Delhi’s food history/story is folklore. That Delhites feel strongly about their food is an understatement. Which is why, every gulli, nukad of every neighbourhood, especially old neighbourhoods, has the best chaatwala, tandoori chicken wala, paranthe-wala…and so on…Old Delhi eateries date back to the 19th century, while the ‘newer’ Delhi allures you with not only the traditional Butter Chickens, Daal Makhnis, but also worldwide cuisine. And then there are the restaurants/canteens of the State Bhavans doling out authentic regional cuisines. How interesting is that!!! In case you don’t know what these Bhavans are, here’s the orientation — every state of the country have their guest-house (Bhavan) in Delhi where their officials come and stay during official visits. Most of these Bhavans have their in-house canteens serving traditional food of the respective state. Most of these canteens are open to public as well. So depending on your appetite and interest to discover regional food, you can hop in any of them. Talk of the advantages of being the power-capital of the country!!!
Now, for families like us, who are forever scouting for authentic regional, local food, nothing can be better than these state bhavans dining. Listing out the best five in our seven months of Gurgaon living, so that you look them up when next in Delhi, or even if in Delhi for a pit stop….
Hyderabadi food at Andhra Bhavan: Run by caterers that dole out Andhra food, have to admit, we weren’t quite prepared to see the sea of diners there. Noisy, with staff rushing past tables serving food hurriedly and expecting the diners to rush through the meal too, this looked more like an office canteen. That is what it is, corrected the all-knowing husband. Ok, so I had over imagined, thus blaming it all on myself….
Seeing us somewhat hesitant, one of the waiters gave our table a good scrub, brought us water, empty steel plates and stood there like a headmaster urging us to choose from the day’s menu. We sought his guidance instead, much to his happiness. This makes his job easy after all. He said that most people order the Thalis that come with one hellishly big spread of rice, pooris, curd, dal, veggies, rasam. And then promptly added that we could order prawn curry and mutton fry separately. We did just that. We stuck to the ‘headmaster’s’ advice, ordering thalis, prawn curry and mutton fry. And fell for the food!
No frills, no attempts at making this fine dining, the food is super great and completely value for money. Remember, they serve the famous Hyderabadi Biryani only on Sundays. Park at the lane behind. And make sure you go during breakfast, lunch and dinner hours only. They do not keep it open throughout the day.
Address: Ashoka Road, Connaught Place
Bihari food at Bihar Niwas’s Potbelly: Bihar Niwas’s canteen is run like a restaurant by professionals. It is called Potbelly…and is mighty famous! Going by the number of cars parked outside and the waiting time on weekends, you will be confused if it’s actually located in a ‘state bhavan’.
Potbelly is located in a lovely bylane of Chanakya Puri, in a lane that has multiple other state guest houses. Good seating arrangements, we chose the open seating outside overlooking the lawn. Service is good and professional. Here too, we asked for their recommendation and opted for the ‘specials’ — Meat Pakora basket for starters — perfectly spiced, hot and crispy 4 pieces each of Mutton Shammi Kebabs and Chicken Pakodas that make you sit firmly in your chairs, exclaiming if these were so good, how will be the mains?! Both items were. The mutton ones are mildly spiced and go well with the green chutney, while the chicken ones are surprisingly better, fried Indian style in a batter with onions etc. And we ordered a round of the veg Litti Chokha we had heard much about — whole wheat balls stuffed with Sattu, served with Chana dal and an eclectic mix of Baigan Bharta (Aubergine mash – fancier name) and a spicy mashed potato. A variant of Rajasthan’s Dal Baati Churma, the Litti Chokha is interesting — you break one wheat ball and have it with dal, and a mix of the accompaniments. Mildly flavoured, filling and worth a try. The mains were devoted to Mutton dishes that have made this place famous — Khada Masala Mutton (served with paranthas) and Mutton Chaap (served with Rotis). The former was very oily and spicy – reminded us of ‘Kosha mangsho’ — but what we loved were the Chops served in a very rich gravy. The ‘Chaap’ serving was good, the other disappointed a little as there was too little mutton, suitable for one. What we realized is that the items are individual plates but we will recommend ordering a mix and sharing, with extra rotis.
For desserts, go with Makhana Kheer – an excellent kheer of Makhana (Lotus Seeds) with saffron.
Address: Tikendrajit Marg, Chanakyapuri
Kashmiri Food at Kashmir Bhavan: We actually went looking for Bihar Niwas and ended up at Bihar Bhavan instead, a few kms off. Instead of driving again, we decided to eat next door at the Jammu & Kashmir Bhawan. The security guard told us outsiders weren’t allowed, but let us in as an afterthought …am not sure if it was a ploy for a baksheesh. Anyways, we went to a typical state govt. run canteen, with basic seating and no frills, absolutely no frills. With just about 5-6 tables, we saw diners sharing tables. The canteen doesn’t score high on hygiene but we were eagerly looking for a Kashmiri experience, not ‘fine dining’. Service is quick — what you get to eat depends on what they have made for the day, there is no menu card as such. We were lucky – it was the Mutton Rogan Josh day!! We ordered the only starter – Mutton Sheekh Kebabs. Served quickly, the Sheekhs were excellent – succulent, spicy and so lingering. Rogan Josh, that followed, was equally brilliant, best paired with plain rice. The gravy was perfectly spiced with a good serving of soft, perfectly cooked mutton – thankfully not too oily. We had requested for Yakhni Pulao, but told that it has to be ordered a day before. Will definitely go back fot it! And those Mutton Sheekhs!
Address: Kautilya Marg, Chanakyapuri
Khasi Food in Meghalaya Bhavan
Meghalaya House does not have a restaurant – it has a canteen. You are politely told the same when you call them. And when you go there, you discover it really is one, simple and basic, with few outsiders.
We wanted to try out the pork dishes they are supposed to be famous for and weren’t disappointed. There is no menu and the staff will share what they have for the day – which is a not an exhaustive menu but exactly what we wanted. Starters were Pork Fry as starters — surprisingly very very small 6 pieces and portion, but very tasty — crispy fried with no spices. For mains, we requested Chicken Curry with Rotis — basic curry like what is made at home with 6 small Chicken pieces. It went well with hot rotis served fresh. The quantity not enough for 3, we ordered a special Khasi dish of theirs – Pork Khapa, which they advised to eat with rice, but we didn’t want to have rice, and so asked for Rotis. Now, this dish was something – it’s a simple pork broth cooked with only one ingredient that we could fathom … Chillies. And these are the really hot ones from North East. The gravy as you will see in the picture only as chilies on top, with soft pieces of pork in the broth. One sip and we were hit with a million+ unit in the Scoville scale – almost in tears with lips and tongue desentitized. The broth was fantastic, definitely the best item of the day but we were not warned about this one. We still managed to have a couple of rotis with the same, mostly eating only the meat. Ended up ordering a bottle of cold water and a bowl of sugar (they don’t have desserts) to help get us back to some normalcy, much to the amusement of the staff there. Would recommend you to definitely try out the Pork Khapa but maybe tell them to make it with only a couple of chilies. Overall an interesting experience, would love to be back to try it out another day. Damages for all of this, some 400 bucks!!
Address: Aurangzeb Road, it’s easy to reach and allows parking inside.
Goan Food at Goa Bhavan’s Viva ‘O Viva: Goa Niwas is located in the same Chanakyapuri bylanes with Arunachal, Rajasthan and Bihar Bhawan’s as neighbors. Their restaurant there, Viva la Viva, is quite popular with local — We were expecting a government run one, but found it is outsourced to a private restaurant and is lovely in every aspect. Colorful, vibrant and quirky with all kinds of artefacts and household items from Goa thrown in on all sides, nice music and friendly staff, this sure is a piece of Goa! Doesn’t serve alcohol though – surprisingly.
The menu for the day is on digital boards and is exhaustive with a variety of seafood and meats. For starters we ordered Butter Garlic Prawns, which had 6 pcs, lovely taste and perfectly cooked. You cannot not have Vindaloo or Sopotel when you are here. We went with Pork Vindaloo. It was excellent, with the spicy masalas and good serving of falling off the bone pork. Best had with Paos. Next, we couldn’t leave without having Pomfret Curry, Goa style. Mildly flavored, cooked with grated coconuts, it was a version of Gassi that we love in Mumbai. Went beautifully with the plain rice. Prices are quite reasonable, and the place was packed on a Sunday. Desserts was disappointing though, partly our fault – instead of local stuff like Bibinca and others, we ordered Fruit & Cream which was good, but served in a very small bowl with little fruits.
Address: Tikendrajit Marg, Chanakyapuri
Our Bhavans’ explorations continue ….. more states to follow…..