Tried and Tasted: The softest, melt-in-your-mouth ham, chicken, tuna sandwiches in Delhi
A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.
Where do you get the best sandwiches in Delhi, I am often asked. I don’t have to think for an answer. To my mind, the best sandwiches are to be found at a small shop tucked away in a leafy neighbourhood in south central Delhi. It’s called Novelty Stores, and it is in Jangpura Extension.
I can still recall how I first had the sandwiches of Novelty Stores, also known in some circles as Hawkers Hut. This happened many years ago. I was with some friends who worked in the neighbourhood, and they told me that they were organising sandwiches for lunch. I was a little disappointed when I heard that, for these friends were great foodies who loved their meat and fish. Just wait, they told me, when I demurred. Have the sandwiches, and then tell us what you think. I had the sandwiches and told them what I thought in one word: delicious.
Novelty Stores was started by a genial gentleman called Shanti Sarup almost 60 years ago. He is no more, but the family and workers are carrying on with the tradition of making soft sandwiches with tuna, chicken and ham, as well as cheese and vegetables. There are five reasons why these sandwiches are so memorable. One, they are freshly prepared, right in front of you after you have placed your order. Two, the bread is soft. Three, the generous fillings is truly awesome. Four, there is a light touch of mayo (a family recipe). And five, the green chutney that it is served with is tart, fresh and smooth.
I went back there last week, and tried them out again. In many places, I find the bread in a sandwich much too thick. By the time you have bitten into the core – whatever the filling may consist of – you have a mouthful of bread to contend with. The great part of Novelty sandwiches is that the bread is soft enough for you to get to the filling with just one small bite.
There was a time when Delhi was known for its sandwiches. When I was a wee lad, I was sometimes taken to a restaurant above Wenger’s where I remember eating the most scrumptious sandwiches. A restaurant called the Tea House in Regal Building in Connaught Place had a wide variety of sandwiches, too.
But in the last many years sandwiches have been standardised. You get the same old grilled sandwiches with thick bread and a filling that you can’t really taste, because it has been masked by a heavy helping of thick mayonnaise. Second, you don’t get different fillings anymore. In most places there is chicken and cheese. So it’s really nice to find tuna and ham in a small neighbourhood shop. To top it, the sandwiches – with white or brown bread – can be eaten plain or grilled. I love them plain, and these kinds are fast disappearing.
Their mayo and green chutneys are secret recipes that they don’t wish to share. All that they will tell us is that the mayonnaise is egg-free. What I like about it is that it’s light, and adds to the taste of the filling without overwhelming it.
When I first met Shanti Sarup, I realised he was a perfectionist. His ingredients had to be the best, he had told me. Once when the prices of coriander and mint leaves had soared, somebody suggested that he mix it with the cheaper spinach leaves. He refused. Instead, he discontinued the chutney, till the prices were back to normal.
Novelty is like Archie’s Pop Tate. You get burgers--- those nice fried ones that college canteens serve) – and omelettes with cheese and chicken. There is hot soup for cold days and cold coffee for hot days. What more does one want?
It is nice to see a small neighbourhood shop standing up to the challenges posed by multinational chains. Shanti Sarup would have been happy.
(Rahul Verma has been writing on food for over 25 years now. And, after all these years, he has come to the conclusion that the more he writes, the more there is left to be written)
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