here, you can get a table to yourself and you won’t feel very harried while eating. The price, as noted, is very reasonable (though a few days letter I ate a meal at Kerala House that made it seem downright exorbitant) and it is a very good value. How it compares to other Andhra places in Delhi—beyond Andhra Bhavan—I don’t know; I do remember a meal about 10 years ago at a place called Poppadum near Mehrauli that I’d rather liked at the time. Not sure if they’re still open but if so I might give them a go next time.

Coming next from my India travels: probably a quick look at a weekly vegetable market in my parents’ neighbourhood.

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