Chaat, Puchka, Chaat (Delhi, Calcutta, Delhi, Jan-Feb 2020)


We returned from India on the 4th of February. It is now almost the end of August. The time seems right to finally post the last of my meal reports from our trip. This report encompasses one of our first meals out in Delhi on this trip as well as our very last meal out in Delhi; in between is a spot of eating in Calcutta. All these meals have one thing in common: chaat. As I noted many years ago in my first report on chaat on the blog (which you really should read), chaat is one of the genres of food I miss the most, living outside India, and it is one of the things I make sure to eat as much of as I can when I do go home to visit. Continue reading

Punjabi By Nature II (Delhi, Jan 2020)


We enjoyed our buffet lunch at Made in Punjab at the start of our stay in Delhi but, as I said at the end of my review, we liked the Punjabi lunch we had the next week even more. That lunch was at Punjabi By Nature, the OG upscale new wave Punjabi restaurant. We last ate there in 2016 and that write-up has some background information on the restaurant and the larger phenomenon of the rise of fancier Punjabi restaurants in Delhi in the era of liberalization. I won’t go into all that again in this report—you can go read the first few paragraphs of the earlier one if you’re so interested. I am happy to be able to tell you, however, that this meal was as good as our previous, which is to say, it was very good indeed. Indeed having now eaten at most of the major contenders I would say that Punjabi by Nature may still be atop the category. Continue reading

Cafe Lota IV (Delhi, Jan 2020)


We first ate at Cafe Lota in January 2014, just a few months after it had opened at the Crafts Museum. Since then we/I have gone back there on every trip (the one exception being in 2017 when I visited Delhi very briefly on account of a family emergency). We were enthusiastic about our first meals there in 2014; the two visits since then, in 2016 and 2018, yielded somewhat more uneven results with the departure of the original chef a possible reason. I still maintained, however, that it was one of the better and more interesting restaurants in Delhi and so there was not much question that we would go back there again on this trip. Continue reading

Made in Punjab (Delhi, Jan 2020)


My reviews so far from our sojourn in Delhi in January (we have been back in Minnesota for a week now) may have given you the impression that we did not eat any North Indian food on this trip. Now, it’s true that we ate far less North Indian food on this trip than we usually do but we did eat some. In fact, our very first meal out was at a Punjabi restaurant, the aptly named Made in Punjab. We were at the NOIDA Mall of India for some wedding present shopping for later in the trip and of the many restaurant options the boys selected this one. I didn’t put up too much resistance either. I have very little interest in North Indian curry houses in the US but the genre is a very different proposition in Delhi. The boys were motivated by the promise of tandoori chicken and naans—it’s somewhat pathetic just how much better these basic dishes are at pretty much any halfway-decent North Indian restaurant in Delhi than anywhere in the US. I hoped there might be other kababs that might also be pleasing. I am happy to report we were all happy with our meal. Continue reading

Jamun (Delhi, Jan 2020)

We ate at Jamun—located in the Lodhi Colony market—the night after our dinner at Eat Pham. We met a different set of friends here. I’d suggested Cafe Lota but one member of the party nixed it on the grounds of the absence of alcohol and suggested we try Jamun, which had apparently been recommended highly to her. Being of a generally agreeable disposition, I put aside my misgivings—she is the notorious fantasist I’ve had cause to mention before—and we showed up for what in Delhi is a very early dinner reservation, at 7.30. The restaurant was fairly empty but not quiet for long. This because another member of the party—in from New Jersey—can normally be heard from two states away and that when she is not excited. On this occasion she was highly excited even before she got to the restaurant (was there alcohol involved? I don’t like to speculate). With ear plugs fastened we got down to perusing the menu. Continue reading

Nimtho (Delhi, January 2020)


Sikkim, which became an Indian state in 1975, is counted as one of the eight northeastern states of the country. It is not, however, contiguous with the other seven northeastern states, being separated geographically from them by parts of northern West Bengal that lie further east than Sikkim. The population is of largely Nepali origin with the Lepchas and Bhutias among the other major indigenous ethnic groups (there are also Bengali and Marwari communities). My family lived in northern West Bengal in the early 1980s and I went to boarding school in Darjeeling in the mid-1980s. We went on many hiking trips to Sikkim and I had Sikkimese friends in school. Sikkimese food is, therefore, not largely a blank space in my culinary map as is the case with most of the other northeastern states (the other exception is Assam). Unlike Manipur—whose food I know only from our recent meal at Eat Pham—or Nagaland—whose food I know only from meals at Dzükou and Hornbill—I’ve eaten a fair bit of Sikkimese food in my adolescence, though not a whole lot of it since then. As on this trip to Delhi we were trying to eat a greater regional variety of food than we usually end up doing, I was pleased to learn that there is a well-regarded Sikkimese restaurant in Greater Kailash-1: Nimtho. We ate lunch there in between our dinners at Eat Pham and Hornbill. Herewith some details. Continue reading

Bagundi 2 (Delhi, January 2020)


From the North East to the south and to a restaurant I first ate at on my trip to Delhi in December 2018. Bagundi, located in M block on the Connaught Place outer circle, features the food of Andhra Pradesh. The state in fact split into two in 2014, or rather a new state, Telangana was carved out of the north-western parts of the old Andhra Pradesh. As far as I can make out, Bagundi’s conception of Andhra food is not affecting by these border re-drawings: their menu features most of the dishes I would have expected to see on an Andhra menu prior to 2014.
Continue reading

Hornbill (Delhi, January 2020)


Back to Humayunpur, back to another restaurant featuring the food of a North Eastern state. On Sunday I reviewed a dinner at the Manipuri restaurant, Eat Pham—a dinner we really enjoyed. A few days later we went back to the same market and embarked on a very similar hunt for another restaurant, Hornbill, which serves food from Nagaland. While our Eat Pham outing was our first encounter with Manipuri food, Hornbill was our second Naga meal in Delhi in as many trips as a family. We were last here all together in January 2016 (I’ve come on my own in between a few times) and on that trip one of our favourite meals was at Dzükou in Hauz Khas. Dzükou has since closed in that location. I’ve heard tell it has reopened in Vasant Kunj, but we didn’t need to go quite that far from Noida when there are a number of Naga places in Humayunpur and environs, and Hornbill particularly well-reviewed among them. We descended on them with the same friends we’d eaten at Dzükou with four years ago. Here is what we found after we found the restaurant. Continue reading

The Categorical Eat Pham (Delhi, January 2020)


We’re coming to the end of our stay in Delhi on this trip (we’ve been here for almost two weeks). Coming “home” to Delhi has become progressively alienating in the 26+ years since I left for graduate school in the US. For the first  few years it was like falling back easily into a mother tongue you don’t speak in your day-to-day life. After that as the Indian economy liberalized and the mediascape and urban landscape began to transform radically, trips “home” began to feel increasingly foreign: familiar roads and places became harder to map, my old points of reference were no longer reliable. And, of course, as my life in the US—work, marriage, children—became more established the question of which was “home” became more blurred. This is, of course, a familiar immigrant story. Though there is a great deal of class privilege encoded in the fact that I have been able to be a regular visitor to India (for weeks at a time) ever since I left, I don’t want to claim that there’s anything exceptional about this sort of thing. But for me this trip has been different. Continue reading

Chaat x 2 (Delhi, December 2018)


Here, finally, almost five months after I returned to the US, is my last food report from Delhi. Fittingly perhaps, it covers the two most informal meals I ate out in India on this trip and the genre of food I look forward to eating more than any other when getting off a plane in India: chaat. The last time I wrote about chaat on the blog I went on rather a lot—if you’re interested you can read that earlier post to find out a little more about the ins and outs of chaat and also for a rare autobiographical reverie on my part. I’m not sure if chaat is still something that American foodies are excited about—or if novelty in Indian cuisine in America is now being sought elsewhere—but it is never going to stop being popular in India. And it’s one of the few things that I think cannot be improved on: the essential of the chaat experience—paapdi chaat, gol gappas/paani puri, alu tikkis etc.—were perfected a long time ago and people know better than to mess with them. Continue reading

Chor Bizarre (Delhi, December 2018)


Walking into Chor Bizarre is like walking into the past for me. I don’t know when it opened in the Hotel Broadway on Asaf Ali Road in Daryaganj but it looks exactly the same as it did when I first visited in the early 1990s (memory is unreliable, of course—especially at my increasingly advanced age). This was before the liberalization of the Indian economy and the upper/middle class restaurant boom that followed (along with so much else). At the time the kitschy decor of Chor Bizarre was quite unusual, if not entirely original. Well, the particular kitsch of Chor Bizarre (unchanged to the present day) was and is original—they bring together in their decor items from chor bazaars (or thieves’/flea markets) that can be found all over India; but the general genre of kitsch they occupy was not—the Dhaba at the swanky Claridges hotel, for example, evoked informal highway roadside trucker restaurants for moneyed Delhi-ites and tourists alike, right down to having a truck parked inside the restaurant. Nowadays, of course, high concept restaurants can be found all over Delhi but the other thing Chor Bizarre is known for is still a rare find: Kashmiri food. Continue reading

Mahabelly, Again (Delhi, December 2018)


Back to Delhi in December, back to another restaurant with “belly” in its name. While Potbelly serves Bihari food, Mahabelly serves Malayali/Kerala food. (As a side-note, it irks me no end to see the adjective “Keralan” used for people and things from Kerala; I usually see this in British outlets, and even from writers of Indian origin who otherwise seem very invested in correcting errors about Indian food made in mainstream publications. Well, I suppose “Keralan” is not an error per se but in Indian English it is Keralite that is the term that’s used, though most people will say Malayali to refer to the people and culture of Kerala; and don’t get me started on “Goanese” instead of the proper “Goan”. Well, this side-note is already about five times as long as the text it digressed from and so I guess I should get back to it.) I ate lunch at Mahabelly on our trip to Delhi in January 2016. On that occasion I ate there with an old friend and as we were just the two of us I couldn’t taste very much of the menu—a sad thing as I liked almost everything we tried very much. On this trip, however, I was one of seven adults for dinner and we did a fair bit of damage. I am happy to report the meal was again very good. Continue reading

The Potbelly, Bihar Niwas (Delhi, December 2018)


This was my third state bhawan lunch in five days on my trip to Delhi in December, and it was at the far end of the spectrum from the first and quite a way away from the second too. That first lunch, you may remember, was at Samridhi, the staff canteen at Kerala House near Connaught Place. Samridhi is very much a staff canteen—prices are ludicrously low, the food is low-key (but very good) and no one has given a first let alone a second thought to questions of ambience. The second lunch, as you have memorized, was at Viva O Viva, the restaurant at Goa Niwas in Chanakyapuri. That is a formal restaurant but while someone has spared a few thoughts for interior design it does not, in sum, seem like it was the right person who did so. The food there was excellent, however. I was not expecting to eat another state bhawan lunch of that quality but was very happy to do so anyway a few days later at the Bihar Niwas which is right next door. The Potbelly is the restaurant there and is actually a branch of a restaurant by the same name in a now trendy part South Delhi. As such it’s a formal restaurant and very nicely done up. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Cafe Lota Again (Delhi, December 2018)


We first ate at Cafe Lota—the restaurant attached to the Crafts Museum in Delhi—in 2014, not too long after it opened. We loved our meal so much we went back a few days later. And on our next trip in 2016 it was one of the places we returned to. Since then the original chef has moved on—we ate in 2016 at his then-new Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu but I think at the time he was still attached to Cafe Lota as well. In the intervening period there’s also been a lot of uncertainty about the Crafts Museum as a whole. There was talk of the BJP government—which does not have much use for Indian culture that cannot be said to have emerged from a cow—shutting it down; but I’m glad to report that it hasn’t happened yet. I didn’t make it into the museum proper on this trip but I did meet an old friend at Cafe Lota for lunch. The restaurant looks much the same, but is the food still as good as it was? Continue reading

Big Wong (Delhi , December 2018)


It’s hard to know what to say about Big Wong, a chain with seven or eight locations in the greater Delhi metro, past its logo—I mean, just look at it. There are Chinese restaurants in the US with the name Big Wong as well and if any of them had a logo that looked like this you can imagine how it would be (correctly) read. In India, however, there is little outrage about this sort of a thing—even if my nephews, who picked this as the location for a Chinese meal in Gurgaon in December, were a bit embarrassed about it. On the one hand, the deployment of imagery like this in an Indian Chinese chain—whose owners are not Indian Chinese—does not signify the same things that it would in a contemporary American Chinese chain, precisely because the discourses and demographics of race in India are not the same as those in the US; on the other, and it pains me to say this, it shows just how casual racism in India continues to be. The people responsible for the Big Wong logo would probably be very shocked to hear that there’s anything problematic about it. Continue reading

Viva O Viva (Delhi, December 2018)


Nobody expects Delhi to have better Goan food than Bombay and you don’t have to look further than geography and demographics to see why. And I’m certainly not going to make that counter-intuitive and provocative claim here. The fact is Delhi barely has any Goan restaurants. However, on this trip to Bombay and Delhi I ate better Goan food in Delhi than I did in Bombay. I hasten to add here that when I speak of Goan food I am doing so in the stereotypical sense of the Christian food most associated with Goa. After all, Highway Gomantak is also a Goan restaurant and I’m not making any comparison with my meal there. No, it is to my meals at O Pedro that I am comparing my lunch at Viva O Viva and ruling in favour of the Delhi establishment. And this too should probably not be a surprise as Viva O Viva is the restaurant at Goa Niwas in Chanakyapuri, the official (very large) guesthouse of the Goa state government in Delhi. Continue reading

Samridhi (Delhi, December 2018)


I have mentioned before that one of the great open secrets of Delhi’s food scene is that some of the best food from other regions of the country is available in the canteens or dining halls of the various state bhawans. Now, you may be wondering what a state bhawan is. Delhi, as you know, is the capital of India, and all the state governments have headquarters in the city that combine office space as well as lodging for state bureaucrats visiting the capital or attached to the central government. They also have staff canteens that feed the employees of the bhawans—drawn from the state—the food of home. Many of these canteens—though not all—are open to the public; at some—as at Samridhi, it’s more the case that nobody stops the general public from eating there. These canteens run the gamut in aesthetic. The Bihar Bhawan, for example, has a full-on restaurant, a branch of the popular Potbelly; Goa Niwas also has a restaurant (Viva O Viva) but it’s decidedly less fancy. At the far end of the continuum is Samridhi, the canteen of Kerala House, as basic a dining establishment as you can imagine. It is functional and cheap but serves very delicious food. Continue reading

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. Continue reading