Someone asked me today what was my favourite place in Delhi to eat. I did not have an answer. She then asked what was my favourite cuisine. I did not have an answer. Probably exasperated the next question was what do I cook, yet again, I did not know what to say.
No, I wasn’t trying to evade the question or play it hard. I genuinely do not have clear answers to them.
I have been eating out for about 16-17 years now, before which everything I ever ate was home made. From Chinese to Pizzas, from Chaat to Samosas, from Dosas to Chola Bhaturas. That is how it was in small towns where we grew up. So my palate has evolved only in the last decade and a half and from always wanting Asian to craving Italian to going back to Dal Makhni — it has done all that. The story of my cooking is the same.
Having started at the age of 10-12, I have now been cooking for over 25 years. While in the beginning it was all fun, later it became a chore, and then again came to a point where I want to be able to make everything I want to eat at home. I cannot bother to step out unless it’s work. It is a vicious circle, this life.
But I have been thinking.
The response to the question I feel is fairly simple. Today, at this stage, I only want to eat what’s cooked with love and passion. Food that tells me someone cares about what’s on the plate and how it will appeal to the palate. It doesn’t matter if I eat that at a shack (which I do often) or a fine dining restaurant (which I cannot do that often). As for cooking, I seem to be going old school ensuring I preserve the recipes of my mothers and grandmothers.
A meal that tells me that the person cares about what is going outon the plate. I need to feel the passion, taste the care. And I think that is the only thing which makes me want to go back to an eatery, irrespective of the place or the cuisine.
Having said that here is a list of places I go to eat when I have no work obligations, no stories to write, and most of all, when I need comfort food.
1. Pot Belly. Although I discovered it a bit late — like last year — Pot Belly has become my favourite Indian food places. Discovering savouring home made pakoris and sabudana vadas, mutton curry and parathas with chokhas was delight and the place had a fan. The service can be slow on weekend and peak hours but the fact that the servers are smiling good natured bhaiyyas from my land, means I do not mind waiting. The homelike food with rustic flavours and generous portions, the use of mustard oil and fragrant masalas takes me back to my childhood, the best cuts of meats reminds me of mum’s kitchen, the many accompanying little things make it seem like a meal at home.
2. Tashi Delek, Dilli Haat. There are momos and there are momos and then there are the Sikkimese momos from Dilli Haat. Accompanied with hot flavourful thukpas these dumplings define Delhi for me. They also remind me of my courtship days, of my indulgent husband and my initial years in Delhi. Though I go there not more than once a year — mostly in winter, the place remains very special. The best thing — nothing here has changed in the 18 years that I have known it.
3. All American Diner. Although I have never had a hotdog there, this American Diner has won me over with numerous other things: Pot Pie, Fish Fry, Hash Browns, Waffles, Pancakes… the list goes on. Perfect for a weekend brunch, a weekday lunch or a Sunday dinner, the diner is timeless in its appeal — both culinary and aesthetic. Best way to enjoy a meal here is to reach early since they do not take reservations and the waiting can be a dampener.
4. Jade. Wherever Chef Rana goes, I follow. After meeting him and tasting his food at Triple8 last year, I have learnt this lesson for life. Soft spoken, gentle and large hearted, chef Rana’s food is a reflection of who he is. While Jade is a classic he has reinvented the menu in a way that it appeals to the new generation too. Subtle dimsums, robust mains, velvety noodles, and soul satisfying desserts, there is nothing that the chef cannot do. And I as a guest, am just too happy.
5. Orient Express. Last on the list not because I don’t like it as much as the others, last because it is so chic that I cannot afford to go there often. Designed after the Orient Express, this iconic Taj Palace restaurant is a favourite of all those who love refined subtle luxury. The live music played by a veteran Taj pianist, the soothing vocals by a elegant young lady, and champagne bubbling away on your glass even as you look out of the beautiful train is an experience dreams are made of.
6. Red Hot Cafe: A quiet, unassuming eatery in Gurgaon’s Sushant Lok, this Thai restaurant is the number one on our list to go to when we are hungry, bored, or in need of comfort. Even though they have a fancy new outlet in Cyber Hub, both husband and I prefer the older one. Almost 25 kilometers away from home, this place needs dedicated time and planning and yet it retains its position. The reason? Food, food, and food. No pretense, no highhandedness, no frills — the place serves just very good quality comfort food. Our go to dishes every time: Tom Yum and Tom Kha, Lamb Massaman, Mi Goreng, and jasmine rice. Nothing more, nothing less.
7. Karim, Jama Masjid. To be honest, my fascination with Karim and its Nihari has waned quite a bit after eating at smaller places in the Old city (especially Kallu and Aslam), but the comfort and ease of getting there ensures I will still go back for my qormas and seekh kababs, also for my most favourite roti in the whole city, half of which I eat on its own. The Nihari meanwhile is as good as good as a mutton Nihari can get. The Sheekh here are luscious and juicy and come dripping with ghee and the qormas are mild yet decadant, together the three make a soul satisfying combination which is worth every minute spent in reaching there. And so, while there is a Kareem right next to home, I will only eat in this one.