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Way to a city?s heart

There is something basically animal about food. Eating is about the most exciting thing that you can indulge in.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2003 17:53 IST

HT City Guide to Eating Out in Delhi
Edited by Maryam Reshi
Hindustan Times
2003
Pages:
Price: Rs 95
Paperback

There is something basically animal about food. After all, eating unabashedly is about the most exciting thing that you can indulge in, in full public view. It’s violent, it’s basic and it’s satisfying.

Maryam Reshi’s food guide is a quickie, in every sense of the word. Secretly conceived, this is a product that burst upon the scene with a most welcome unexpectedness. The most endearing aspect of the book is the way it is organised: Easy to refer for the gastronomically challenged and convenient for the geographically under-informed (but why aren’t there maps?).

And that’s a lot since, even at the best of times, it’s challenging to infuse sense or order into the mayhem that is the eating scene in Delhi. But when an adventurous author and a supportive publisher are determined to take you where most have never gone, the canvas is bound to be vast and extraordinarily complicated. No wonder then that most menu descriptions are inevitably too brief. However, Reshi manages to summarise effectively the contours of what one can expect at each place. I have some personal differences regarding her list of the best, but then those are issues of individual taste.

Any newspaper looking for ways of ensuring ownership of the city must know that a food guide is a magnificent tool with which to achieve this. Witness, for example, the stranglehold that Mumbai’s Mid-Day has over the city. In substantial parts, that’s thanks to its trademark food guide. Given the massive turf war that’s currently on for every cubic centimetre of the reader’s mindspace, it is not in the least surprising that the two biggest dailies in this city decided to publish competing food guides within a fortnight of each other. Reshi has reason to celebrate as her guide goes into a second reprint even as Times gloats that Sabina’s offering is bigger. It is, but the Delhi belly, sated for the moment by the events organised around these book launches, will soon decide that!

Being the first off the tawa, Reshi obviously has the advantage. With copies rushing off the shelves, there is no denying the existence of a huge and latent market that was desperately seeking to be satiated.

But the author forgets that food habits in this city are boring, especially if one were to go by authentic food varieties available in this city. However, the author needs to be lauded for the sheer number of places offering novel cuisines that it uncovers. Not for Reshi the nonsense of confining her exploration to the largely predictable offerings of five-star hotels. Reshi’s favourites are in a distinct class of their own — and uncluttered by any star appellations.

This book is laudable because it will help eradicate the rather boring pattern of our local eating habits. Delhi’s gastronomic excursions at the moment are still limited. For example, Chinese equals chopsuey and sweet corn soup, south Indian is mostly masala dosa, and north Indian food mandatorily implies malai kofta and butter chicken.

I am delighted with the nooks and crannies of the city that Reshi has entered. The “other book” may have more numbers but Reshi’s contours are sufficient excitement for novice explorers. My biggest quarrel with this book is the opportunity wasted by restricting itself to being just an eminently flippable directory. Surely one is entitled to a little more hand holding from someone with an obvious encyclopedic knowledge of matters gustatory. The average Delhiite needs more literary nudging into directions previously treated suspiciously. A well-rounded opening essay, some more “instructions for the uninitiated”, combined with clever introductory listings would have made a book of this genre a better read.

And, should any definitive food guide spend as much space and effort as this one has on pesky little logos that purport to reveal levels of service and decor? It’s debatable. Specially since so much of it depends on customer tastes. Most devoted food chasers, after all, would tend to ignore such trivial aspects in their pursuit of that super soft idli or that appropriately al-dante risotto. At first sight though, one wishes the book had used a more elegant typeface and perhaps avoided the unfortunate temptation of using a colour scheme that rather pointlessly seeks to reflect the corporate colours of the publication.

As for those still looking for the denouement, we all know that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and the HT food guide is definitely going to make its way to the city’s heart.

First Published: Jun 04, 2003 10:01 IST