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

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

Khyen Chyen (Delhi, December 2018)


Given the vexed status of Kashmir in Indian politics (to put it mildly) perhaps it is not surprising that Kashmiri food should be so little represented in the Delhi restaurant scene. Back in the early 1990s there was but the one major Kashmiri restaurant—Chor Bizarre in Daryaganj; and in the late 2010s the situation is not very different, with only a few places having joined Chor Bizarre. Chor Bizarre had in between spawned various satellite locations of variable quality but those seem to have all closed now. I do not mourn this as the meal I had a few trips back at the Noida location was not very good at all. Anyway, Khyen Chyen doesn’t have anything to do with Chor Bizarre. They have two locations of their own, one at the Select City Walk mall in Saket and the other at the Cross Point mall in Gurgaon. I met old friends at the Gurgaon location early on my trip in December. Herewith the report. 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

Taftoon (Bombay, December 2018)


Here is my last restaurant report from my brief visit to Bombay, just three months after I left. Don’t scoff: it took me nine months to get done with my reports from London in June and I probably ate out just as much in Bombay as we did in London. This was my penultimate meal in Bombay (I ate dinner at Highway Gomantak later that evening), and was the third in three days with my friend Paromita who is as ideal an eating companion as you could hope for: willing to eat anything but not easily pleased. We also ate together at Just Kerala and at my second dinner at O Pedro. For this last meal she recommended Taftoon in the BKC. I should state upfront that—as at lunch the previous day at Soam—we were not regular diners off the street. She has a close connection to the chef and we were afforded special treatment and a number of dishes were comped on the final bill. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the meal. Continue reading

Talli Joe (London, June 2018)


Here now, almost nine months after our return to Minnesota, is an account of the last restaurant meal we ate on our trip to London last June. After our very good meal at Tandoor Chop House we were ready for one more good Indian meal in London before returning to the land of interchangeable currry houses. Alas, it turned out to be the least of all the meals we had on the trip. This came as a big surprise because a) Indian restaurants in London are generally pretty good, and b) it has been reviewed very well and is apparently very successful. We found it to be all flash and no substance. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t very good either. Continue reading

O Pedro (Bombay, December 2018)


My restaurant reports from my Bombay trip in December have so far covered restaurants that largely serve traditional fare in traditional forms: Jai Hind Lunch Home, Just Kerala, Highway Gomantak, Soam and Swati Snacks. My two remaining reports are of restaurants that take traditional flavours and dishes and re-articulate them in more eclectic forms—though not in identical ways—for upscale diners. First up, a quick look at two dinners at O Pedro in the BKC area—a sterile conglomeration of office towers and expensive hotels for business travelers visiting those office towers. I was one of those business travelers staying in one of those hotels, and as O Pedro was a brisk 10 minute walk from my hotel, and as I was dining alone on my first night in the city I decided to give it a go. I liked the food enough to want to come back with company and try more of their menu. Herewith, the details. Continue reading

Persis Biryani Indian Grill (Eagan, MN)


As those who’ve known me a while know, I am not very high on Indian food in the US. Yes, there are some very good restaurants (Rasika in DC, for example) but the cuisine as a whole still seems trapped in the cream and nut paste-laden chicken tikka masala/dal makhni/korma rut that it was in when I arrived in the US in 1993. This is certainly true of the vast majority of curry houses, most of which essentially have the same standardized menu. I don’t fault the restaurants—they serve what the market wants and in most American markets there aren’t enough Indians or other South Asians to ask for very much more. But I rarely want that stuff even when it’s done well.  Continue reading

Soam (Bombay, December 2018)


Okay, I’m back in Bombay and back at another iconic Gujarati vegetarian restaurant, and depending on who you talk to, perhaps the iconic Gujarati restaurant in the city. Soam opened about a decade and a half ago and quickly established itself as the main challenger to Swati Snacks‘ crown as the purveyor of the finest Gujarati food, traditional and contemporary. My Bombay friends—those who live there and those who visit often—are pretty evenly divided. Some say Soam, with its larger menu and size and its less spartan aesthetic, is the clear front-runner; others acknowledge that Soam is good but wonder why anyone would ever go there over Swati Snacks. As one who is not from Bombay, knows little about Gujarati food, and has not eaten enough at both restaurants (three times at Swati Snacks, just this one time at Soam), I am not qualified to have an opinion. I can, however, tell you what my lunch there on this trip was like.  Continue reading