Last spring, an American friend of mine had come visiting India and stopped a few days in Delhi. I took her shopping, and then out to lunch. When I asked Greta whether she’d prefer Indian food, or something different—like Italian—she chose Italian. "I love Indian food," she said. "And I have no problems with the spice. But after a couple of weeks of eating Indian food in restaurants, I’m finding it difficult to handle the grease."
I agree with Greta: the Indian food, especially the North Indian food, served in restaurants is heavy on cream and butter and ghee, and even cast-iron stomachs can’t take too much of that. Even we, who’ve been living in Delhi for years, prefer to eat out at Italian, Oriental or other restaurants.
So here are some suggestions for all those who’re in Delhi and want something other than Indian food.
First, a brief introduction to the type of non-Indian food you can expect to find in Delhi. Although the city has a Russian restaurant, a couple of sushi bars, and some plush French restaurants (mainly in five star deluxe hotels), it’s Mediterranean and Chinese that rule the roost. And though you’ll find hummus, doner kebabs and falafel featuring in most Mediterranean menus, the most popular Med cuisine is Italian: viva la pizza and pasta! Do note, however, that a lot of the food (both Italian as well as Chinese) is often altered to suit Indian palates: don’t be surprised if you find tandoori chicken or chopped green chillies as a pizza topping, or paneer in a spicy garlicky sauce masquerading as Chinese.
Now, where to go and what to watch out for.
If you’re really on a shoestring budget, buy sliced bread, cheese spread, and fruit—all easily available and cheap. If you can afford to spend a bit more, your next best bet is one of the many chain restaurants in Delhi. Some of these are international chains; some are homegrown versions that serve mainly Italian or bastardised ‘American’ food.
McDonald’s: Obviously. It’s cheap and abundant (there’s even a store in the heart of Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s main shopping district), so what if the food’s a wee bit plasticky. Note that McDonald’s in India do not serve any beef products; you’ll find a fairly wide range of vegetarian options, plus chicken, fish and lamb. Call 011-66000666 for delivery.
Pizza Hut: Not one of my favourites, mainly because nearly all their pizzas have been ‘Indianised’ to the point where the resultant pizza tastes like curry on a pizza base. Not nice, but if you’re feeling adventurous, give it a try. Call 011-39883988 for delivery.
Domino’s: Better pizza than Pizza Hut, and they do lovely thin crusts (which Pizza Hut doesn’t). Call 011-44448888 for delivery.
Subway: Salads and submarines, both ‘Western’ (tuna, turkey, roasted chicken, BMT, etc) and spicier Indian ones, the latter mainly vegetarian. These guys have a tendency to pile on jalapenos, so if you don’t like that, make it a point to mention it.
KFC: Kentucky Fried Chicken is back in India after a hiatus when they ran into litigation. The usual range is available, along with some veggie alternatives (though I’ve never seen anyone at KFC eating anything but chicken). Generally extremely popular—Delhiites seem to love their chicken! (By the way, if you’re around the New Friends Colony Community Centre and you like fried chicken, give Buddy’s Broaster a try: healthier, and not bad.
Slice of Italy: A vast range of pizzas, pastas, subs and desserts. These guys are good value for money—my favourite calzone, which comes bursting with mushrooms, peppers, bacon, ham and cheese, is delicious, so big that I always have leftovers—and just Rs 125. A note of caution: don’t order any milk-based desserts like tiramisu or cheesecake: they’re occasionally off. Call 011-41708111 for delivery.
Yo China: Not a favourite of mine, though I am listing it, because it’s one of the few Chinese chain eateries in Delhi. The food’s very average, a Punjabi version of Chinese with lots of tomato ketchup and red chillies added. Portion sizes, however, are fairly generous—and it’s cheap.
Nirula’s: Long before Domino’s, McDonald’s et al arrived in Delhi, Nirula’s was the place one went for pizza, footlongs, burgers etc. They still do all of those (and Indian food as well), but Nirula’s is best known today for its ice creams: a lot of people still swear by the Nirula’s hot fudge sundae.
Costa Coffee: Good coffee (and other beverages too), and a selection of nice sandwiches, salads, pastries and cakes. Their mushroom and cheese pannini, the roasted vegetable and pesto sandwich, the garlic and mushroom tostata and the chocolate twist are especially good.
Barista: Like Costa, the Barista stores are basically coffee places that also offer some stuff to eat. Their food tends to be a little spicier than Costa’s, but it isn’t bad, and their selection of chilled drinks—spritzers, shakes, iced teas, cold coffees and more—is unbeatable.
Café Coffee Day: In the same style as Barista, and (according to a friend who’s a chef) the best coffee in town. I don’t know about that, but the food on offer is so-so. You’ll find the usual sandwiches, patties (even samosas) and cakes, but the quality varies and most stores don’t restock during the day, so entering a Café Coffee Day any time after 2 or 3 PM, you’re unlikely to find very much in the way of food other than desserts.
Most of Delhi’s mid-range non-Indian eateries are restricted to the many Chinese restaurants across town, and a few other places that do Mediterranean or other cuisines. Among the good Chinese restaurants are The Yum Yum Tree (New Friends Colony); Nanking (Vasant Kunj), The Near East (Basant Lok) and Oriental Bloom (Ansal Plaza, near South Extension). All of these do very good Oriental food, including dishes that are unusual in Delhi. Oriental Bloom has an especially superb dimsum lunch that is to die for.
There are also the more `American’ eateries—TGI Friday and Ruby Tuesday, both offering everything from pork chops and racks of lamb to fried shrimp, Cajun spiced fish and similar food. Also along the same lines is the All-American Diner at the India Habitat Centre. A word of caution: the latter is very popular, and since they don’t accept reservations, you just may have to wait 10-15 minutes for a table at peak hours.
Equally popular is Big Chill, which has stores in Khan Market and East of Kailash. Big Chill has superb pastas, grills, sandwiches, shakes, smoothies, waffles—the works. Or, for a more Italian range of dishes, try Flavors, opposite Moolchand Hospital. Very good Italian food (it’s owned and managed by a Sicilian who left Italy because of the mafia. Good for us!), and substantial portion sizes. Also Italian is Amici (Khan Market), from the same food company as Baci, but more affordable and with a more everyday menu.
Somehow, the poshest restaurants in Delhi seem to focus on Continental food—typically Mediterranean, though there’s some fusion as well. The most expensive restaurants (not necessarily the best!) are in the deluxe hotels, and there are some standalone eateries that are also very stylish and very expensive: the sort of place where you’d pay an average of at least Rs 1,500 per person. Some of the best standalone restaurants are Olive (at the Hotel Diplomat), Diva (M-Block Market, Greater Kailash Part-2), Ivy (New Friends Colony Community Centre) and Baci (Sundar Nagar Market). All of these specialise in Italian/Mediterranean food, and use fancy imported ingredients. One of my favourite upmarket restaurants is the stylish Smokehouse Grill in Greater Kailash Part-2: superb food and a luxurious feel to the entire experience. They do eclectic and innovative dishes: beefsteak with wasabi, John Dory with smoked Shimla chillies, even pimento cheesecake—with plenty of dishes using ingredients that are smoked on hickory, apple, maple or other woods.
If you’re looking for more ideas, buy yourself a copy of the Times Food Guide, easily available in most bookstores in Delhi: it has a listing of Delhi’s best restaurants, including brief reviews of what’s good and what’s not.