Much as I love Mumbai, in my book Delhi is the Food capital of India. For sure this is going to upset the Foodie elite of some other cities. But, none can beat Delhi for its sheer range and variety. From Street Food to Dhabas, Canteens and Eateries, Cafes and Stand-alone restaurants to Specialty Fine Dining at 5 Stars - no other city offers as much choice and options as Delhi. For all their faults , let’s admit it, Punjabis understand food – more importantly, are willing to shell out money for eating out.
more style than substance
Bombay's food scene really started changing in the '90s with the discovery and subsequent up-market transformation of Mangalorean Sea-Food joints like Trishna and Mahesh. Next to arrive were western food restaurants like Rahul Akerkar's Indigo (successor of Cafe uner the Over) and A.D. Singh's Olive Kitchen & Bar. Much later came, Moshe's, Basilico, Salt Water Cafe and, more recently, Smoke House Deli and LPQ. Many chic places have sprung-up since in mid-town (Lower Parel area) and the suburbs - most notably, Bandra, such as the Pali Café, but most of them are more style than substance – feast for the eyes and wallet rather than the palate. The coming of age of Malwani eateries has added a new ethnic dimension at the budget end - but Street food in Mumbai has a limited variety - largely restricted to the old Mill-workers’ staples. Mumbai doesn't have any real Dhabas. The old Irani Cafes have all but disappeared. Few people go to Sion Koliwada these days other than residents of the area. Muslim food generally available around the city (not specific quarters like the Bohri Mohalla and Mohammed Ali Road ) , as typified by Bade Miyan in Colaba or Jafferbhai’s Delhi Durbar, - is unexciting for those initiated into the finer traditions of Mughlai / Nizami cuisine of Delhi, Lucknow or Hyderabad. Parsi and Irani food are difficult to come by and now exist only for the die-hards. After the demise of City Kitchen – New Martin’s remains the last flag-bearer of authentic Goan fare. I am not a great fan of GujjuFood – so won’t enter into a debate on the intricacies of Gujarat nu Jaman here (though you can now get it in Delhi too with Branches of Rajdhani all over). But, finally, at the top end, the F & B outlets at 5 Stars in Mumbai are miles behind those of Delhi.
trying too hard
Like in many other aspects of cosmopolitan living – Bangalore also tries hard on Food, but is yet to get there totally . Chennai is still too regional – barring the odd exception. Calcutta – unfortunately, like in everything else - has been out of the race for quite some time now (ultimately it all boils down to a function of disposable income).
walled city to world city
What makes Delhi stand-out from other cities is – apart from the original Mughlai, Punjabi and North Indian (both Hindu and Muslim) cuisine – you can get food from practically all over India and also a wide international variety that is now available in the city. The last is thanks not only to the presence of a large expatriate population and diplomatic corps, foreign tourists and business travelers but also a size-able section of the more discerning, well-traveled and well-heeled Delhiites - who believe in , to use the local parlance, a culture of "wining and dining". So, Delhi can now boast of some of the finest Italian, Western Grills, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and specialty Chinese restaurants and, mind you, not all of them at 5 Stars. Even Cafes like Big Chill or Turtle and boutique restaurants such as Basil & Thyme offer great quality and value. It's difficult to beat the ambience of some like Magic in the Garden of 5 senses (Mehrauli) or the restaurant in Lodi Gardens. Borrowing a line from an old Times of India campaign, Delhi has - at least in culinary terms - transformed itself from a "walled city" to a truly "world city".
intimations of mortality
As I turn older and intimations of mortality get louder by the day – I am trying to pare down choices to a few favourites – knowing that time is running out. This applies to as much to people and relationships as it does to places I visit, things I like and restaurants I frequent. On eating out I now feel an aversion to experiment unless it comes with very strong recommendation from people whose judgment I intrinsically trust.
Now that I don’t travel to Delhi as often – I have become even more selective. For me – the food map of Delhi begins at Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk Area and restricted to the boundaries of the outer Ring Road. So the Haryanvi frontiers of Gurgaon - which has its own gastronomical universe - are definitely outside my beat. But, within this limited geography I am able to get my fill from both ends of the spectrum. These are my top 10 ‘do not miss’ picks for Delhi . Connoisseurs may not approve of the list and the true-blue Dilli-wala may dismiss the selections as far from being the representative best. I too have been to and known better places. But this is all I have the time, inclination or budget for these days - when I'm feeling adventurous and energetic enough to step out from the IIC Bar:
- Karim’s Jama Masjid: Sheermal, Seekh Kebab (2 pcs) , Mutton Burra (1/2 portion), Roomali Roti with Chicken Korma (Breast piece) and Mutton Biriyani (1/2 plate)
- National Dhaba, Connaught Place : Sag-Mutton, Gurda-Kaleji, Chicken Curry (Breast Piece) and Tandoori Roti;
- Taipan – The Oberoi : Dim Sums and Roast Peking Duck – Full Meal ( of Pancake Rolls; Duck-Meat in Black-bean sauce with Steamed Rice and Clear Duck-Soup)
- Tamura (Japanese) Green Park – Sushi, Sashimi, Pork Spare-Ribs, Agedashi Tofu; Omlette Rice
- The Goong (Korean) Green Park: BBQ Pork Belly and Kimchi
- La Piazza, The Hyatt : Almost everything – but never miss the Carpaccio;
- India International Centre (Main Dining Hall) : Roast Mutton and Ginger Pudding;
- Chaat Wala (Behind UPSC ) Shahzahan Road
- Andhra Bhavan , Ashoka Road: Veg Thali plus Mutton Fry and Chicken Curry; Chicken Biriyani for Sunday lunch.
- Rick’s (Bar) – The Taj Mansingh;
the last stop before heaven
My last stop on every trip – before leaving for the airport is Jorbagh Market. Smoked Chicken and Smoked Leg of Ham from Pigpo; Masala Sausages and Cheeses from The Steakhouse. While Pigpo, as the name suggests, is probably the best Pork Products shop in the country – The Steakhouse is one of its kind grocery store, which no Wal-Mart will ever be able to match.
While Bombay has a rocking night-life, the food-scene in Delhi really rocks. But, I am a retired foodie - at rest now - so don't take me too seriously.