The other day, I was reading a food column in a newspaper whose circulation is in inverse proportion to its cerebral content and sniggering to myself. The column was going gaga about an elaborate buffet in a five-star hotel. There was a huge spread, by the sound of it a 700-item lunch, and it cost the same as a train ticket from Delhi to Goa. I found that hilarious - even if you have one bite out of each dish, you'd be nursing an aching jaw by the end of the meal. But what's actually funny is that Old Delhi is dotted with bhojanalayas that serve a great unlimited lunch, and very few people know about it. You pay just Rs.25 to 50 for an unlimited vegetarian thali, and the food is so much tastier than anything you get in a tony hotel.
One such place is the Adarsh Bhojanalaya. Adarsh has been a pit stop for food-loving traders for a long time. Most of the outstation traders and shopkeepers who come to Delhi for bulk purchases visit Adarsh for lunch. And those catching the late night train back home halt there for dinner. Adarsh is a neat little place in Haveli Haider Quli. You can take the Metro to the Old Delhi Railway Station and then take a rickshaw to Haveli Haider Quli, or walk down Chandni Chowk towards Fatehpuri. Haveli Haider Quli is the last gali on your right before you hit Fatehpuri. You take a chair and order a thali. And you ask for a katori of desi ghee. The ghee is heated and tempered with jeera. And you pour this over your dal and sabzi. It makes the food taste so good that you are tempted to sprinkle it over your raita and kheer, too. But don't.
The thali consists of a dal, a few vegetable dishes, raita, chutney, salad, kheer and papad. A gentleman stands there with a tray carrying different kinds of rotis - plain or missi, or paranthas if you want them. The rotis are done on the tawa, so they are soft and tempt you to eat even more than you wish to. Another gentleman keeps refilling all your katoris till you surrender and cross your hands over the thali to indicate a stomach that's about to burst. The food is really great - simple yet delicious.
The only problem with Adarsh is that once you have gone there, you want to keep going back for more. I made the mistake, many years ago, of taking to Chandni Chowk some of my snooty friends who otherwise yelp in fright when they see a cow on the road.
They had lunch at Adarsh. And they are still talking about it