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Capital's Foodie Ghosts

Ancient Egyptians depicted food on the walls of the tomb that would magically transform to supply the needs of the dead. Bereft of this luxury, Delhi's foodie ghosts seek out palatable restaurants, dinner parties, and even home kitchens. Sarat C Das hounds these foodie gatecrashers.
Hindustan Times | By Sarat C Das
UPDATED ON MAY 23, 2008 12:05 PM IST

The Pandara Road in New Delhi would have been eerily quite if there were no eating joints. An array of delicacies served in these eating joints makes Pandara Road stay up live late in the night as people eat their heart out. Sometimes the clock ticktocks past midnight when people still have not started their main course!

The famous Gulati Restaurant, a five decade-old eating joint, is the most popular of all these eating joints of Pandara Road. Some of visitors of Gulati include Indian prime ministers, foreign diplomats, and celebrities. A remnant of the royal Mughal Indian kitchen, the restaurant's master chefs prepare mouth watering murgh kababs, barrah akbari, raunaq-e-seekh and a whole range of mughlai and tandoori delicacies.

It is said the Gulati food is so irresistible that once a person from Delhi's Shalimar Bagh choked and died on his food plate while trying to stuff his mouth with a big lump of chicken. The soul remained in this place and it is rumored that his ghost materialises in the form a huge pool of grease on his death anniversary.

Ravi Shankar, a known political cartoonist and the author of "The Scream of the Dragonflies", confirms: "One Mr. Mehendiratta from Shalimar Bagh, whose heart quit on his second helping of butter chicken at Gulati's in Pandara Road, is haunting the restaurant on the anniversary of his death."

Certainly it would make a very contrast story to Johnny's Pub and Grill in Brunswick (Ohio) haunted by a ghost who changes the recipes to dishes the employees are trying to make.

He also likes to play with employees. This ghost often breaks saltshakers by throwing them against the wall.

There is also a popular tale about a Mehrauli farmhouse bash in Delhi. A lady died happily choking on a chicken tikka at a Mehrauli farmhouse party. "Every Christmas, she is frightening the rib off a burra kebab," says Ravi Shankar.

It is no strange that the world abound with tales of haunted restaurants by gourmand ghosts. Canada's Victoria has over one dozen haunted restaurants and pubs! The resident ghosts have eclectic tastes because the places they inhabit range from the small and cheap to the large and elegant restaurants with a wide range of food variants. In Ohio you can find haunted restaurants dotting all across the country, from ancient taverns to spitnew fast food joints. The foodie ghosts are a common sight!

The Hungry Ghost Festival on the seventh lunar month in Chinese Calender is an occasion for foodie ghosts. The festival is also known as Chinese Halloween. People believe that the gates of three realms of Heaven, Hell and the Realm of the living are open to free the hungry ghosts of their ancestors, and that these spirits then wander the earth in search of food until the end of the month. During this festival, both Taoists and Buddhists perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased.

Intrinsic to the Hungry Ghost Festival is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. People prepare ritualistic food offerings, burn oodles of incense and joss paper for appeasing their ancestors' spirits. Seats are arranged in a row, and elaborate meals are also served for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if he is still living.

Many Tibetans living in Delhi believe in the same. Bowls of sweetmeats, noodles, muffins and other treats are left in open, while some utility items are burned for spirits to use in the afterlife. However, still Chinese Halloween in Delhi is not a common sight as in China it is so easy to find small offerings left to the spirits in public places during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

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