I love my friends and relatives. And their friends and their relatives. Only, I prefer to meet them in their own habitat, not mine. For, charming as Delhi can be—particularly in summer—I fail to see its capital charms as a “getaway”.
Yet every once in a while, I must drag visitors, and the weight of their expectations, about town, ensuring they get at least one memorable case of Delhi Belly, a truly local experience. What with no one wanting to be a tourist anymore, even first-time guests would sooner believe that our neighbourhood Mother Dairy Booth No. 109 is a local institution than go to “touristy” Karim’s: “Don’t they say Al Jawahar is better? What about Pehelwan Biryani? Poltu’s Kakima Instagrammed it!”
So in the interest of reluctant hosts and misguided guests, here’s a list on dining in Delhi.
Not everybody is easy to please, especially when they think they know Delhi better than you—and probably do. On flying visits for work, or weddings, visitors clock more hours in a week at the city’s hippest joints than you do in a year, or three. But since you’re never quite off the hook as a host, try lobbing these names at them. Let them know who’s the boss. This is Delhi, remember?
Assuming your friend has butter chickened before, in the original Moti Mahal outpost in Daryaganj no less, skip all things makhni, and navigate north to the Tibetan settlement of Majnu ka Tila. Walking past the tingmo and buff shapta dens of Tee Dee’s and Dolma House, head to Ama Thakali. A quiet huddle of rooms with low seating, it’s a good place to acquaint yourself with Nepali food. Start with the Newari grilled chicken tsoila (`160), or joal momo, a soup with timur-pepper-spiked momos (`150). Or dive straight into a mutton curry thali, which includes dal tempered with chive-like jimbu, seasonal vegetable dishes, wilted greens and unusual pickles (`280). On your way back, stop at the stalls near the Buddhist temples to pack some Tibetan laping: cold, flat noodles in a light chilli-laced sauce. Some call it greed; I call it foresight.
House no.40, first floor, above Ama Restaurant, Majnu ka Tila; www.facebook.com/amathakali; 07042983304; 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; meal for two: `800.
Blue Nile, Ethiopian Cultural Centre
While you may be asked to furnish or purchase a membership at the Centre, remember, sincerity of purpose can go a long way! Since it’s easier to plot Ethiopia on a map than order off a menu with more consonants than vowels (try saying “yebgg firfir”), heed the waiter’s advice and order a non-veg “thali” (`570): injera (flatbread) topped with doro wat, a braised chicken stew; begg wat, mutton with jammy onions; and minchit abis alicha, a minced
meat curry, none too alien for the Indian palate. Try the coffee—they serve it with popcorn.
Niti Marg, Opposite Nehru Park, Chanakyapuri; www.ethiopianculturalcentredelhi.com, 011-24673654; 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; meal for two: `1,500.
The Categorical Eat-Pham
If I could, I’d pack off all my guests to Imphal—it ought to get more tourists than Delhi anyway. Instead, I march them to the red door of The Categorical Eat-Pham. The tiny restaurant seats 10 (they move to a larger space in July), and serves homestyle Manipuri fare, including curried duck (`250) and river snails tossed with smoked pork (`300). The humble ooti, yellow peas cooked with soda (`70), is lovely too. Later, take a post-dinner stroll to The Piano Man Jazz Club. A charming womb, all velvet and wood, it has some of the best bands and cocktails in town.
120-A, near Yo Tibet Restaurant, Humayunpur (near NCC Gate), www.facebook.com/categoricaleatpham, 011-41812089;noon-10 p.m.; meal for two: `600-700.
The Piano Man, B6-7/22 Safdarjung Enclave, www.thepianoman.in, 99581-25827; 12-3 p.m., 7 p.m.-12.30 a.m.; meal for two: `2,000-2,500.
By the time you read this, no one in Delhi is likely to be in the mood for food. One could make an exception though—44 degrees of exception, really—for Hana Ho’s cold summer rolls filled with prawn and chicken, brightened with basil, coriander and mint (`220/170). After her former employer, Blue Ginger at the Taj Palace, downed its shutters, Ho opened her modest Vietnamese eatery last year. But don’t go by its size; you’ll eat well as long as you avoid the busiest hours at the two-person kitchen.
E-16, Hauz Khas Market; www.facebook.com/little.saigon.delhi; 9650260408; noon-2.30 p.m., 6.30-10 p.m.; meal for two: `1,000-1,500.
For a fine dining experience, Chef Sabyasachi Gorai’s Lavaash, which serves Armenian and Bengali dishes, is a good bet. Even if your guests, like mine, happen to be from Bengal, it’s unlikely that they have met most things on the menu, or a bona fide Armenian (although Kolkata still has a small community, as does Asansol, the chef’s hometown). Try the lavaash pizzas (`550/650); tolmas, delicate grapevine leaf parcels of meat or potato (`500/400); or gata, a cheese-filled pastry served with ice cream (`450). Wash it all down with plenty of sangria (`600/glass), that great antidote to tetchy companions.
H5/1, Ambawatta No.1, Mehrauli; www.lavaashbysaby.com; 782704-4055; 11 a.m-midnight; meal for two: `2,500-3,000.
Now, Delhi is hardly an age-no-bar kind of city. I think of it more as a bar-bar-chicken-tikka-bar kind of city, where the average age of pub-crawlers is slipping steadily from the mid-20s to the unborn. A handful of clubs like the India International Centre or the Gymkhana Club push the average age of punters up to 117, or there-abouts, but if you don’t move in those charmed members-only circles, head to the following.
United Coffee House (UCH)
The food can be dubious, but relatives of a certain vintage invariably coo over the powder blue and yellow walls, liveried waiters, chandeliers and Cona coffee (`175) in chemistry lab flasks. In the old heart of Nayi Dilli, UCH has served nostalgia without apology for seven decades: think chicken à la Kiev (`675), mushroom stroganoff (`575), tomato fish (`745), and cheese balls (`245). And not a mason jar in sight.
E-15, Inner Circle, Connaught Place; www.unitedcoffeehouse.in; 9650596115; 9.30 a.m.-11.30 p.m.; meal for two: `2,500-3,000.
Triveni Terrace Café Or Café Lota
For those who like a spot of culture with their tea, there’s Café Lota at the National Handicrafts Museum, or its sister Triveni Terrace Café at Triveni Kala Sangam in the arts hub of Mandi House. Summer evenings are not half as unbearable al fresco—not with palak patta chaat (`255) and kachcha aam prawn curry (`515) on the table.
Anandgram on MG Road, and the National Museum and IGNCA in central Delhi are parent-friendly too, but their cafés offer little inducement to visitors. A safer option, perhaps, is Chor Bizarre, which serves decent goshtaba (`695) and haaq (`450), at the recently restored Bikaner House.
National Handicrafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, near Pragati Maidan, www.facebook.com/CafeLota; 99108-07703; 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; meal for two: `1,500-2,000.
Triveni Kala Sangam, Tansen Marg; www.facebook.com/Triveni-TeaTerrace; 9971566904; 10 a.m.-7.30 p.m.; meal for two: `1,000-1,500, thalis `320/260.
Bikaner House, Pandara Road; www.chorbizarre.com; 9910601574/ 011-23071574; noon-3.30 p.m., 7-11.30 p.m.; meal for two: `2,000.
Easy to navigate and with enough apparel and home décor shops to charm the grumpiest of your guests, Meherchand Market is as easy on the eyes as it is on the knees. When the parents need a breather from shopping or from admiring the street art in Lodhi Colony, the high tea (`699) at Elma’s—sandwiches and scones, tartlets and tea—delivers each time.
73 Meherchand Market; www.elmasbakerybarkitchen.com; 97111-17516; 11 a.m.-11 p.m., 3-7 p.m. for high tea; meal for two: `1,500-2,000.
Although the dining hall at Parsi Anjuman is no longer open to visitors, you can get takeaway orders if you call a day ahead. Invite at least three others to do justice to the mountain of caramel pulao with mutton dhansak (`360) and patra-ni-machhi (`225 per piece).
Parsi Anjuman, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg; 9810788227; www.facebook.com/Baglis-Kitchen-951446014962727; starting July-August, they will also offer takeaways from Gurgaon; meal for four: `1,500.
The trouble with Delhi “virgins” is that they want to have their tandoori chicken, and eat it too. Sadly, by the time they tire of kebabs and kormas, it’s too late to teach them how to eat like a local—or at least bleat like one.
Karim’s And Kuremal
Get Karim’s out of the way. That way, it won’t come up in conversation every two hours, and you can trick your guests into believing that they want what you want: mutton burra (`581) and korma (`379)—not the biryani. All this, of course, before they have had the chance to resolve the nuclear standoff between Karim’s and Al Jawahar. Sweeten the deal with a visit to Kuremal Mohan Lal Kulfi Wale for falsa kulfi (`60) and stuffed mango kulfi (`200).
Jama Masjid Gate no. 1, Gali Kababian; www.karimhoteldelhi.com; 8071875367; 9 a.m.-11.30 p.m.; meal for two: `1,500-2,000. Chawri Bazaar Road, Kucha Pati Ram; www.kuremalkulfi.com; 9810540105; noon-10 p.m.; kulfi for two: `500.
If your relatives love rolls as much as mine do, reserve at least one early dinner on the boot of a car for Alkauser in Chankayapuri. Their sweetish varki paratha roll with mutton tikka (`250), or delicate kakori in roomali roti (`190), are arguably Delhi’s best. Then drive down to the paanwala outside The Claridges hotel to learn the local art of digesting a hearty meal.
Kautilya Marg, near Assam Bhawan; 9891703786; 4.30-10.45 p.m.; meal for two: `1,000.
Sitaram Diwan Chand
Visiting Paharganj in this weather is injurious to health. But if you must, do it for Sitaram Diwan Chand’s fabled chhole bhatura (`60). Go early to beat the heat and the crowds.
Rajguru Marg, Chuna Mandi, Paharganj; 9999937406; 8 a.m.-6.30 p.m.; meal for two: `200; home delivery with an extra charge.
Prabhu Chaat Bhandar
I’m not quite sure if Prabhu “UPSC” chaatwala deserves all the love he gets. But since he’s conveniently located in the India Gate tourist catchment area, it’s a pit stop worth considering. This 80-year-old stall is known for its golgappas (`30), bhalla-papri chaat (`70), and now, malai kulfi (`50) too.
Next to the UPSC Building, off Shahjahan Road; 9810314063; noon-7.30 p.m.; meal for two: `200.
Soity Banerjee eats, shoots, and leaves town whenever the wind picks up. To pay for it all, she works as an independent travel and food writer and editor.
Priya Kuriyan is a children's book illustrator, comic book artist and an animator. A graduate of NID (Ahmedabad), she has directed educational films for the Sesame street show (India) and the Children's Film Society of India (CFSI). She's currently working on a book with no words and filling her sketchbooks with strange caricatures of the residents of Kochi.