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

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

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