the-south-asian.com March 2007
DELHI: A HOME OF REGIONAL FLAVOURS
Several restaurants serving ethnic cuisine have sprung up in Delhi making it a capital for lip smacking regional exotica …
If you are a foodie how far would you have to travel to get the real taste of India? Not too far. With the opening of several restaurants that serve authentic food from all corners of India, the food lovers of Delhi can limit their travel to within a few kilometers of their homes. For those looking for a realistic regional experience, new restaurants serving a host of ethnic cuisines are sprouting all over the city.
Take for example Swagath. A sister concern of Sagar, the famous South Indian vegetarian restaurant chain in Delhi, Swagath is spread over four floors and is usually full mainly due to the great coastal and Chettinad fare available here.
The fish is flown in fresh from Mumbai to Delhi every day where the chefs get down to preparing gastronomical delights. The fish tikkas, koliwadas and fried fish are wickedly delicious as are the surmai and the pomfret.
"For those who like to experiment with the palette, there are live crabs, which can be cooked in pepper garlic sauce and ready to eat in half an hour. The prawns are a must try as is the squid and the Bombay duck," says owner Jayaram Banan.
He recommends an appam (steamed dosa) or a crisp malabari parantha as an accompaniment. Wash this down with a glass of luscious buttermilk or Sole Kadi, a drink made of a fruit called cocum with a special tamarind tadka and you are hooked for life especially since a meal for two costs anywhere between Rs. 450 and Rs. 650 ($10-15).
"Our clientele includes people who are connoisseurs of good food. From politicians, to film stars and eminent personalities, they all come to Swagath to taste what’s cooking in the coastal kitchens," says Banan.
From The Kitchens of Kashmir
Swagath is not the only restaurant that is moving away from the ‘safe cuisine’ that makes an eatery tick in Delhi (read Butter chicken, Dal Makhani and Naan). Chor Bizzare situated in Old Delhi in Hotel Broadway serves Kashmiri Wazwan.
"Waz means food and wan is the place where it is sold. This style of cooking came to India with the coming of traders from Iran, Afghanistan and Turkmeinistan which was later adopted and evolved as their trademark by Kashmiris," says Ved Lal Pandita, the Waza (Head Chef).
The restaurant organizes a Wazwan for not less than ten people and then too they need a 24-hour notice to prepare all the food and make dining arrangements. A private dining room is reserved for the party, all of whom have to sit on the floor during the dinner. The Waza dressed in a traditional Kashmiri firan serves the food in handis.
The piece de resistance is the main dish called Ghoshtaba or beaten meat of lamb. The meat, which takes 10-12 hours to cook, is manually beaten early in the morning so that the fresh air helps soften the texture.
The elaborate menu boasts of extraordinary delicacies such as Rista – mutton in saffron based curry, Mirchi Korma and the mutton Yakhni. There are no accompanying drinks though a red wine will not go amiss.
After a splendid meal, one can opt for a variety of traditional Kashmiri desserts including Phirani, Kheer and Shufta – an assortment of shallow fried dry fruits dipped in sugar syrup. And all for about Rs. 450 per head ($10).
"Wazwan is a rice based cuisine which needs to be eaten with the hand to be enjoyed. However the food is oily and spicy, so we encourage most of the customers to come for dinner," says manager Prateek Sinha. He laughs adding, "They never listen to us and come in whenever they please."
For those who need a break from the non-vegetarian delicacies, there are great veg options available. Farsaan a Gujarati restaurant has a purely vegetarian menu. "We have one basic fare – an exclusive thali that sums up the essence of Gujarat. Farsaan means snacks and that’s what most of the meal is made up of. The taste is authentic Gujarati – not sweet as some people would think but salty and tangy," says owner Gautam Singh.
The thali (one plate) that costs Rs. 225 ($5) has 17 items including khatti meethi dal, Gujarati kadi, three seasonal vegetables, khandavi, dhokla, methi roti and thepla. And for those who have a sweet tooth – there is the traditional succulent Srikhand.
Singh who is overwhelmed at the response to his restaurant is planning to introduce a Gold Thali – which will be cooked exclusively in desi ghee and will be priced around Rs. 450 ($10) and will offer more exotic snacks.
"The food is too heavy for eating in the day but a glass of Gujarati chaas or butter milk drunk after the meal helps digest it better. There are snacks which can be had at any time of the day along with a glass of Am Ras or mango juice," says Singh.
The restaurant that sells over 60 thalis in a day has both floor seating as well as tables depending on the customer’s preference. There are other offers like special discounts for a party of over 20 people where you can eat as much as you want and more, which keeps the place flourishing, till the wee hours.
North West Frontier
For those who would like to savor the fare of the North West Frontier, the Kandahar at the Oberoi’s is the place to go. "The Raan Kandhari is the most wanted dish here. It’s cooked on a slow fire and is best combined with black dal and zafrani naan, topped with butter milk," says Chef Gautam Chodhury.
Chodhury’s personal favourites are the Lahsuni Palak and the Kumbh Hara Pyaaz. A meal for two however would be slightly heavy on the pocket along with the stomach – anywhere between Rs. 1500 and Rs. 2500 per head.
For those who don’t want to spend that much, the Lazeez Affaire is a great option. Situated in Chankyapuri, the eatery’s secret of success lies in the juicy kebabs, the sensational Handi meat. With wines and fancy cocktails and mocktails to go with the food this stand-alone fine dine restaurant with its serene ambience, nostalgic music and complimentary décor is a sure tantalizer of the taste buds.
For the more audacious eaters, there are places like Andhra Bhawan, Baboo Moshai, Keraleeyam and Dilli Haat – that serves a host of cuisines including food from the North East India, Bengal and Rajasthan – which may not have a seat to spare or even a place to wait on weekends as well as weekdays as they dish out some lip smacking, tongue tingling fare that is exceptionally easy on the pocket.
Time was when Delhi’s experiments with ‘non-Delhi’ began and ended with the ubiquitous Chinese and basic south Indian delicacies like Idlis, Dosas and Vadas. Today the foodie is getting decidedly adventurous and developing a big appetite for regional food---the more exotic the better.
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