A July 2012 trip
to New Delhi by phileasfogg
Quote: …and even beyond maachher jhol, appams with stew, and haleem. A tour of some Delhi restaurants that offer a few of India’s lesser-known regional cuisines.
Restaurant | "Pork, chillies, and unusual flavours"
The Uphaar Cinema Complex in the Green Park Extension Market is shaped like a sprawling, square-cornered U; Nagaland’s Kitchen is on the inside, just near one of the two inner corners. The large red letters that form the restaurant’s name are hard to miss. Inside, the restaurant is high-ceilinged and dimly-lit to the point of being dingy. Over each table hangs a light bulb shaded by a tall, conical bamboo lampshade (very typically North-Eastern Indian, this)—providing just enough light to be able to read the menu without difficulty. On the walls are other memorabilia of Nagaland: carved wood, beautifully worked lances, and framed photographs of tribal warriors, dancers, and indigenous flowers from Nagaland. Even the waiters wear waistcoats woven and embroidered in traditional Naga patterns, in red, black and white, with cowries tacked on.
The menu of Nagaland’s Kitchen begins with a one-page description of the cuisine of Nagaland. (According to this, pork is the preferred meat, with chicken and fish—the latter also in the dried form—being consumed as well). Beyond that is the menu. Nagaland’s Kitchen offers three cuisines: Chinese, Thai, and Naga. We didn’t bother to look at the Chinese and Thai sections of the menu, and skipped straight ahead to the Naga menu. This one was interesting, with appetisers, pork, lamb, chicken, and fish dishes—and (possibly a surprise for anybody who equates Indian food with vegetarian) a couple of boiled vegetarian dishes tucked away with the rice dishes.
We decided on pork ribs with raja mirch chutney to begin with. Both of us are fond of pork, so we figured we’d like to have that for a main course as well (as it is, Nagaland’s Kitchen’s menu offers more pork dishes than anything else). There were some dishes here that sounded puzzling: smoked pork with akhuni, for instance; or smoked pork with anishi. No explanations were given, and besides telling us that akhuni and anishi were "strong-tasting", the waiter couldn’t explain what either actually consisted of. Finally, when we asked him for suggestions, he said we should order the smoked pork, and if we were keen on trying the akhuni, a small bowl of it was available, as part of the ‘chutneys’ section of the menu. That; boiled rice; and a glass of fresh lemonade for each of us, and our ordering was complete.
Our lemonade was served up soon after, and about ten minutes after we’d placed our order, the appetiser arrived. For something that was merely an appetiser (and which we’d been expecting to be fairly small ribs) the pork turned out to be in the form of two pretty hefty pork chops. These had been cooked (deep-fried? We couldn’t tell) till crisp (almost chewy), and very dark. The chops themselves didn’t seem to have much seasoning other than salt, but with them came a little bowl of a fiery red chutney made from the raja mirch (literally, the ‘king chilly’). This, with other varieties like the bhoot jholokia, is one of the hottest chillies in the world, and much loved in North-East India.
I’m not much of a chilly fan, but a tiny smear of the chutney with each cube of pork chop did perk up the meat a lot. On the side, too, were some raw vegetables: sliced onions, tomatoes, and cucumber, and a wedge of lime, which helped cut the excessive fattiness of the pork.
Our main course followed on the heels of the appetiser, and this was where we got a surprise. We’d assumed that the smoked pork (since the menu contained no descriptions) would be a dry dish—that, we’d also thought, was why the waiter had suggested we order an akhuni chutney along with it.
Nothing of the sort. This was a pork curry, with pieces of pork, potato, greens (possibly yam leaves?) and some unusual herbs and what looked like a dried flower head, in a large bowlful of thick gravy. The rice was of the sticky type, not the usual fluffy basmati served in North Indian restaurants. The akhuni chutney, we later discovered, is made from akhuni (fermented soyabeans), pounded with garlic, ginger, and chillies. Along with that, we were served two complimentary side dishes: a delicious chutney that incorporated lightly pounded dried prawns; and a small bowl of finely chopped raw spring onions, tomatoes, and baby green beans.
The interesting thing about Naga food—or at least what we ate at Nagaland’s Kitchen—are the flavours; they’re very different from the sort of food you’ll get in other parts of India. A lot of fermented and cured ingredients, like akhuni, bamboo shoot, and yam leaves, are used, and the predominant spice seems to be chillies (of which there’s a lot). The pork is extremely fatty, with an almost 1" thick layer of fat and rind being the norm.
We couldn’t see any desserts listed on the menu (in any case, we were too full—we couldn’t even finish the rice and smoked pork), so we skipped dessert and asked for the bill. It amounted to Rs 1,468, inclusive of taxes and service charges.
Would I go back to Nagaland’s Kitchen? Possibly, if I’m feeling adventurous again. The next time, I’ll make sure I order chicken or fish instead of all that fat-laden pork. Actually, since the pork wasn’t tender, I’ll probably skip it altogether. And I’ll make sure (as we did this time too) that I ask for my order to be made with low spice.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 27, 2012
S-2, Green Park Extension Market, Uphaar Cinema Complex
New Delhi, India
Restaurant | "Flavours of the Brahmaputra"
Assam Bhavan is one of the many official ‘state houses’ on Sardar Patel Marg; they’re government-owned and controlled, and are used mainly for official purposes—as guest houses for visiting officials from the state; for functions such as cultural programmes, and for co-ordination between the state and the central government. Some, like Assam Bhavan, also have a restaurant that’s open to visitors.
Because it’s an official area, we had to write down our names, addresses, and why we wanted to visit (‘restaurant’ was what we saw scrawled in many of the entries above our names). No frisking, thankfully, and then it’s downstairs, to Jakoi, which is in the basement. The restaurant is decorated with lots of bamboo—there’s even a seating area enclosed with bamboo screens. Inside, while it’s not trendy and smart, it’s not the usual mouldy state tourism restaurant, either. The tables have bright red and green talecloths; the blinds have lovely traditional Assamese embroidery in deep crimson; and there are interesting artefacts hung on the walls—musical instruments, agricultural implements, and so on. There are paintings too, especially of the fish that are found in the Brahmaputra, and a scene of a jakoi (a sort of hand-held ‘fish net’ made of bamboo) being used.
Jakoi’s menu is shaped like a jakoi too. Inside, there are pages devoted to Chinese food and ‘continental’ (mostly in the form of sandwiches)—but the menu is, thankfully, mostly devoted to Assamese food. This includes lots of fish, but also some duck, pigeon, and chicken dishes, and a fair number of vegetarian ones. We’d been advised to try the ‘Parampara thali’ (literally, ‘heritage set meal’), since it offers a range of the best dishes on the menu, and is a good introduction to the cuisine. We ordered one each of the Parampara thali, plus a fresh lemonade each.
The lemonade arrived within about five minutes, and just after that came the first course of the Parampara thali: something described in the menu (rather cryptically) as "flavoured organic soft drink". Our waiter, when asked, had clarified that it was an amla soup. Amla, the Indian gooseberry, is known for being excessively tart, so we were a little apprehensive—but the soup, served at room temperature in a cute little shot glass, was lovely, more lentil-ly than tart (except at the very end), and it perked up our tastebuds immediately.
The main course followed, served in a series of little bowls placed on a large circular platter of bell metal. In the centre was a large heap of boiled rice, and surrounding it, were bowls of: (a) dal, yellow lentils, very mild and absolutely delicious(b) potatoes and onions cooked with a small, elliptical vegetable akin to a bitter gourd—this was surprisingly (for me, not a fan of bitter gourd) good, lightly spiced and with a lovely textural contrast provided by the crunchy seeds of the gourd(c) another vegetable dish, rather boring, which resembled a sort of mash—though it didn’t taste bad (d)pitika, a classic Assamese mashed potato, mixed with finely chopped green chillies, onions, green coriander, and mustard oil. Very simple, and very good(e) fish tenga, a fish curry made with a tart, thin gravy. The fish was beautifully fresh; but since the pin bones were left in, my husband had problems picking his way through them(f) duck curry, made in a delicious dark green curry, probably with green coriander ground into the curry paste. The duck had quite a few bones, but the taste was great. For this curry, Jakoi offers an option: if you’re ordering the Parampara thali, you can have either the duck curry or the pigeon curry. We’d been warned by others who’d dined here that the pigeon curry is more bones than meat(g) a fresh green chilli, with different dry relishes alongside: kahudi, karoli and kharisa, all redolent with the flavour of mustard oil, tamarind, and chillies(h) steamed fish, which was served separately on a quarter plate. The fish is rubbed with a paste of mustard seeds and is wrapped in a piece of banana leaf before being steamed. Mild and light.
Finally, once we’d finished our thalis and used the fingerbowls, dessert was brought. This was a dish I’ve never come across before: a little DYI dessert, consisting of a small bowl of dry puffed rice, another bowl containing about a tablespoon of cream, and a milk pot containing liquid jaggery. You mix it all together, and dig in. The combination of liquid jaggery and cream is a favourite of mine, but the puffed rice got a little chewy if you didn’t consume it fast enough.
By the end of the meal, my husband was too full for any more, but I decided I needed something to wash all of that down—a cup of Assam tea. This was where Jakoi tripped up. In my opinion, tea (unless you’ve specifically asked for masala chai) should be lightly brewed and served with the milk separate. Jakoi messed up the tea by cooking it long and hard with lots of milk. What I got was a cup of very milky tea, which I simply hated.
A little platter of DYI paan: betel leaves, chopped areca nut, toasted fennel seeds, etc—was also placed before us, so we had some of the toasted fennel seeds while we paid up. Our bill was Rs 1,163 (including all taxes). Both of us thought that was good value for money. We’ll be back, perhaps to try out some of the other delicious-sounding dishes on the menu. Pumpkin flower fritters, possibly.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 27, 2012
Assam Bhavan, 1, Sardar Patel Marg
Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India
Restaurant | "Bihari food and a good view"
No more. Now, thanks to The Potbelly, we’re a little better informed.
The Potbelly is a café-cum-Bihari food joint situated in Shahpur Jat, an area that began as a village (it’s still called ‘Shahpur Jat Village’ by some) but is now a mix of residential and commercial establishments, with fashion designers being a major presence. Space is a bit difficult to find, so The Potbelly finds itself right at the top of a tall building. It’s on the third floor (fourth, if you’re American), and the only access is through a narrow metal spiral staircase that rises steeply up on the outside of the building. I’m not prone to vertigo, but by the time we’d made our way to the top, I was feeling not just out of breath, but also a wee bit dizzy.
First, we entered a small alfresco dining area—lots of plants, a few cane chairs—on a tiny terrace. Beyond this, a few more steps led up into the main dining area, which is enclosed and airconditioned. Here, the walls and ceiling are a plain, rather shabby grey—but perked up with bright, colourful cushions on the chairs; pretty flower-shaped lampshades woven from cane and covered with cheery pink, green, and orange cloth; and quirky little knick-knacks here and there. Our glass-topped table, for example, rested on an ornately carved wooden base. And the cruets at our table were shaped like a small hippo and a pig. Cute!
The menu at the Potbelly is a nice, compact one. There’s a small section consisting of sandwiches and the like for those who want regular café fare, but the rest of the menu is all Bihari food (barring the desserts—more on that later). The veggie, meat and poultry, seafood, and appetisers section have about half a dozen dishes each, enough to offer you a good deal of choice, but not enough to drive you nuts. The good thing is that the main courses are all served along with an accompanying grain (rice, parathas, etc) and side dishes, so it’s like ordering a set meal.
I ordered a litti-chokha, while my husband opted for the mutton champ, both of which we decided we’d split. As an appetiser (to share), we ordered a serving of vegetable pakoras, and with that, a drink each—apple cinnamon iced tea (The Potbelly does not serve alcohol). Service was quick and efficient: our iced tea (very refreshing and light, with slices of fresh apple in it) came within five minutes. Shortly after, the pakoras were served up as well. These were nice and hot, and consisted of three types of pakora: thin slices of potato, dipped in a chickpea flour batter and deep-fried; sabudana pakoras, made from sabudana (sago pearls), cooked and lightly spiced before being fried; and a too-spicy pakora which seemed to be based on mashed boiled potato and had been rolled in coarse semolina before being fried. On the side was a freshly ground chutney of green coriander. The pakoras were nice, though the potato ones were a shade greasy.
Our main courses were served up once the appetisers had been cleared away. To be honest, I hadn’t been looking forward to having any of the mutton champ my husband had ordered—it had been described as a spicy curry, and one look at it—a large heap of mutton chops, cooked in a thick, orangey-brown gravy—and I was put off even more. On the side were two lachcha parathas, very flaky and light and made from refined flour; a relish of chopped fresh onion and tomato; and a bowl of boondi raita, plain yoghurt with tiny fried globules of chickpea flour.
To my surprise, though, the mutton champ looked more fiery than it was. In reality, it was nicely flavoured and lacked the chilli heat we’d been dreading.
The litti-chokha I’d ordered is probably one of Bihar’s best-known staple foods. This consists of a bowl of chana dal, served with two ghee-roasted balls of wholewheat dough, stuffed with a mix of lightly seasoned sattu. This was served with two types of smoked aubergine mash, one with tomatoes cooked into it, the other without. Both had a lovely helping of raw mustard oil (‘raw’ meaning ‘unheated’—the heat removes the pungency of the mustard oil), which had a fantastic mustardy kick. Both the mashes as well as the chana (chickpea lentils) were delicious and not at all spicy. The litti was good, too—if only eaten in very small quantities. After about half a litti, I began feeling very full, since these things are full of both ghee as well as sattu.
For dessert, The Potbelly menu doesn’t offer a separate section: you simply ask the waiter what the day’s specials are. Our waiter informed us that there were two desserts for the day: banana cake, and pineapple upside-down cake. We ordered the pineapple upside-down cake, a large wedge which was served with two scoops of vanilla icecream. The cake was nice and moist, but the one thing I didn’t like was the fact that the pineapple slices hadn’t been caramelised. Not a bad dessert, but not how it should be.
We paid Rs 1,166 for our meal (inclusive of taxes, but with no tips included). Worth a visit, if you aren’t prey to vertigo.
The Potbelly Rooftop Cafe
116c, 3rd Floor, Shahpur Jat
New Delhi, India
Restaurant | "A taste of Mumbai in Delhi"
The other big attraction of Dilli Haat are the food stalls. The tourist development corporations of most Indian states have set up permanent food stalls in Dilli Haat, and most of them offer cuisines it would be otherwise difficult to find in Delhi. We’ve sampled food at many of the stalls. A couple of years back, a friend introduced us to the food at the Maharashtra Food Stall—and, ever since, we home in on this stall when we’re at Dilli Haat and feeling hungry.
Like all the other food stalls, the Maharashtra Food Stall (operated by the Maharashtra State Tourism Development Corporation) is very bare bones. The seating is outside, in the shared food-court like paved area that caters to the neighbouring stalls as well. A large board outside the stall lists the menu (in English and Hindi, though explanations are provided only in Hindi), with photos of the food alongside. You place your order at the counter, pay up, and sit down at one of the tables nearby. If you’re one of only a few diners, one of the waiters (who double as odd-job men) will get you your meal. Otherwise, if there’s a crowd, you may have to stand in line at the dispensing counter to get your food.
This time around, we decided to have brunch at the Maharashtra Food Stall. There’s plenty to choose from, all of it vegetarian (not that all Maharashtrian cuisine is vegetarian; since the state is part coastal, it also has a rich tradition of seafood, as well as other meats). Many of the most popular Mumbai street foods are to be found here: paav-bhaji (a bun-like bread served with a spicy mash of mixed veggies); batata vada (spicy potato dumplings), vada paav (paav bread with batata vada), bhelpuri (a savoury, sweet, spicy mix based on puffed rice), and more. Among the soft drinks available (no alcohol is served in Dilli Haat) are kokum-soda (soda flavoured with a tart fruit known as kokum and the yoghurt-based lassi. If you’d like a Coke or another aerated drink, you’ll need to buy it from one of the nearby food stalls, since the Maharashtra stall doesn’t sell these.
We started with an old favourite, sabudana khichri. This is a very delicately flavoured, mild dish of fried pearl sago, with boiled potato and crushed roasted peanuts being the two other main ingredients. It’s served with a wedge of lime, and a little bowl of plain yoghurt, whisked with a little salt and some chopped green coriander. "Comfort food," my husband said, this time round—and I agree completely.
The sabudana khichri wasn’t enough, so decided to share another dish: puri-shrikhand. The puri is the deep-fried, miniature football-like puffy bread that’s a common sight all over north and central India; the shrikhand is a dessert typical of Maharashtra and neighbouring Gujarat: it’s made of hung yoghurt that’s been sweetened, and often flavoured with cardamom or saffron. At the Maharashtra Food Stall, though the dish is described as puri-shrikhand, it actually also includes a side dish of boiled diced potatoes, fried with mustard seeds, turmeric, and a couple of other mild spices.
This time round, since we visited at the peak of summer—when mangoes are in season—the stall was offering an alternative to the shrikhand: for just Rs 20 extra, we could have an aamrkhand instead, shrikhand flavoured with the pulp of the much-loved Apus or Alphonso mango. We went for it, and enjoyed it—it imparted a nice fruity flavour to the thick, rich yoghurt. The interesting thing about this combination—the aamrkhand, puri and potato (along with a helping of fresh coriander chutney)—is that the puris are a great accompaniment for both the savoury potatoes and the sweet aamrkhand: they cut the salt in the first case, and the sugar in the second. Or, of course, you can (like we did), simply keep the aamrkhand aside and have it as a dessert.
We spent a total of Rs 280 for our meal. True, it’s not in the least fancy—it can even be a little uncomfortable at certain times of the year (though they do put up electric fans when it gets too hot). But, for food so good, that is an unbeatable deal.
Maharashtra Food Stall
Dilli Haat, Opposite Ina Market
New Delhi, India
Restaurant | "Very basic, delicious Goan grub"
Goa Sadan’s Viva O Viva is one of the best. Not in terms of ambience: it’s clean and airy, but by no means fancy. But the food is good, fresh, authentic Goan food.
The entrance to Viva O Viva is from the side of Goa Sadan; the guard at the gate indicated the door – it has a large ‘Dining Hall’ sign outside – and a short flight of steps brought us to Viva O Viva. Or, to be very precise, Pat’s Viva O Viva (the chef and owner is Patrick Barretto). This isn’t fine dining; it has no pretensions at all. The room is a big, very airy one with large windows down two sides. No carpets, just a bare, polished floor on which are positioned very basic tables with bright lemon yellow-white-and-green plastic tablecloths. The chairs are metal-rimmed plastic (also lime green). The placemats (in shades of green) are covered with images of Goa by Goa’s famous cartoonist Mario Miranda. On the walls, and along them, is an assortment of odds and ends: black and white photos of Goa; reproductions of sections of wooden boats; a large green plastic fishing net, with a fake fish; a little Christmas tree with a Halloween pumpkin beside it (this, in August!), and more.
Even the menu is the ultimate in simplicity: it’s a white board on which the chef scribbles, every day, the list of items available for the day, with the prices alongside. There are about twenty-odd dishes here, with variations available (vindaloo, for example, is available either with the classic pork, or with chicken). The vegetarian options are a little more limited, but you won’t go hungry if you do happen to be vegetarian.
We had a good long look at the menu, and decided we weren’t really interested in the vegetable dishes or the chicken ones (neither are what Goa’s really known for). We settled for a stuffed chilli crab (you can order them in the shell, if you want to get your fingers dirty; we were feeling more fastidious and opted for the version where the crabmeat has already been taken out, cooked, and then neatly placed in the shell for you to spoon out. Alongside that, we ordered the pork vindaloo and a portion of steamed rice. Plus, two fresh lemonades. (They don’t sell alcohol, though a range of soft drinks is available).
Our drinks arrived within about two minutes of being ordered – and on its heels, came the rest of the food. The chilli crab was an instant hit with my husband: he loved its hot-sour-slightly sweet flavours. Besides the fact that it was a little too spicy for my taste, I thought the very strong flavours of the dish swamped the subtlety of the crab; I really couldn’t have said what meat I was eating if I hadn’t known already.
The pork vindaloo (which is a lovely vinegary, spicy pork curry) was, in my opinion, fantastic. It looked virulent – a deep, dark red which screamed "red chillies!" – but it turned out to be pretty mild, and with a lovely unctuousness to the pork. Even the fat there was, was cut by the spice and vinegar. Delicious. On the side, we were given a little bowl of complimentary pickled raw mangoes. In India, pickles are typically very spicy, oily mixtures; this was really a European pickle, but with an Indian ingredient: slivers of raw mango, pickled lightly in brine (and with a hint of vinegar?)
Main course over, we decided to try a dessert each: a dodol and a bebinca, which we shared. Bebinca I’m very familiar with: it’s a sort of Goan millefeuille, made of pancakes and grated coconut, layered deep and set before being sliced. Dodol, our waiter explained, was a ‘cake with coconut’. It sounded innocuous enough. It didn’t look like ‘a cake with coconut’ though: more like pieces of a very dark toffee. And it sure packed a whallop! It didn’t taste much of coconut, but there was a treacly, sweet, and very heady flavour to it that my husband later figured out was rum. (The waiter, called to confirm this, admitted that dodol does have rum. We weren’t complaining, but I’d probably have given this a miss – it was too strongly flavoured for me). The bebinca was nice, thankfully not oversweet, and with the correct level of coconut in it. Do note that while these are both very rich desserts, they’re served in small portions.
Our bill came to a total of Rs 1,000 (including taxes and a tip we left). Pretty good value for money, considering we got to eat fresh crab in Delhi.
Viva O Viva
Goa Niwas, 14, Bir Tikendrajit Marg, Chanakyapuri
New Delhi, India
Restaurant | "Rajasthan, right here in Delhi"
The all-vegetarian Paamna is tucked away among the eateries on the right (if the gate of the complex is behind you). There are a few stone tables and benches outside, under some shady trees, and there are waiters to take your orders and serve you. The menu’s printed on a large panel, and on menu cards as well. There’s a vast variety of dishes here, all the way from snacks like pyaaz kachoris (spicy onion-and-potato stuffed deep-fried pastries) to full meals. The full meals – the thalis – were what we were especially interested in. These included smaller set meals, like parathas stuffed with grated radish, cauliflower, potatoes or paneer, served with pickles, raita and salad; or larger ones, with a more comprehensive array of dishes. We were pretty hungry (and wanted to try something a little more classically Rajasthani), so while I ordered the Mewari thali, my husband ordered the Rajasthani special thali. To drink, there are aerated drinks, juices, and two popular North Indian beverages: aam panna (made from roasted raw mangoes) and chhaachh (made from thinned whisked yoghurt). We settled for a chhaachh each.
The chhaachh arrived within a couple of minutes, slightly tart, salted, and with a wonderfully generous garnish of roasted cumin seeds. Following on its heels came the food itself.
Each thali is a large steel platter. In the centre of mine was a heap of boiled rice, a roasted papad, two plain rotis, a roti with fresh fenugreek leaves kneaded into the dough, and a missi roti, made of chickpea flour kneaded with chopped green coriander, salt and green chillies. There was also dessert – a laddoo (a gloriously lovely sweet, made with dessicated coconut), which I moved to one side, while I focused on the main course. To eat with the rice and rotis, there was an array of savoury dishes, each in its own little steel bowl, arranged along the inner rim of the platter. These included a daal (mixed lentils); a kadhi (little chickpea flour dumplings bobbing about in a tart sauce made from cooked, thickened yoghurt; gatte ki sabzi (a ‘sausage’ of spiced chickpea dough, cut into slices and deep-fried, and served in a curry); and a curry of mixed vegetables and paneer. There was also a little heap of sliced fresh onions, cucumbers, and cabbage; and a dollop of fiery Indian pickles.
The Rajasthani special thali was an expansion on the Mewari thali; it had all the same dishes, and some more. My husband also got another roti, this a thick one made from chickpea flour. In addition, he got a heap of ker-sangri sabzi (made with a mix of dried beans and pods native to Rajasthan’s desert areas); a little bowl of raita; a baati (a lemon-sized roasted ball of dough kneaded with ghee – very good, but exceptionally rich) to be eaten along with the daal; and a second dessert – a little bowl of gorgeous halwa, made from ground moong lentils, sugar, and ghee, lots of it.
Both of us agreed that every dish was great, authentically Rajasthani, spicy but generally with the chillies within very tolerable limits. The only fault we could find was with the papads; they’d obviously been roasted and kept aside, and had gone limp and chewy in places because of the humidity.
Our bill came to Rs 535 (including a tip). We thought it was great value for money. Be warned, though: the thalis are huge – neither of us was able to finish our meal – so don’t try one of these unless you’re really hungry.
Dilli Haat, Opposite Ina Market
New Delhi, India
Restaurant | "Not just gushtaba and rista"
This weekend, therefore, we decided to have lunch at Tarami. The restaurant is tucked away towards the end of the main road o the village—in fact, the gateway leading into the historical monuments of Hauz Khas is right below Tarami. The restaurant is on the first floor, but there’s no lift here, so you have to climb up a couple of flights of stairs to get to Tarami. We were escorted upstairs by the waiter manning the hostess’s desk at the foot of the stairs.
Inside, Tarami is a good representation of Kashmir: the wooden screens that separate sections are very reminiscent of the ones you see in Srinagar’s houseboats and restaurants. On a large shelf (against a wall papered with a lovely subtle design of paisleys etc) are gleaming copper vessels of the sort used in Kashmir: a samovar, for instance, used to pour the cardamom-saffron-and-almond flavoured green tea known as kehwa. Some of the lampshades hanging from the ceiling are actually little woven basketwork kaangris: used, in Kashmir, to keep an earthenware pot full of hot coals, as a variation of a hot water bottle, which can be carried about under one’s clothing. The music is the Sufi-style singing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: not Kashmiri, but blending in well with the ambience of Tarami.
The menu, of course, was our main focus of interest. This has a fairly impressive range of Kashmiri dishes, including favourites like gushtaba (velvety meatballs cooked in a gravy of yoghurt and dried mint); rista (meatballs similar to gushtaba, but cooked in a spicy red gravy), tabakmaaz (crisp-fried lamp chops), and marchwangan korma (lamb cooked in a gravy of Kashmiri red chillies). There are also some dishes that are relatively little-known outside Kashmir, like garh muj (fish cooked with radish in a red gravy), Dogri khatta meat (from the Jammu region of the state, a lamb dish which includes a tart gravy of dry pomegranate seeds), and schuk wangan (eggplants in a tamarind gravy). Although Kashmiri cuisine is primarily known for its non-vegetarian dishes, Tarami offers plenty of options—such as duma loo, rajma (kidney beans), mushrooms, etc, cooked in traditional Kashmiri styles.
If you don’t want to bother with having to choose for yourself (or, if you’d like to sample more than just a couple of dishes), you can opt for the tarami itself—a set meal, which consists of four starters, four main courses, and a dessert. We toyed with the idea of a tarami, then figured we may not be able to finish it all—it sounded like a pretty massive meal—and chose to go à la carte instead. We ordered a tuji chicken to start with, followed by waza haaq, dhan phool and steamed rice. For drinks, we chose our usual: fresh lemonade.
The drinks were served up within a couple of minutes, and the waiter also brought us a selection of three traditional Kashmiri chutneys: one of grated white radish, mixed with yoghurt and chopped green chillies; another of chopped onions, powdered red Kashmiri chillies, and yoghurt, and a wonderful walnut chutney, made with ground walnuts and yoghurt. Shortly after, the starter, the tuji chicken, was also served up. This was basically a chicken tikka, boneless marinated chicken which had been cooked in a hot tandoor. Unlike the usual chicken tikka of North India, though, it had been marinated in a distinctly Kashmiri-flavoured mix of spices, in which fennel seeds predominated. Eaten drizzled with the chutneys (all three of which seemed to suit it perfectly), it was a great start to the meal.
Haaq is a generic name for greens in Kashmiri cuisine. Outside of Kashmir, it’s difficult to get the authentic Kashmiri haaq; other common North Indian greens, like spinach, fenugreek, or mustard greens, just don’t have the same flavour. To get them cooked the way the Kashmiris do—with a spicy gravy—is even more difficult. Tarami, we were pleased to see, managed to get the haaq just right: lots of chopped greens, cooked with a gravy of red chillies and other spices. Eaten with just plain steamed rice, it was a delight.
Along with the haaq, we’d also ordered a dish which neither of us was familiar with, but which sounded intriguing: dhan phool, lamb shanks cooked with saffron and dried cocks’ comb flowers. The cocks’ comb flowers impart a rich red colour to the dish, which, even though it looks really fiery, is actually quite mild. The lamb was very tender, and the bones packed full of delicious marrow—my husband decided to throw decorum to the winds and discreetly sucked some of the marrow out too! My only quibble was with the gravy, which was thin to the point of being watery. However, having lived in Kashmir for some years (and eaten lots of Kashmiri food), I do know that watery gravies are common and well-loved in Kashmir, so I guessed this was probably pretty authentic.
For afters, Tarami doesn’t offer very much (Kashmiri cuisine isn’t especially renowned for its sweets). It does offer the staple Kashmiri dessert, phirni, and there are some ice creams. We guessed that the ice cream would be out of a pack, and in any case, after a true-blue Kashmiri meal, it would be blasphemous to have anything but phirni. So phirni it was, a creamy, slightly grainy milk and rice pudding made by cooking ground rice long and slowly in milk, with sugar and saffron. It’s mildly sweet, and Tarami served it up in high style: along with the usual slivers of almonds scattered across the top, there were also threads of saffron, and a square of very fine silver leaf. Beautiful and delicious.
Our bill amounted to Rs 2,500. Considering we had a very enjoyable meal, this was good value for money. We, however, realised that we could actually have had a wider range of dishes, for less, if we’d ordered the tarami instead: a non-vegetarian tarami for two people costs just Rs 1,999. That’s what we’ll order the next time around.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 2, 2012
1st Floor, Power Gym Building, 30, Hauz Khas Village
New Delhi, India
Attraction | "One of India’s ten must-have foods"
Like the other food stalls at Dilli Haat, the Meghalaya stall (run by the Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation) is pretty barebones: there are a handful of tables and chairs out on the paved area that is shared with the surrounding food stalls. Some tables have beach umbrellas above; some don’t. There are no table cloths. The napkins are paper. The plates, more often than not, are foil-lined paper. It gets crowded, especially at lunchtime.
Fortunately, we got to the food stall (which is named Shillong, after the capital of Meghalaya) just as a table was vacated, so we got a relatively comfortable place—away from the hot sun beyond, and away from the flies which were buzzing around another vacant table. A waiter brought us the menu, which is fairly extensive—if you’re looking for Indian Chinese food. Vegetable Manchurian, sweet and sour chicken, chowmein, fried rice, and similar well-loved dishes that are so much a staple of this peculiar blend of cuisines dominate.
Thankfully, Shillong also offers a small selection of Meghalayan specialities, less than ten dishes in all. Looking around at nearby tables, my husband and I noticed that portion sizes seemed pretty huge, so we ordered two dishes to share: a jastem (turmeric rice), and the doh neiiong, for which we’d come. Just as we were about to tell the waiter that was all, my husband saw another waiter going past with a steaming bowl of thukpa for another table. This isn't a Meghalayan dish; it's srt of pan-North-East Indian/Tibetan/Nepalese/Bhutanese. And it's an old favourite of ours. This particular bowl of thukpa looked so good, that we ordered a mixed thukpa too.
The thukpa arrived at our table, one large steaming bowl of it, in about five minutes. I’ve had thukpa before, dozens of times—it’s very popular in Delhi, along with another Tibetan import, momos. But I’ve never had thukpa as good as at the Meghalaya food stall. This is a hearty broth, chockfull of noodles, pieces of cooked chicken, roast pork, fried egg, shredded cabbage, carrot, and green bell peppers. Unlike most thukpas we’d had before in Delhi, this one tasted very fresh. The veggies were crisp and fresh, the garnish of coriander leaves perfect—and the broth had a nice hit of red chilli sauce in it. Enough to impart lots of flavour, not enough to make us yelp for something sweet.
We were midway through the thukpa when the jastem and the doh neiiong were served up too. The jastem (turmeric rice, as described on the menu), was a fried rice, mildly flavoured with fried onions and garlic and (I assume) some powdered turmeric. It was delicious on its own, and was also a great accompaniment to the doh neiiong. The gravy for this was a lovely dark blackish-green sauce, spicy but not too much, and with the elusive and delicate flavour of black seeds. The pork pieces were very well-cooked and tender, though—as in most of North-East India—very fatty.
Our bill at Shillong was Rs 400, inclusive of taxes (we’d also ordered two fruit beers—non-alcoholic aerated fruity drinks that are quite popular at Dilli Haat). This may not be a fancy place, but the food was delicious, and we were full to the brim. Excellent value for money.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 15, 2012
New Delhi, India