Udupi is a town in the south Indian state of Karnataka, and has been for many years almost synonymous with a certain type of cuisine: vegetarian South Indian ‘fast food’. The curries, vegetable stuffings, chutneys, etc are cooked in advance, but the dosas, utthapams, vadas etc are made to order—in a couple of minutes each, usually. It’s tart, sometimes spicy, sometimes mild food that carries the flavours of the south: coconut, tamarind, mustard seeds, curry leaves. Very addictive!
You’ll find ‘Udupi style restaurants’ ranging from takeaways to fine dining all across Delhi. Naivedyam, in Hauz Khas Village, happens to be not just one of Hauz Khas Village’s oldest restaurants, but also one of the best places in Delhi to eat Udupi food.
As you enter Hauz Khas Village, take the first lane that curves off on your right. Go along this for a few metres, and you’ll come to Naivedyam—you can’t miss it. There are banana trees outside, and a small statue of the sacred Nandi bull, lovingly decorated with fresh flowers, and with a stick of incense burning in front.
Inside, it’s all very ‘typical’ South Indian: dark wooden ceilings, murals of religious themes on the walls (the one closest to us was of the deity Krishna, as a child, feasting off butter), brass ornaments on the pillars, and an idol at the cashier’s desk. Obviously an idol much revered, since during the course of our meal, we saw a waiter stop by it to dust off ashes from a burnt-down incense stick, and light a fresh one.
The menu at Naivedyam is pretty standard Udupi style: dosas, idlis, vadas, utthappams, different types of rice, and two special thalis or set meals, which include various vegetable dishes, rice, papads, lentils, chutneys, etc. After some thought, I ordered a bisi bel bhath, while my husband settled for a Mysore dosa. As beverages, we ordered fresh coconut water. (Naivedyam does not serve alcohol; it does have a large range of soft drinks, though, ranging from coconut water to lemonade, aerated drinks, milk shakes and some rather fancy ice cream sodas).
We’d just about settled back after placing our order when a complimentary amuse-bouche arrived: two little glasses of tomato rasam, each with a deep-fried papad on the side. Rasams are usually made of the water drained off when lentils have been cooked; this is spiced up with something tart (lime juice, tamarind, or cooked tomatoes are popular choices), and with a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves, etc. The Naivedyam rasam was good, but just a trifle too acidic for our liking.
The main course, however, made up for that. The Mysore dosa (my husband’s meal) was a large, crisp ‘pancake’ made from a rice batter, folded over a mixture of gently spiced boiled potatoes—the masala dosa familiar to all lovers of South Indian food; the ‘Mysore’ element of the dosa is in the garlic and red chilly paste that’s smeared onto the inside of the dosa before the potato filling is piled onto it. My husband liked it a lot, and was glad that the chilly-garlic paste was only enough to add a nice flavour to the dosa, not make it unbearably spicy.
My meal—the bisi bele bhath—is something I first had years ago at a very good Udupi joint, and have since tried in various restaurants, but with never the enjoyment of that first bisi bele bhath. Until now, at Naivedyam. Bisi bele bhath is comfort food at its best: rice cooked till very soft, along with lentils, vegetables, and some mild spices. Naivedyam did it beautifully: it was packed with flavour, not too tart or spicy, and with a sprinkle of fried crisps (made of a rice flour batter? I couldn’t tell) on top, to add texture. On the side came the ubiquitous papad; more crunch there. Both meals—my husband’s and mine—were served with complimentary sides of coconut chutney and the tart, soupy lentil-veggie-and-spice dish known as sambhaar. (This was where Naivedyam won again over most other Udupi restaurants we’ve sampled in Delhi: the sambhaar was not the watery, very sour, very spicy stuff that passes for sambhaar. Outside of home, this was one of the best sambhaars we’d tasted in Delhi). Extra sambhaar and coconut chutney were also placed on our table. There were also two other types of chutneys—one, a coconut chutney with fresh tomato pulp added; and the other a coconut chutney with green coriander, curry leaves, and green chillies ground into it. Both were good.
The coconut water we’d asked for needed a reminder to our waiter, but it was served up within a couple of minutes after that. This was really rather picturesque: it was served straight out of the coconut, which was placed in a little basket of its own. Cute!
For dessert, we dithered between the ice creams and the handful of traditional South Indian sweets on offer (including holige and Mysore pak), and finally settled on the rice pudding known as payasam. This is served warm (almost hot), and was really rather richer than we’d bargained for. The rice is cooked with milk and palm sugar (known in India as ‘jaggery’), and with raisins, cashewnuts, and bits of fresh coconut fried in ghee. I liked it, but my husband put his spoon down after eating only about half the portion; he said it was too heavy and cloying.
Our bill came to about Rs 450 (excluding a tip, but with taxes included). That makes Naivedyam the cheapest eating place we’ve been to in Hauz Khas Village. Considering the food is very good, and the ambience a relaxed, somewhat old-fashioned traditional Udupi place, it’s excellent value for money if you want good veggie food.