New Delhi, India
October 1, 2011
But all South Indians are not vegetarians (how could they be? All those miles of seafood-rich coastal waters?), and many of them are not strict Brahmins to whom meat would be taboo. There are Syrian Christians, who love their beef curry; or Moplah Muslims, who make delicious prawn biryanis – or even Hindu communities, like the Chettiyars who revel in delicious fried chicken and seafood curries. So, where does someone who wants good, authentic South Indian non-vegetarian food go in Delhi?
Finding Gunpowder can be a little difficult. We reached Hauz Khas Village, parked our car and walked into the market (fortunately, there’s only one entrance to the market), taking the first right turn, and then following the curve of the market to the left. Asking around a bit, we ended up walking along the fence that separates this section of the market from the Hauz Khas Monuments Complex beyond. Eventually, we did reach the tiny sign (with a curlicued squarish emblem and the restaurant’s name), pointing upwards. There’s a flight of stairs here… up, up and up. On the third floor (the fourth, if you’re American) is Gunpowder.
The restaurant isn’t big: it spreads over two sections, a covered terrace and an inside, air-conditioned room. Perhaps fifteen or sixteen tables in all, clean and stylish, but not going out of the way to project an air of genteel fine dining. The napkins are paper, and the crockery is plain white, though good quality. Where this place excels is in its food.
It took us a while to be seated, because Gunpowder is terribly popular and was all booked up (we didn’t have a reservation). But they eventually agreed to seat us at a table reserved for somebody who wasn’t going to arrive for another hour. Smart red glasses were put out for us and filled with water, the menus handed over. We couldn’t decide immediately what we wanted – everything sounded delicious. There are seafood curries, mutton and pork curries and other dishes, plus an array of less common (at least in North India) South Indian vegetarian dishes – for example, a bottlegourd dish with lentils and curry leaves. Eventually, we decided on steamed rice, a pandhi curry (a hot and sour pork curry from the Coorg region) and a chicken korma. My husband Tarun had been keen on ordering a fish curry, but the pandhi curry sounded spicy enough to give us the spice kick he needed; the korma, the waiter assured us, was a gentle curry made with little spice.
The food came within about 15 minutes, our drinks (fresh lemonades) arriving much sooner. With that to wash down the fieriness of the spice, we were fine – but despite that, the pandhi curry had us asking for more water!
It was a delicious dish, though: small pieces of fatty pork, cooked in a very thick and spicy, hot-sour gravy that seemed to be composed largely of onions. The end result was more like a pickle than a curry, with very little gravy. The chicken korma, on the other hand, was a completely different dish: soothing, the chicken simmered in a gentle sauce of coconut milk, with mustard seeds, curry leaves and a few other mild spices. With the rice, it was a perfect meal.
Gunpowder offers only two desserts: semiyaan payasam (a vermicelli and milk pudding) and khubaani ka meetha (stewed dried apricots, served with a dollop of cream). I’d never had khubaani ka meetha before, so ordered it – and liked it a lot. Tarun, who was quite full by now, ordered one too, thinking it would come in a small bowl (he remembered having had the same dessert in Hyderabad a few years ago, where it had been served in a tiny bowl) – and ended up leaving part of it; the quarter plate full of stewed apricots, though with just a tablespoon of cream on top, proved too much for him.
Verdict? Fabulous. The food is delicious, the service is good, unobtrusive – and the view over the Hauz Khas lake is fantastic. The only problem is the location (too many stairs to climb, and no lift or escalator). Otherwise, it’s decently priced too (we paid Rs 1,299 for our meal, taxes and service charge included), and if you reserve a table, you should be fine.
Getting Your Spice Fix in Delhi,
The Many Flavours of Hauz Khas Village