Handiwala (Delhi, December 2018)

I’m not a big fan of North Indian restaurant food in the US—to put it mildly—and to be frank going to North Indian restaurants is not a big priority when I’m back in Delhi either—eating that food in Punjabi friends’ homes is though (shout out to my friends Mohan and Neetu and especially Neetu’s mother for yet another fantastic dinner). But I do usually do it at least once. This is largely because naans and rotis and kababs at even the mid-tier places in Delhi are far superior to those available almost anywhere in the US and not being very good at making it myself, I really miss that stuff. And so when an opportunity arose to take my nephews to lunch in Noida, we decided to give Handiwala a try. It is yet another restaurant in the large and highly unattractive Sector-18 market. One of my nephews was insistent we go to Punjabi By Nature instead (it’s very close) but I overruled him out of desire to try something new. Was this a mistake? Read on.

First things first for the benefit of non-Hindi speakers: a “handi” is a type of cooking pot; “handiwala” therefore is either one who cooks with a handi or more colloquially also food from a handi (usually braised). That therefore is Handiwala’s shtick: food cooked in a handi. Not everything they serve is, however, cooked in a handi. As this is Delhi there is a lot of stuff from the tandoor and also a number of karhai-based dishes. Basically, if your sense of Indian food is based on what is served at the average curry house in the US or UK you’ll be very at home at Handiwala. Of course, the quality of the food is much higher than that at the average curry house in the US or the UK.

This kind of food has been the mainstream of the Delhi restaurant scene for a very long time now; but as with many restaurants that have opened in the post-liberalization/post-Punjabi By Nature era, Handiwala’s design aesthetic is far fancier than used to be the case at the Pandara Road “dhabas” which were the middle-class options back in the 80s and early 90s. Actual interior designers seem to have been involved in the look of the place. While it’s a little darker than I would like it’s attractive enough. And thankfully—unlike at Desi Vibes—there is no ethnic chic involved. But what did we eat and what was it like?

Having eaten a big breakfast we did not do a huge amount of damage. To start we got an order each of the seekh kababs; the galouti kababs (listed in the “clay oven” section but obviously not made in one—galouti kababs are fried); and the dahi ke kababs (“kababs” of thick, hung yogurt; also fried). The seekhs were tasty, the other two were acceptable (the dahi kababs were a little too dense; and I’ve never met a galouti kabab I cared for too much). After that we got an order of their nihari (slow-cooked goat shank) and their “chhole Punjab ke” (Punjabi-style chickpeas). The chhole were quite good; the nihari had an implausible amount of oil floating on top (see below)—after I removed it it was tasty enough but nothing special. To go with all of this we got a garlic naan, missi roti (a bread made with a mix of chickpea and whole wheat flours) and rumali rotis (so named because they’re as thin as handkerchiefs). The breads were uniformly good.

For a look at the restaurant and the food launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service, value etc.

Service was present without being overbearing and friendly enough—though I did seem to trouble our server by asking for a bowl and removing the gallon of oil from the nihari.

All of this would probably have come to about Rs.3500 with tax and tip but one of my nephews had some 2 for 1 deal going via Zomato and so we ended up paying just about Rs. 2000 (or about $30). Which I guess made it a decent value for what it was. That said, this felt like a wasted meal—especially coming a few days after my excellent lunch at Taftoon. I should have listened to my younger nephew and gone to Punjabi By Nature. It wasn’t that it was bad—and in the US it would have been a godsend—it’s that in Delhi you can do much better in this genre. Well, maybe on my next trip (in less than a year probably) I’ll go back to one of the old Pandara Road joints (Pindi or Gulati) and see what it’s turned into.

Next up from this trip, a wholly different type of meal at a wholly different price point. That’ll be on Sunday.

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