‘Dilli ka Khana?’

Written by  //  May 19, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  5 Comments

[A guest post by Tupur Chatterjee. When not cooking or eating, Tupur likes to talk about food. Works with Elmo. Watches movies. Battles the Delhi summer.]

I’ve been thinking about what would be the one thing that’s Delhi food. Something quintessentially Delhi. Like the politicians, Fab India, crime, rape, summer, journalists, barsatis, new expensive malls, winter sunshine, Delhi University.

A cursory glance at the five years I’ve spent here, I realized my understanding of ‘Dilli food’ has changed drastically depending on the state of my finances, my friend’s finances, the three people in my then immediate surroundings and my geography. The only other cities I’ve lived in are London and Calcutta. But everybody knows there’s Calcutta food. There’s our institutionalized chelo kebab and steaks, puckhas andbiryanischinese and radhaballabi. London is a hard nut to crack; currently it charms the pants off any food lover, touted as one of the grandest food cities of the world. It’s the stuff of dreams, to be explored in detail in another post. When in doubt, and in London, say ‘fish n chips’ (or doner kebab).

But what about Delhi? As a wide eyed fresher walking down the hallowed corridors of a certain red brick institution north of the city, you would already know it would be blasphemous to walk into the college cafe and order anything but mince-chutney. It was the done thing, no questions asked. The next three years that followed were mostly about being perpetually broke and perpetually eating out. We were on a constant lookout for the cheapest new food to grace North Campus. It was a life dominated by momos, chicken mc.grill burgers, mince-maggi, eggs, double fried pork, nimbu pani, occasional Tibetan food and cigarettes. And then there were two dream-come-trues: Big Chill (Khan Market) and Karims (Old Delhi). That was my Delhi then.

Flash forward: May 2009: A job in hand, a little more money in the wallet, some health consciousness in the head. Location: South Delhi, Green Park. I tried to eat at home, Suman didi would charge in hectically in the mornings and by 7 am, my pressure cooker would merrily whistle away, perfectly in cue, falling in line with all its counterparts on the street, like some Green Park pressure cooker grand orchestra. Rajma, Chana, Chola, Kali dal, Kadi- Suman Didi’s seasoned hands dished out staple and solid ghar ka khana, albeit my visions of ghar ka khana were more on the delicate lines of rice, fish and vegetables only seen in C.R park. Still, I battled on. I no longer held Big Chill sacred (a short stint in Italy the previous year had changed my life beyond compare). Eating out with friends now became distinctively divided into beginnings and ends of the month. Sometimes the end-of-the-month state arrived by the 15th. Beginnings were spent relishing tenderloin burgers in Amici, dim sum brunches at the Yum Yum Tree. Ends, we were found eating burgers at Kents, rolls at Salims or wai wai at home. Over the last two years, I’ve discovered several new restaurants, in and around South Delhi. They cater to different states of finance, health, wealth and happiness. They cover a vast array of national and international cuisine. Some are brilliant and some could retire as soon as possible.

Still it remained unanswered: Dilli wala khana? The chola-kulcha man, next to my office comes close to the idea. But I would pick Karims. I don’t manage to go to Jama Masjid all that often and I entirely avoid it through summer. But if I came back to Delhi, after several years, and picked one place to eat out in, it would be Karims. It defines Delhi in so many ways, it is history, and the owners claim to be direct descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Nestled still in the bygone lanes of Old Delhi, charming, beautiful, decaying and dangerous- Karim’s is Delhi. Some of its food is legendary, the Mutton Barrah, the Jahangiri Raan, Badam Pasanda and Sheermal. And it’s famous, very famous, and it reminds you of Delhi. Maybe not the swanky Smoke House Grill swinging Delhi, but the dusty summers, an ancient Mughal capital, heartfelt food kind of Delhi.

About the Author

Arghya is currently doing the doctorate in law at the University of Oxford. Dithering between academia and litigation for a future career but sanguine in Oxford with his current researcher status.

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5 Comments on "‘Dilli ka Khana?’"

  1. Aarthi May 20, 2011 at 7:52 am ·

    As a vegetarian, I am (sadly) immune to the allure of Karim’s. But, your mention of Big Chill (their original East of Kailash outlet, in my case) during college days, brought a big smile to my face. I’ll go as far as to risk sacrilege and say that subsequent meals in London/Italy haven’t affected my love for Big Chill’s desserts.
    Oh, of those days spent devouring their cheesecake while reading Homer’s Iliad for lectures :)

  2. Tupur May 20, 2011 at 8:48 am ·

    Aarthi, yes I’d have to agree about the Big Chill desserts though, I still go back for them. Sometimes I succumb to the maida-chesse disaster they often pass off as pasta! :)

  3. Kuria May 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm ·

    Golgappes! No one else makes golgappes – yeah, you have puchkas in Cal and panipuri in Maharasthra but not Dilli-ishtyle Golgappes! I miss knocking back twenty golgappes at Kamla Nagar with Bana back in the day. *Sniff sniff*

  4. Tupur May 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm ·

    Kuria, never thought you to be the golgappe type. I had thought about chaat- many people would consider golgappe, alu chat, papri chat etc to authentic Delhi grub. But its not real food! It’s evening snack.

  5. Ruchira May 23, 2011 at 11:56 am ·

    Having been a student beyond MA, (I’m going the strange and dangerous way of being a PhD student in JNU) I’d like to make a few additions to the budget list and the not-so budget list:
    1) Tandoori Momos at QDs in Kamla Nagar. (I was surprised to find they exist.)
    2) Kakori Kababs at Alkhaueger’s in Malai Mandir.
    3) Pork Chow at China Bowl, Satyaniketan.
    4) Laloo kababs in an alley near Kareem’s.
    5) Phirni off the roadside at Chandni Chowk.
    6) Butter chicken at Kake da Dhaba, CP. (Not if you’re health conscious.)
    7) Afghani Chicken at Secular House Canteen behind the JNU East Gate.
    8) Chicken paranthas at the IIFT dhaba in Qutub Institutional Area. (Again, not if you’re health conscious.)
    9) Chicken Jehangiri at Mughal Durbar in JNU.
    10) Buff curry and koothu parantha with mutton at Gunpowder, Hauz Khas Village.

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