Delhiwale: The memories of a food fundamentalist
For Satish Sundra, the softness of Natraj Ke Bhalle and the pistachios in Kanwarji’s dal-moth define Delhi’s tasteUpdated: May 24, 2018 08:25 IST
Meet the legendary toy shop owner who also happens to be a talking encyclopedia of Delhi’s every worthy big and small eatery. “There used to be a chaatwalla off the Esplanade Road, beside a drain… that was also very good,” muses Satish Sundra, the owner of Ram Chander & Sons, the oldest surviving toy store in the colonial-era Connaught Place.
This afternoon, however, Mr Sundra, 81, moves to his pet theme —food — but he begins by talking about something different.
“The problem with India is nobody cares about heritage. I feel like crying when I take visitors to Qutub Minar.”
To Mr Sundra’s everlasting regret, even the parathas of the famed Parathe Walli Galli in Chandni Chowk are no longer the same. “The paratha size has become rubbish... they deep-fry it and not make it the way our parents did,” he says.
A connoisseur of Delhi’s street cuisine, Mr Sundra has been a patron of the eateries since the 1940s. Closing his eyes, he muses how smooth the urad the dal bhalle in Natraj Ke Bhalle used to be.
The standards have gone down everywhere, he feels, including in the famed chhole bhature of a famous Connaught Place restaurant, but at least, Mr Sundra still hasn’t lost faith in Kanwarji’s dal-moth at Chandni Chowk. “When you pop in their green piste ki burfi, you feel as if hundreds of pistachio nuts are exploding in your mouth.”
Mr Sundra is that wise critic whose discerning views have been shaped by a lifetime of eating out. “I’m used to food that is made with a certain fragility and delicacy… where you feel some effort has been made to maintain a high taste.”
Alas, the last time Mr Sundra visited any of his favourite eateries was more than a year earlier. “I can’t eat the way I used to... I’ve got diabetes, blood pressure and cardio problems. My pelvic area is giving me problems, I don’t have much teeth left... have been swallowing food for the last three months….”
And now it’s lunch time and a shop attendant lays down Mr Sundra’s lunch box on the table. Today’s menu: simple-looking dal and paratha, far from the world of spicy street food. “My wife, Priya, makes my lunch daily,” says Mr Sundra, his expressions suggesting that her dependable cooking has maintained the standards all these years.
A WALK DOWN VVIP LANE
The sun has gone but the light hasn’t. Somebody is sweeping dry leaves close by. A peacock is crying out ceaselessly as if in profound romantic agony. All else is quiet. The evening stroll through Lodhi Estate vividly brings forth secret flavours of a world that belongs to the VVIPs.
This is a narrow road in central Delhi, not busy at all, and mostly serves the cavalcades of important people living here, with the occasional sighting of a gardener or a cook riding along on a bicycle. Otherwise, practically speaking, it is nothing more than a lane connecting two parallel traffic-heavy avenues.
Crossing this stretch is like gate-crashing into the house of privilege. Every step brings forth anxiety of the kind that is felt when entering a five-star hotel. Perhaps a guard might object to an outsider’s presence. But that’s borne out of too much awe. It’s after all just another road. The path is lined with luscious trees.
The bungalows are hidden behind secured boundary walls but they do occasionally reveal glimpses of the life within. Here, a nice spacious porch. Further ahead, a room lit with reading lamps. Over there, solar heaters clustered like eagles on a roof. And now, a long black car noiselessly slithers into a gate.
A modest government-run school lends the lane a more grounded character, an intimation that this place is accessible to people beyond the VIPs. The path ends in Max Mueller Marg. Just across the road stand the guards of the elite India International Center. But, of course.