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

Mangal Bazar (Delhi, December 2018)


In Minnesota, in Montreal, in London, in Hong Kong I’ve taken pictures of green markets and posted them in slideshows on the blog. But though I’d been back home to Delhi three times between starting the blog and my most recent trip in December, I had not done the same from there. In some places you’re a traveler and in some places you’re just at home. Going to the market when I’m back home is no more remarkable an affair than going to Cub Foods here. But on this trip, perhaps because I’d made two market reports from Hong Kong, I took my camera with me on a visit to the weekly haat (or open-air market) by my parents’ neighbourhood of Sector 25, NOIDA (a suburb of Delhi). Here are most of the photos I took. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Desi Vibes (Delhi, Spring 2017)


No, I am not reviewing a sex toy store in Delhi. Desi Vibes is a north Indian restaurant chain with three outlets in the Delhi area: in Connaught Place, in Defence Colony and in the hellhole that is the Sector 18 Market in Noida, which is where I ate. As to whether these are three outlets operated by the same people, or if one or a couple are franchises, I do not know. I also do not know which is the original. You may remember,  from my reviews of meals in Delhi in January 2016, that the wildly popular Punjabi by Nature‘s original restaurant is in Sector 18 in Noida as well. Desi Vibes is not located very far away from Punjabi by Nature and is close to the erstwhile location of Golconda Bowl Express. Its menu is not very far away from Punjabi by Nature’s either.  Continue reading

Varq (Delhi, January 2016)

murgh-sirka-pyaaz2
Varq, at the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi, is said to be one of the most important restaurants not just in the city but in all of India. The force behind it, Chef Hemant Oberoi, is considered one of the most important and influential figures in Indian haute cuisine in the last 20 odd years. He retired last year but his newer restaurants Masala Art and especially Varq remain at the forefront of the movement to re-articulate classic high-end Indian restaurant food in a contemporary/modern idiom. Personally, I am not convinced of the need for this sort of thing because usually when people say “contemporary” or “modern” in this context they mean “Western” and I’m never quite clear on why that should be so. It’s not as though in fashion or film or even non-high-end food Indian modernity is reliant on Western cues. Continue reading

Coast Cafe (Delhi, January 2016)

Coast Cafe: Red Snapper Chilli Curry
Coast Cafe is the restaurant I referred to at the end of my review of my quite good meal at Mahabelly. It is, unfortunately, located in the hellhole that is Hauz Khas Village but presents a good argument for going there during a weekday. (There is, however, no argument for going to Hauz Khas village on a weeknight or on the weekend; and especially not on weekend nights.) It is a small restaurant operated by Ogaan, a company I’d always thought was entirely in the lifestyle magazine racket but apparently now also has a range of clothing stores and at least one restaurant. Coast Cafe is that restaurant and is situated on the two floors above the Ogaan shop. Oh yes, another point in Coast Cafe’s favour is that it is located at the very entrance to the hellhole that is Hauz Khas Village and so you don’t have to go very far in. I met another old friend there for lunch and despite my hatred of Hauz Khas Village and reservations about aspects of Coast Cafe’s menu I enjoyed the food very much indeed.  Continue reading

Mahabelly (Delhi, January 2016)

Mahabelly
I met an old friend at Mahabelly in Saket just a couple of days after our dinner at Dakshin. As it turns out, Mahabelly is located right behind the Sheraton that houses Dakshin, in the service lane at the rear of the DLF Place mall, one of several monstrous malls in a row in Saket.

Mahabelly serves the food of Kerala and the focus is on classic, often rustic preparations. It’s an altogether more easygoing affair than Dakshin: lighthearted decor, no heavy brassware in sight, no overwrought menu book etc. One long wall of the restaurant features playful cartoons which spell out the English alphabet via various self-deprecating Malayali stereotypes. The other wall sports a striking mural of a kathakali dancer—I believe performing the role of Mahabali. Yes, it’s true: the name of the restaurant is a terrible pun: Mahabelly/Mahabali.  Continue reading

Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu (Delhi, January 2016)

menu3
Once upon a time Delhi had no Parsi restaurants (that I knew of or anyone talked about, at any rate), now we ate at two of them in the course of three days. The first was Sodabottleopenerwala, a meal, you may recall, I was unenthused by; the second was Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu. This was a much better meal in every way. Now, I should reiterate that I am in now way an authority on Parsi cuisine. I’ve eaten at a couple of Parsi/Irani places in Bombay and at the homes of friends but none of this has added up to a basis on which to opine in any confident way on the “authenticity” of the food served at these places. I do have some sense though of when food is made well, and the food at Rustom’s was superior, the distinction most marked in the dishes we ate at both meals.  Continue reading

Punjabi by Nature (Delhi, January 2016)

Punjabi by Nature: Tandoori Chicken
In my review of Dakshin yesterday I mentioned the rise in Delhi in the last decade and a half or so of what I called upper/middle class Indian restaurants: restaurants that filled the space between affordable places that were low on ambience and the super-expensive name restaurants in five star hotels. Much of this has coincided, as I noted last week, with the proliferation of restaurants specializing in regional cuisines. It is likely though that the restaurant that could be said to have led the way is one that serves the Punjabi cuisine most associated with Delhi—tandoori chicken, butter chicken, dal makhani etc.: Punjabi by Nature.  Continue reading

Dakshin (Delhi, January 2016)

chutneys
Once upon a time in Delhi, restaurants at five star hotels were pretty much the only option if you wanted to go out for a fancy meal. The pre-eminent restaurants in the category were the Maurya Sheraton’s Bukhara and Dum Pukht, and through the late 1980s and 1990s they set the tone for similar restaurants at the other five stars: meat-centric North Indian food with either a Northwest frontier or nawabi focus. The hotels usually also all had Indian Chinese restaurants (each of which pretended to be “authentic” Chinese) and 24-hour coffee shops, and some had one outlier restaurant: the Meridien had a French restaurant, for example, (Pierre, I think its name was—for all I know, it still exists.) and the Oberoi had an excellent Thai restaurant for a while: Baan Thai.  Continue reading

Sodabottleopenerwala (Delhi, January 2016)

Sodabottleopenervala: Bheeda par Eeda
Sodabottleopenerwala, which opened two years ago in Gurgaon and has since expanded to other locations in Delhi and elsewhere, may well have been named MaximumParsiSignifiers. Irani restaurant as theme park, it represents a weird yet representative moment in the packaging of regional cuisines for hyper-consumerist India in the early 21st century. Unpacking all of this properly is beyond the scope of a quick meal report written on the fly but I’ll give it a truncated shot.

First up, a little recommended reading for those who don’t know their Parsi from their Paris (all from Another Subcontinent): start with this brief essay by the late, great Sue Darlow that sketches the history of the Parsi community in India; then take a look at the first three links in this feature on a Parsi cookbook; finally, go take a look at Sue’s wonderful series of photographs, “Scenes from Parsi Life“. That should give you enough of a context to get started here.  Continue reading