Tried and tasted: This Delhi eatery serves the best of Indian regional cuisine
In this week’s column, we take a look at the Café Lota at Pragati Maidan, which offers the best and rarest of multi-regional dishes.Updated: Jul 17, 2018 17:15 IST
During those days when Delhi didn’t have much to boast of, we looked forward to two annual events — the international film festival in January, and the international trade fair in November. The former, because it was a feast for the eyes, and the latter because the regional stalls there could lead to a nice little feast for the palate. So while many others would quite possibly link the Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan with bales of cloth and household goods, I would always imagine food when I thought of it.
That is why, the news some years ago that a new eatery called Café Lota had opened up in Pragati Maidan really perked me up. I went there one evening, between lunch and dinner, and had a lovely snacky meal there. I went back for lunch after some time, and was struck by their menu. They didn’t have the usual fare, but had put together some dishes that are difficult to find or seen just in homes.
Café Lota was started by three friends who had known each other for decades. Their idea was simple — they wanted it to be different from the dime-a-dozen restaurants in town. The café is not just different, but is one of the nicest restaurants in the city. It offers cuisines from various regions and features famous as well as little-known dishes. It offers, for instance, papad ki sabzi from Rajasthan, sattu paratha and chokha of Bihar and chingri malai curry of West Bengal.
Some of the dishes have been tweaked to suit changing demands and tastes. The Amritsari fish is coated with popped Amaranth grain, the keema pao of Mumbai comes with a bao instead, and Kerala’s stew can be had with ragi appam. The healthy component includes quinoa upma, sattu ka sherbet, nettle tea and so on.
One of the most popular dishes at Café Lota is its palak patta chaat — a very nice and tangy chaat with crispy fried spinach leaves. I love its sweet and sour taste and the crunchy and soft textures. I enjoyed the mustard fish tikka. Sole fillets had been marinated in hung curd, mustard and roasted spices such as cumin and carom seeds, and then grilled in a tandoor. This was served with a mustard sauce which was a bit like the Bengali kasundi, but milder. I enjoyed the Warli mutton curry, a spicy dish with the predominant taste of coriander — leaves and seeds.
The chef, Udit Maheshwari, was earlier in charge of the Triveni Café, which is also handled by the same group. He is a Cordon Bleu chef from London, and clearly knows his food. The dish that I love the most — and which you must not miss — is their baked bhapa doi. Bhapa doi is a dessert from Bengal a form of steamed hung curd. Here it is baked, which gives a nice turn to the original recipe.
Every time I visit Café Lota, my spirits get uplifted. The place and the people cheer me up no end. And the food is like one delicious multi-regional thali.
Recipe: Warli Style Mutton
Ingredients: 1kg mutton, 6 green chillies, 1 garlic bulb, 1-2-inch ginger piece, 3-4 medium-sized onions, 5-6tbsp refined oil, 1tbsp turmeric powder, 3-4 cardamoms, 1tbsp red chilli powder, 1bsp cumin seeds, 1tbsp peppercorn, 5-6 cloves, 2-3tbsp coriander seeds, a sprig of fresh coriander, a sprig of mint, salt to taste
Method: Marinate the mutton with some oil, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Set aside. Grind the cardamoms, cumin, coriander seeds, pepper and half the garlic together and keep this garam masala aside. Prepare hara masala by grinding coriander leaves with the green chillies, mint, remaining garlic, ginger, 2 tbsp of oil and salt. Fry the onions. Add the hara masala and garam masala and a little water. Once the oil begins to separate from the masala, add the marinated mutton. Sauté well. Add water to cover and salt to taste. Cook for around 45-60 minutes. Serve garnished with fresh coriander leaves.
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