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The best of common foods that you must try today

A wise man once said: you don’t need a silver fork to eat good food. Welcome to the small but golden restaurants of India’s big cities

brunch Updated: Feb 17, 2018 22:07 IST
Swapan Seth
Swapan Seth
Hindustan Times
Gorkha Langar Chicken by Rumi’s Kitchen in Delhi is light yet flavourful

In a world consumed by Michelin stars, 88 best restaurants in the world and a flood of food awards, I am happy to play the Pied Piper to the little known, the rarely-spoken-about and the never noticed places.

Just the other day, I was sent a mail asking me if I would like to interview a two-michelin star chef. I panicked. I wrote back to the editor saying that I was ill-equipped to undertake such a marvellous mission. I cannot even pronounce words such as degustation, en-papillote and soubise.

My favourite pet is an underdog. So, here is a list of the places that float my gloat. These are my go-to places in the cities I go to.

World’s best biryani in Bengaluru
While Manu Chandra has masterfully changed the ‘platescape’ of Bengaluru, I confess I have not had the good fortune to eat at Toast & Tonic, though his Monsoon Bone Broth and Flash Aged Steak have been showing me their cleavage for a while and very soon, I hope to be there.

There’s an AC area at Eden Park in Bengaluru, which serves the best biryani. But, it is the non-AC part where the meal must be had

But in Bengaluru, the one meal that I absolutely must have is at Eden Park. Their mutton biryani is fiercely fabulous. I would rate it as the best biryani I have ever had. Equally staggering is their chilly chicken (Andhra Style). I time my flight to Bengaluru to ensure that I am in time for lunch. Bowing to social pressure, there is an air-conditioned area. But I would never sit there. It is the unfashionable, non-air-conditioned area where the meal must be had.

Mutton biryani at Eden Park, Bengaluru, is fabulous

Sardar’s, Crystal and Gujju food in Mumbai
There hasn’t been a single trip to Mumbai where I haven’t had pav bhaji from Sardar’s. It is simply superlative. I like it very spicy and with loads and loads of butter. A statin after that takes care of stupid things such as cholesterol.

The other nugget in Mumbai is Crystal on Chowpatty. I love their dal fry and alu gobi. Perfectly paired with chapattis and butter as the topping.

The Trident at Bandra Kurla attracts loads of Gujaratis from the diamond bourse nearby. So the infinitely wise David Mathews decided to hire a Maharaj for their coffee shop. He whips up a mean dal and saag. It remains amongst my most memorable meals to date. At the other end, and unknown to most, is the legendary egg curry by chef Satbir at The Oberoi. The trick that he employs is simple: the eggs are soft boiled. As you penetrate the egg with a roti, the yolk breaks free and mixes with the curry to provide a texture and taste that is simply lovely.

The alu gobi at Crystal on Chowpatty is delish

Plastic chairs, bad service and a fabulous thali in Kathgodam
I go up to the hills of Uttarakhand every year. And frankly, I am quite done with the Udupiwala restaurant at Kathgodam. For the longest time, I have suffered their obese idlis and staid sambar. On a trip last month, I decided to quiz a bunch of train conductors on an alternative to the agony that Udupiwala has become. The answer from all of them was the same – bhojanalaya at Kathgodam station. The place has plastic chairs and plastic tablecloths. The service is godawful. And because the food is freshly prepared, waiting 30 minutes for a meal is quite the norm. But when the vegetarian thali arrives, all is forgiven. The chapattis are hot with a river of ghee flowing on them. Their alu-matar is staggering. As are the vegetables, the dal and the papad – fresh as a flower. It is more than a meal. It is an abiding memory.

The alu matar at bhojanalaya, Kathgodam is yummy (Shutterstock)

A Nu Variety breakfast, Shiraz Chaaps in Kolkata
The concierges at all the hotels I stay in know the drill. Breakfast for me has to be from Nu Variety. They make the finest hing kachori on the planet. Lunch for me always is four leg pieces of Chicken Chaap from Shiraz along with their maida paratha. The meat is succulent and the gravy thick with spices. All of it swimming in an olympic-size pool of oil. Their biryani has gone down the tube and is rank inferior now. The other alternatives for lunch are Kwality’s on Park Street where the Ghais have maintained a charming consistency with their saag meat and chicken bharta. Down the road, Bar-B-Q is ethereal as ever. Their Chimney Soup is historical as is their chilli chicken. It is also imperative to have the dal chilas from the cart opposite Dimple Court on Wood Street. Paired with their garlic chutney, it makes for gastronomic glory. On my last trip to Kolkata, I was also introduced to the kachori-alu at Tea Junction. The alus had their skin on them. That was such a significant spin. The kachoris were light and tasteful.

Kachori-alu at Tea Junction in Kolkata

Dinner for me is kosha mangsho from New Punjabi Hotel in Shyambazar. The mutton is beautifully black. It is hard as nails and spicy as hell. It is cooked in mustard oil, which adds distinction to it. The luchis are made of maida. One plate of these clears the nasal passages. It is a culinary Nasonex. I have no time for the rolls of Kolkata. Both Nizam’s and Gupta Rolls are nothing but forgettable nostalgia.

The popular rolls at Nizam’s in Kolkata

Lotan Chole Wala meets Delhi Club House in the NCR
Where does one begin? Perhaps with breakfast. Here, two stars shine brightly. The bedmi puri from Shyam Sweets in Chandni Chowk. The puris have just the right mix of urad dal. And the alus dance to the beat of full flavours. The accompanying pickled carrots are such a glowing rider to them.

Bedmi puri from Shyam Sweets in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, is the star of breakfasts

Much has been said about the kulche chole from Amritsar. If you ask me, Amritsar has lost the plot on that score. The best kulche chole are from Breakfast Point in Rohini. The chole are soft and thick. The kulchas are packed with alu and just the right amount of anardana. Magical.

For chole-bhature, it has to be Nand Di Hatti in Sadar Bazar. The bhaturas are light and fluffy thanks to the semolina they add to the flour. And the pickles there are frightfully fantastic.

My chilly tolerance levels are unmatched. But Lotan Chole Wala in Chawri Bazar can even total a guy like me. But the fact is they are simply delicious.

Lotan Chole Wala in Chawri Bazar can challenge chilly tolerance, and the bhaturas at Nand Di Hatti are light and fluffy

For mutton curry, nothing comes close to Ahuja & Ahuja. The mutton is soft. The curry is thick with the spices and reeks of ghee. Best had at their stand-only eatery in Sadar Bazar. The other masterful mutton curry is the one by Mutton By Kilo. The one cooked in mustard oil is heroic.

As far as chicken is concerned, nothing comes close to the Gorkha Langar Chicken by Rumi’s Kitchen. It is devoid of unnecessary atmosphere. And is light yet flavourful.

As a family, we are huge purveyors of Chinese food. In particular, egg fried rice. There was a time when Taipan would make a mean one. Personally, I think Dine-Esty in Gurgaon takes the cake now. It brims with fluffy eggs and vivacious leeks and spring onions. I have also done exhaustive research on two soups that I am terribly fond of: lemon chicken coriander soup and chicken manchow soup. I am not a fan of the clear lemon coriander soups. I like mine thick with generous amounts of chicken and egg. Nooba in Gurgaon is my favourite spot for it. And as far as chicken manchow soup is concerned, Big Wong in Gurgaon makes a magical one. I have one almost every day.

Artisan Meats in Delhi NCR has the finest mutton burger patties

I am also particular about my momos. And the only place I have it in or from, is Delhi Club House. The momos are firm. The meat is tender and the accompanying sauce is sheer genius. It is also the only place where one can get a decent khau swey.

When it comes to cold cuts, there are just two places that I subscribe to. For the finest mutton burger patties and great hand-stuffed sausages, look no further than Artisan Meats. And for the best pork cocktail sausages, ham and the earth’s best salami it has to be PigPo.

Finally, for pickles, there is no life beyond Preeti Chadha. So that’s my pick of the places that do the trick for me.

Each day, a new favourite enters my life and an older one bows out.

And, as Paul Prudhomme once famously said and I totally agree with him: “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”

(The author is a connoisseur of luxury and an ad guru. He launched his own agency, Equus, and has some of the most prestigious corporate honchos as his clientele.)

From HT Brunch, February 18, 2018

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First Published: Feb 17, 2018 22:07 IST