Ask anyone who’s lived in Delhi long enough and they’ll have a tale to tell about its iconic eateries. For Toronto-based real estate professional, Jay Kaushal, 38, Nirula’s remains top of mind despite access to all kinds of “esoteric food” there. “School-time birthdays meant pizza and ice-cream treats.” For Delhi-based food consultant Kishi Arora, 29, Nirula’s was about exam rewards. “Scoring a 90% meant I qualified for the ‘scholar scheme’ and got a free Hot Chocolate Fudge,” she says. Nirula’s started in the 1950s and was named after the Patiala family that started the business. They gave Delhi its espresso coffee, soft ice-creams, salad bar, and invented the soda spoon. Lalit Nirula, 68, one of the founders, still orders takeaways. “An interesting trend in the business is that every person eats the same food as a kid,” he says.
London-based brand strategist Jappreet Kitty, 30, says her parents often met at Connaught Place’s United Coffee House. “They had their matrimonial meeting there and came back on dates.” UCH, as it’s popularly known, completes 70 years this year. This landmark hangout with its Victorian decor has seen loyal patrons such as Gandhi and Nehru in the earlier days. Their Cona Coffee continues to draw in another Delhiite, Suruchi Suri’s lawyer parents. “They love the special blend served with cream on the side,” says Suri who is a regular at Depaul’s, another popular joint. “I stop by on my way back from work for their cold coffee served in glass bottles. Everything else today is plastic,” says this 29-year-old lawyer.
Depaul’s, named after a loyal French customer, was set up in the 1950s by the late Dharampal Kathpalia. “It was tough to convince Delhiites to consume milk products outside their homes,” says his son Ashwini, 53. The joint sells 700 bottles every day. “People don’t hang out here like they do at CCD and Barista. We introduce new flavours to keep up with the times,” he says, attending to a customer inquiring about his elder brother’s health. Kathpalia dials home from his landline and hands over the phone to the well-wisher. “Being a VIP route, Janpath used to be more happening. Now there’s just too much traffic,” he rues, opening a bottle of cold coffee for himself.
Who can forget good old Keventers milkshakes in CP’s Inner Circle? In 2002, writer Ruskin Bond mentioned them in his article ‘Summer of 42’, “...when I grew restless at home I would stroll down Curzon Road and indulge in a strawberry milkshake or vanilla ice cream at the [Keventers] Milk Bar,” he wrote. The flavoured shakes in Delhi Milk Scheme 400 ml glass bottles were also a favourite of Delhi designer Kanika Singhal, 31. “Studying at the School of Planning and Architecture, I’d buy my shake with spring rolls, and sit on the parking lot railing. It was our affordable date location,” she smiles.
For New York-based financial consultant Tushar Srivastava, 28, Moets near North Campus holds a special place. “Back then, Dad would save up to take us there. Later, we went so often that I began to hate Chinese food!” he says. Suri has a similar tale. “As kids, my sister and I found it tough to say we wanted seekh kebab in roomali roti, so mom invented a name – our family still goes to Moet’s to have their ‘rollos’,” she says. Moet’s, started by the Bindras in Defence Colony, began as an outdoor 30-seater in the 70s. Later, they built four restaurants and added a hookah lounge.
Unlike Moet’s, CP’s Embassy continues to cater to the older generation. Their menu (in rupees and paise), decor (high ceiling) and service (old waiters) have remained unchanged. Started by the Malhotras who moved from Karachi after Partition, the place is frequented by bureaucrats and media personalities.
Most of these iconic joints which had live music in the earlier days were characterised by personalised service, typical of the ‘Delhi Punjabi hospitality’ brought in by families who started them. Many have adapted to the times. Nirula’s sold out to a Malaysian firm in 2006, Embassy started using refined oil instead of desi ghee, Moet’s, Kwality and UCH have expanded to several
locations. But as Embassy’s Malhotra puts it, “It’s important to have places that have retained their essence for generations to relate to each other. How else will you say, yeh meri Dilli hai?”
Only 6 cold coffees, 4 HCFs, 2.5 milkshakes, 3 kulfis (self-sponsored) were consumed during the research of this article