Sunday, September 06, 2009


Long years ago, when Delhi-ites thought lasagna was some kind of a garlic, there was Paharganj. When the fashionable eateries in south Delhi hadn't come up, nondescript restaurants in this crowded market area had the most authentic pasta and steaks you could have in the city. The foreign backpacker – living in India on shoe-string budgets – had zeroed in on Paharganj for its cheap hotels. And Paharganj, in turn, had morphed into a huge continental bistro.

The food was truly continental, so much so that the few Indians who went there found it a bit too bland. And the waiters used to sneer if any hapless Indian diner asked for a bottle of ketchup or Tabasco sauce.

Now, Delhi is splitting at the seams with what they call conti food, but Paharganj is still there. And I was glad to see last week that one of my old favourites -— Metropolis -– continues to do well.

Metropolis, said to be 78 years old, is one of the many continental restaurants in Paharganj, which is truly eclectic when it comes to food. You can get all kinds of cuisine – from Israeli and Italian to Greek and French. And, in the evenings, when the traders leave the area for their homes, Paharganj starts to look like Manali, albeit without the mountains and pine trees.

Metropolis is easy to locate. If you get in from Panchkuian, keeping Ramakrishna mission on your right, you'll find a T-junction ahead of you. Metropolis is right there, on the left. It's quite a big restaurant, but bigger still is its menu. The prices are reasonable – it's essentially aimed at the Middle Class Middle European traveller.

I have had some great steaks there over the years. I usually had the minute steak there – fillets with mushrooms and veggies -- for Rs 200. The fried fish and chips, for Rs 200, is another good dish. The Spanish paella – a delicious rice dish with all kinds of seafood -- is for Rs 310. There are pizzas, pastas and what have you. And now that more and more foreign tourists are demanding Indian food, they have quite a comprehensive Indian kitchen -- Jhinga Goanese (Rs 250), makhni chicken (Rs 200) and so on.

If you are there in the mornings, you can have a healthy breakfast of pancakes (Rs 75), fresh juices and eggs (fried, poached, scrambled, or as an omelette) served with your choice of fillings -- ham, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushroom and cheese. All this, with French fries and coleslaw, comes for Rs 90.

The best thing about Metropolis is that they let you be. You can sit there, relishing your food, wearing what you want to and reading your Grisham, or your Manto. No one will bother you, and you won't have the stuffy waiters that you see in south Delhi elbowing you out. This is laidback India, and proud of it, too.




I don't often buy crockery, but when I do, I make my purchases fromAzad Market, which has a wholesale crockery section. Once upon a time,when I had friends who were in the marriageable age, I used to gothere quite often in search of tea sets, which, no doubt, were of nouse to my newly-wedded friends who would have preferred a set ofglasses. Now that I am in that in-between age – when friends are tooold to marry, and their children too young to wed -- I go to AzadMarket only when I am looking for an eatery.It's a big market, with tarpaulin wholesalers who also sell armydisposables. And because it's a sprawling area, food joints abound.This week, I went in search of Sardarji's meat shop. If you are goingthere from Filmistan, turn right at the Azad Market traffic light.Keep walking, and after about 200 metres you will find Sardarji's shopon your right. It's run by a father-and-son duo – called InderjitSingh and Kuldip SinghWhen I last went there, it was a small shop. Now it is pretty big, andhas a seating arrangement for those who wish to eat there. Sardarjiopens at 1 pm, and till 4 pm he serves meat pulao and mutton curry.Both are for Rs 130 a plate, and a half plate is for Rs 70. In theevenings, he sells all kinds of snacks – from tikkeys to fried liverand kidney.I went in the afternoon, so I packed some dinner from there. On thecounter in front of me were big cauldrons with pulao and mutton curry.Next to it was a tandoor which spewed out hot rotis. I asked for aplate of pulao, mutton curry, and four rotis.It's quite a popular place, and was brimming over with people. Some ofthe regular patrons are local shopkeepers – robust eaters who weredemolishing a mountain of rotis with their meat while I waited for my
order.I quite enjoyed my dinner. The mutton came in a rich gravy, thickenedwith masalas and keema. The pieces were nice and large, and the meathad been cooked to perfection – it was neither too hard, nor much toosoft. The gravy was rich with small liver pieces, and what I liked themost was the fact that it wasn't seeped in red chillies. Often, eatingout means I have to compensate with a spoonful of some kind of anantacid at home. Sardarji's meat, thankfully, was not red hot spicy.The pulao was pretty good as well, though it did leave an oil slickbehind. There was plenty of meat in the pulao, and the pieces againwere tender.All in all, I am glad I went there. The journey was tough – the marketis crowded, and you can't find an autorickshaw. It took me 45 minutesto get one. But the journey back home was nice – for I was envelopedby a wonderful aroma of mutton curry. I wish I'd got some packed formy auto-driver. I thought I heard him sniff every now and then.
It's not easy looking for a restaurant when you have the name allwrong. I was under the impression that the place I was in search of inbustling Zakir Nagar was called New Delhi. It turned out that it wasactually called Purani Dilli.A friend had told me about the restaurant. Then one day last week Igot a call from Feroze Bakht Ahmed, a columnist, social worker and afellow-foodie. Ferozebhai was all praise for the food, and urged me totry it out. I said I would, and landed up there one evening. All thatI knew was that it was somewhere near the Rehmani Masjid, a well-knownlandmark in the area. I took the road to Zakir Nagar, but I wouldsuggest that if you are going by car, park at the New Friends' Colonyend. From there, take a rickshaw to Zakir Nagar. And do what I did –ask everybody you meet on the way for directions. It's somewherebetween Rehmani and Jama Masjid, another mosque in the area. Andremember the name.Purani Dilli, which is open only in the evenings, is run by a familyfrom Matia Mahal. I was happy to meet Hannan and his two nephews,Salman and Shakeel. It's a nice looking restaurant, well-lit andfunctional. There are special cabins for family, and I could tell thatquite a few people there were regulars. The chicken changezi of PuraniDilli is apparently rather famous, though I could also see a lot ofdiners digging into fried chicken. The restaurant uses only goat meat,apart from chicken.I, of course, didn't go anywhere near the chicken when I saw that themenu had such delicacies as haleem and nahari. The haleem wasdelicious – an aromatic gruel of mashed meat, lentils, cereals andspices. The haleem was brought to my table in a small bowl. Crispyfried onion slices were sprinkled on top, along with small bits of
green chillies and slivers of ginger. I added a wee bit of lemon juiceto my haleem and ate it with relish.Then came my nahari, which is a dish of shanks cooked over slow heatfor long hours. The meat was tender and the gravy thick and rich. Ihad this with some fluffy and soft khamiri rotis. The kheer at the endof the meal was not bad, but I have had better in Old Delhi.The prices are reasonable. A full chicken changezi is for Rs 240,the mutton haleem and the nahari are for Rs 130 a plate. Chickenbiryani and mutton korma are for Rs 120 a plate. They have aninteresting dish called haleem biryani – which is a nice mix of riceand halim. Khamiri and rumali rotis are for Rs 3 a piece. For thevegetarians, there is shahi paneer (Rs 80 for a full plate) and dalmakhani (Rs 70).It's a good food, feel-good restaurant. Uniformed waiters bustlearound carrying hot rotis from the kitchen, and in one corner of therestaurant I could see the chefs frying chicken on a big tawa. Next tothem were shiny containers with meat dishes. The aroma was appetizing.I had a good meal, and then ate some more when I reached home. That'scalled an encore.END


The squall came suddenly and violently – but it brought some relieftoo. The moment the temperature dipped, I decided that I needed to goto the Walled City. I hadn't been there for a while, and the soundsand colours of Purani Dilli had been beckoning.I went there in search of some milk cake, which figures in the list oftop five sweets in my house. Some days earlier, I had had aconversation on food with food consultant Gunjan Goyala. She told methat there was a little shop in a little lane which sold the mostamazing milk cake in Chandni Chowk. So, of course, I had to try itout.Gunjan had given me details, but I wasn't very clear about where I hadto go. I wound my way from one lane to another, looking for my milkcake man. Every lane, of course, had its own landmark, with a crowd ofpeople in front of it endorsing its ware. Somewhere there was a manselling Japani samosa, somewhere else there was a mound of pedeysbeing sold. Finally I reached Kucha Ghasi Ram. And sure enough, Icould see a platter of milk cake there.The shop has no name. And that didn't surprise me, for there arecountless shops in Chandni Chowk with no name. People know them eitherby the food that is being sold, or by the name of a great grandfatherwho is no more.To reach this shop with no name, I would suggest you take the Metroand get down at Chandni Chowk. Start walking towards Fatehpuri. Onyour right, you will find the famous Shiv Mishtaan Bhandar. Right nextto it is Kucha Ghasi Ram. Go down the lane till you reach a Tjunction. Turn left from there. After five or shops, you will shopnumber 336 on your right.The shop is about 70 years old, and is run by Anoop Gupta (phonenumbers 23974849 and 9891183455). It is essentially a tea stall, andsells tea and sweets. The shop is known for three kinds of sweets –burfis made with pure khoya, rabri and milk cake. The first two arefor Rs 200 a kilo, while the milk cake is for Rs 220 a kilo.This time, I was on mission milk cake, so I didn't try out either ofthe other two sweets. But let me tell you, the milk cake was simplydelicious. The milk had been cooked over hours, so it had a nice browncolour. The sweet was a little granular, and so soft and fresh that itactually did melt in the mouth (and around the front of my shirt, Imight as well confess).I think this is what makes Chandni Chowk so special. It is full oflittle treasures that you discover every now and then. In most otherparts of Delhi, restaurants look the same, and food, even sweets,taste all the same. In Chandni Chowk, every trip leads to a treasuretrove. The squall and the rain may not have led to a rainbow, but Icertainly found my pot of gold at the end of it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


This is one of the nicest Februaries that I can remember – mainly because it's still cold. I love the cold wave, because it whets my appetite. A bleak day does something to your gastric juices (I am not sure if a study has been done on this, but the subject has enormous potential), and you want to eat something hot and delicious. This is the time for endless cups of steaming tea and plates and plates of crispy pakoras. This is also the season for kababs, right off the tawa or the skewers, smoking ever so slightly, and giving off a wonderful aroma of spices.

So what do you do when the day is cloudy, and the stomach is rumbling for something hot and spicy? You wound your muffler round your neck, wear a thick jacket, and head for Old Delhi. I did that last week, and meandered into Bulbuli Khana, a broad lane that opens into Bazaar
Sitaram on one side, and Matia Mahal on the other. I suppose once upon a time this was the place where little birds were sold. Now it is a wholesale market for beads and trinkets.

I went to a kabab stall in Bulbuli Khana run by two Kashmiri brothers called Mohammed Akbar and Mohammed Husain. From the Chowri metro stop, just go down Bazaar Sitaram. At the end, you reach some kind of a T-junction – if you turn right you will be going towards Turkman Gate.
But you go straight ahead into a lane – and that's Bulbuli Khan. You have to go down the winding lane till you find the brothers skewering kababs on your left, bang opposite Masjid Shan. You could, of course, ask anybody there where the Kashmiri kabab sellers sit, and you will
get all the directions that you need.

This is a small stall where the brothers grill the kababs. They just focus one item – and that's a succulent kabab made with buff meat. It's a little different from the other kababs you get
in Delhi. The minced meat is a little thick and coarse, and it has bits of ginger and green chillies in it. You can also get the aromatic flavour of whole spices that have been coarsely ground. The meat is soft, and is delicious when eaten hot. One seekh costs Rs 3. We – my foodie-friend, Raj and I – ate five kababs right there, and packed 30 kababs for a hungry lot of friends eagerly waiting to be fed back in New Delhi.

So we had a second session of some serious eating. The kababs wrapped in sal leaves were still hot by the time we reached New Delhi. The green chutney was awesome, too, and I noticed that one young 'un cited the chutney as an excuse to eat more kababs. "Wonderful chutney," he
kept saying, while dipping yet another juicy kabab into the sauce. I must say I liked his enthusiasm.

Buff kababs are great – not just because of the price, but because they taste really good. It's not surprising that the stall is extremely popular in Old Delhi. The brothers tell us that people who
are vegetarian at home line up for the kababs on all days. I can understand that. The kababs can cast a spell on you.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Gopal corner

I have a friend who is a bit of a finicky eater. He doesn't like
anything Continental, or regional cuisine from India either. Something
like aloo-posto, that wonderful dish from east India of poppy seeds
and potatoes, leaves him cold. A good Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh, he
is a vegetarian who doesn't even eat garlic and onion. So you can't
serve him steamed spinach with garlic – a dish that otherwise always
works out well when I invite friends home for a meal.

What he does like is a plate of hot kachoris. And that is why, when I
heard that he was coming over for dinner the other evening, I
hotfooted it to Kamla Nagar in search of some khasta kachoris.

I have noticed that those who like their kachoris are pretty much
focused on them. I know that, for I am a card-holding kachori lover
myself. Whenever somebody goes to Rajasthan, I ask them to get me some
Jodhpuri kachoris. These come in two types – the mawa kachori, and the
onion kachori. The first is sweet, and stuffed with khoya. The second
is a savoury, with fried masala-soaked onions as its filling.

Of course, you get some wonderful kachoris in Delhi as well. I think
the best of the lot comes from the Old Delhi area, and Jain Sa'ab of
Darya Ganj makes the most delicious kachoris. And Kamla Nagar in the
University area has some good kachori makers, too.

I went to Gopal Snacks Corner, for this used to be an old haunt of
mine when I was a trade union activist in the University area more
than two decades ago. Lately, though, I had been hearing a lot about
Gopal from a friend who lives in the University. So I thought it was
time I renewed my old friendship with Gopal. The great thing about
this place is that while most halwais make bedmis for breakfast and
start frying kachoris in the afternoon, the two savouries are
available at Gopal's through the day. They focus their attention on
four items – apart from kachoris and bedmis, they have a bread pakora
stuffed with cottage cheese and hot gulab jamuns.

Take the road that has Ramjas College on your left and Daulat Ram on
the right, and keep going straight. The road leads to the Shaktinagar
crossing. Just before the crossing, you will find Gopal on the main
road, on your left. You'll know you have reached your destination when
you see the huge crowd in front of the shop.

I asked for 12 plates of kachoris. Each plate (for Rs 10) consists of
two kachoris, served with two dishes -- a spicy potato curry and
chholey. Gopal tops the veggies with a methi ki chutney, and adds a
dollop of raita on the curry. The kachori is nicely khasta, and you
alternately lather a piece with chholey and aloo, and then pop it into
your mouth. It's delicious.

So, to come back to the friend, I served him the kachoris for dinner.
He ignored everything else that was on the table, and concentrated
only on the kachoris. And then, after eating quite a few, he confessed
– even as his mouth was full – that he preferred bedmis to kachoris.
Well, there is always another day.