Cheap Eats in South Delhi?

Last month when a friend visited me in Delhi, we had a rather delectable brunch at Elma’s in Hauz Khaz Village. Freshly baked bread in different hues, a German-style handmade sausage roll, and olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes for dipping purposes. All washed down with Darjeeling tea (served in china cups and saucers, naturally) and carrot and cheesecake cake. The bill was Rs.1200.

Tea & Cake at Elma's - yes that is cheesecake!

While permissible as an occasional indulgence, forking out at this level just isn’t possible on a student budget. Luckily for me, my daily expeditions to North Delhi for college take me into the realm of Rs.30 thalis and Rs.5 cups of chai. But what happens when you want to eat local? Six months after moving into Safdarjung Enclave, here is my round-up:

Tiffin in the Village

If you find yourself in Hauz Khaz Village on a sunny day, then you can have the most delicious aloo gobi without breaking the bank (in fact, even if you order it with curd and roti, you’ll still have change from a Rs.50 note). This tiffin-wallah extraordinaire(who also sometimes has rajma, rice & aloo matter) is located just behind the newsagents on the left hand side of the main drag, just before you reach the entrance to the small park/historic monuments. Taking your lunch into said park means that you can enjoy not just delicious food, but also a lakeside view. What more could you want.

Aloo gobi in the village

Bengal Sweet Corner

In the same complex as Kamal Cinema in Safdardung Enclave, and rightly famed for its delicious sweet dishes, The Bengal Sweet Corner also does a rather wonderful thali. Rs 100 for delicious dahl makhani, a paneer dish, raita, tandorri naan, rice & sabzjie, it never fails to sate me. And for just another twenty rupees they’ll deliver it beautifully packaged to your door, with the added bonus of a desert dish (often gulab jamum – yum).

Madras Café

Whenever I find myself in Green Park Market, I always nip into the Madras Café for my fix of South Indian food. Whether you want a cup of chai (served so that you have the added challenge of pouring it back and forth from the metal cup to the metal bowl without scalding yourself) a dosa or a full blown thali, it’s the place to go. The thalis are particularly noteworthy for coming with poori rather than roti, which always goes down well with me. You need to get your oil fix somehow, nah?

Madras Cafe chai, served the south Indian way

Baker’s Byte

Sometimes only pizza will do. On such occasions in the past, I have relented and called Dominoes or Pizza Hut Home Delivery, forked out a large sum of money, and invariably been disappointed by the fact that the pizza claiming to feed two actually barely satisfies one. That was until discovering Baker’s Byte! A small chain of bakeries (with my local being a stone’s throw away in Arjun Nagar), it does very passable large pizzas for between Rs.100 and 150, in a range of (vegetarian) flavours.  Their personal pizzas (the same size as dominoes medium) come in at Rs.55, and they also have a great selection of toasties, pasta, and of course cake. Fast-food fix sorted.

Happy (cheap!) eating.

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Beautiful Birthday Update

I, the littlest of the Cheesecake girls, celebrated my Birthday this month. Even aside from the fact that February is my Birthday month, it really is the most gorgeous time to be in Delhi. We met at the Rajiv Chowk metro station for the first Birthday of the year. S knew that I wouldn’t have the slightest notion of a plan, so she had the perfect one ready. We headed to The Triveni Kala Sangam, an artsy place of glorious sunshine. Close to Mandi House, this seemed to be a place that holds frequent art exhibitions. It had beautiful flowering trees and by Central Delhi standards, an immense amount of open space. There was a quaint amphitheatre around which we lazed around, toasting in the warmth. Noelle and Mirta joined us and I felt very little and very brown indeed!

M and S, my lovely darlings, gifted me earring and a book (! Ain’t that the best present ever!) and we ordered these massive paranthas, lots of chutney, and cups of coffee/chai. It was the laziest Saturday Birthday and I wouldn’t have been happier 🙂

We then headed, again on S’s recommendation, to Bonsai café in CP. Here we had deep talks of life and times and perspective, of dating Indians and not dating them, of marriage and of S moving away soon. It was beautiful. Enough said!

PS: Sadly, but predictably, I was too full after the paranthas for cake; but M did have a carrot cake and approve.

A lot can happen in Cafe Coffee Day

Mr Ramakrishnan, the President of CCD!

So, as we all know, 2012 is the year in which the world will end, and a clear sign of this impending apocalypse is Starbucks, which will be subjecting India to its undercaffeinated beverages and irritating jazz music before the year is out.

I’m particularly devastated about this because we already have a couple of our own perfectly good coffeeshop chains: Barista, and the cheaper (and perhaps more cheerful?) Cafe Coffee Day. The latter, with its iconic red sofas and Bollywood background music, has become something of an Indian institution – no mall or market is complete without the CCD red inverted comma.

But it’s all change at our favourite cafe chain. No longer must we rely on the sloth-like waiters, as we now place orders at the counter. The menu has also changed to incorporate some slightly fancier sandwiches (although, tragically, Maegan’s favorite lemon tea has been axed). Oh, and they’ve just opened a brand-new ‘Lounge’ branch by the Saket PVR.

So while everyone is busy raving about St*****ks, we have decided instead to celebrate CCD, by compiling this list. Enjoy.

Relaxed: The MIT CCD at Manipal (by Udita)

The CCD that has only ever housed students, almost always those that pretend to be studying heavy engineering books, is located in the heart of the University town that I lived in, Manipal. This CCD is witness to ‘filmy’ drama everyday, in the form of hook-ups, passionate making-out sessions, impromptu break-ups, and groups so large that all 9-10 of the tables must be joined. The conversations range from new crushes to the last exam to the latest bike in town. Often, there are local gigs (pioneered in my times by Anamol’s band) and one can listen to Floyd and Dylan while sipping not-so-well-made coffees. But when the music and the ambience is so laid back and ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ types, what more can one ask for?

Chilled out in Chennai: Adyar CCD, Indira Nagar (by Maegan)

Prominently located in one of south Chennai’s most amiable suburbs is another CCD that scores highly in the rankings. With an abundance of wicker chairs and sofas tucked under the shade of a leafy green canopy, its outside area may well be CCD’s most picturesque. Notable for its sizzling chocolate brownies (which are always proudly served with a suitable amount of drama and gusto) and unpredictable opening hours (I’ve known it to be open past midnight when busy but closed at nine on quiet nights), what really sets it apart are the staff. Willing to let you use their toilet when you’re passing by & just can’t make it home, they also came to the rescue by providing a small cup of (free!) milk when I ran out while baking a birthday cake for a friend late at night. Now that’s what I call service …

India’s best CCD?: Amber Fort, near Jaipur, Rajasthan (by Susanna)

When my parents were visiting, my dad developed a sudden and intense fondness for Cafe Coffee Day (the same way he did for ‘Ducky Duck’ in Japan). After a heavy thali, what could be better than a coffee in CCD? After being harassed by hawkers in Connaught Place, only CCD would provide some much-needed tranquility. And after traipsing around the Amber Fort for hours in the midday sun, when we spotted that little red inverted comma, and drank cappuccinos while looking out over the fort’s golden stone walls, we probably were the happiest tourists in all of India.

Engrossed: CCD Counter at STMicroelectronics, India (by Udita)

I consider myself fortunate to have a CCD counter at my workplace, where… wait, hold your breath… prices are half of what they are outside! Yes! It’s almost half the reason why I get myself to work everyday and since I am a very regular customer, I get goody-bags, free coffees etc. every once in a while. One can usually overhear people having intense discussions about the leakage graphs of a device or the capacitance of a BJT. The coffee is good and even lemon tea is still served here. The best part, they still makes ‘Coffee Toffee’ for people who request it; it used to be on the menu a long time ago.What can I say, I feel blessed…

India’s worst CCD?: Rajiv Chowk metro station, Delhi (by Susanna)

It would only be fair, while describing the best, to also include the polar opposite, which can be found in the sweaty, stale-smelling interchange metro station underneath Connaught Place. This CCD is always packed, but even if you can find a table you’ll immediately want to die because there’s no airconditioning. Once, I went in here to be told there was no milk. ‘Um, so what can I have?’ I asked the waitress. She heaved a sigh and eventually found the strength to reply, ‘only black coffee, madam.’

Tested  & Infested: Noida Sector 18 CCD, UP (by Maegan)

Susanna may have already taken the title of ‘India’s worst’ for Rajiv Chowk’s undeniably unimpressive branch, but in Noida’s sector 18 I think we have a contender. Tucked away not far from the metro station up an insalubrious looking staircase, its ambiance leaves much to be desired. Best-known for its acute cockroach problem and long-term out of use toilet (‘currently being fixed, madam’) the massive amount of time that I spent there is perhaps the most damning indictment of my Noida PG. Either that, or I kept going back because of the lovely waiter who enjoyed helping me with my Hindi homework.  As they say, you win some, you lose some …

(Photo of Mr R borrowed from here)

The Streets are Paved With …

Those of you living in Delhi will I am sure empathise with me when I say that it’s become very hard to get out of bed these days. No, not because I’m lazy (or not any more than usual) but because inside my bed, under two double duvets and a wool blanket, is the only place I’ve been able to achieve anything resembling warmth.

The thought of stepping out of this mini haven onto the icy cold marble floors or worse still into the bathroom is all just a bit much. Anything that can be done from bed is fine – eating, drinking tea, chatting on the phone, working on my laptop … all possible. Getting dressed and going outside? Not happening.

The Arts Faculty bathed in the winter sunlight

It’s a good job that I’ve got more than Hindi class to tempt me towards North Delhi on a daily basis, or  I’d have a serious problem sitting the exam come March. Luckily, the streets around Delhi University’s north campus are paved with – if not gold – the best array of street stalls you could wish for.

First stop – momos (choose from chicken, vegetable or paneer) from the Nepalese family near the metro station. Lunch? Tick. Need a notebook? A brightly coloured pen? Or a plastic folder with Sponge Bob Square Pants on the front? The stationery wallah has it sorted. Then for the ten minute walk down Chaatra Marg towards the arts faculty. The incentive? A steaming hot cup of chai from our favourite Uncle-ji, delivered with a smile, all for the bargain price of Rs.5.

Chai!

This chai has to provide sustenance through the first two hours of Hindi class. There is just about enough caffeine and sugar to last through revision of the present continuous tense and a lesson on when to use ‘apna’ before it’s back to the same hut for another cup and a freshly-fried samosa. For the last hour of class it’s the sheer amount of oil that you have consumed that’ll see you through.

The scrum at our favourite jewellery stall

Post-college, a reward is required. This comes in the form of the jewellery-wallah, perfectly positioned between the faculty building and the metro station. Even better, his stall is a bit up-market. Rather than his wares being laid out on a sheet on the floor, he has a giant tray attached to the back of his bicycle, making it all the more browse-able. Genius. You want glass bangles, a novelty bear or a Minnie Mouse mobile phone case? He’s got it covered. Even better are the beautiful wooden carved earrings in all colours – just like the ones in Fab India, but for a fraction of the price.

Finally, it’s back on the metro, but not before picking up an aloo tikki. I maintain that nothing can make you feel as good as fried potato inside lightly fried bread.

Aloo Tikki, fried with love

A good routine, no? The only problem being those days when it all goes to pot. Like yesterday: chai accidentally made without sugar, aloo tikkis finished before we reached the stall, and the jewellery wallah on holiday. It better get warm soon, because if things carry on being this unpredictable I’m going to need another reason to get out of bed and go to University …

Yakmina!

Those that have been regular readers of this blog have known my disappointment about finding Majnu ka Tilla closed the first time I went to visit. We’ve been planning another visit ever since and this time, the Cheesecake trio was bang on target! We were very ambitious, as the plan was to have breakfast, head towards Sarojini Nagar market, and then go all the way northwards to have me visit MkT.

So, after a lovely brunch of M-made Poha, we auto-ed down to Sarojini. Sunday winter afternoon frenzy had begun by the time we got there. In between trying to fix a toaster that didn’t need fixing and shopping for ridiculously cheap clothes, I managed to find myself a beautiful set of teacups from this crockery shop.

We reached MkT in the late afternoon. For those still unacquainted with the place, it is a Tibetan colony/market near the north campus of DU. There are narrow alleyways lined with “Free Tibet” posters and crammed with shops that sell incense to silver jewellery and silk fabrics to Yakmina! S and I got shawls made out of 100% Yak’s wool, making them heavier and bigger than the Pashminas we’re used to. How exciting, we thought! Cake and coffee followed, as we made ourselves cozy in a cafe in one corner of the market. The ambience of the place is very similar to North-eastern India, it’s not like being in the heart of Delhi at all. Even the kind of music that played in the eateries here is different. Another cafe that we stopped at had pictures of ‘Tintin in Tibet’ framed on their walls! We (over)stuffed ourselves with delicious chowmein/flat noodles/thukpa. It is indeed, as I had been told, a charming place…

A very satisfying day, I mused, on my metro ride back, laden with teacups and a massive shawl, and a present for V. Never a dull moment with my Cheesecake girlies…

Tea, coffee, travel culture, and a bowl of coconut soup

While we’ve mentioned once or twice that Hauz Khas Village might be becoming a tad too ‘bohemian’ (read: pretentious) for its own good, there are a few places in the tangle of leafy, winding lanes that are well worth checking out.

The other day, after a long and questionably useful Hindi class at DU (Did you know that the poet Kabir was abandoned at the side of a pond by his mother when he was a baby? Well, you do now.), Maegan and I headed to South Delhi’s artsy urban village for an evening of socialising at Kunzum Travel Cafe.

Started back in 2007, Kunzum – named after the ultra altitudinous mountain pass in Himachal Pradesh – is a space for swapping travel tales with newly made friends; for reading travelogues and guidebooks stacked on library shelves; for daydreaming about exotic and distant lands (owner Ajay Jain’s photography all over the walls helps with this!); for penning/blogging your own holiday memoirs… Oh, and even for just sipping tea or coffee, which, believe it or not, you can pay whatever you like for!

And the best part – my lovely friend Brandi now works there. Lucky b*tch.

Look how smug she is!

We shuffled out of the bone-chilling January fog and into the cosy cafe. I swear it was the first time I’d felt warm in days; I even had to take off my shawl. Brandi and some other friends were lounging on floor cushions, discussing film nights, book launches, workshops and several million other exciting things which would be happening at Kunzum soon. We had masala tea in Fabindia cups and rectangular peanut cookies. We chatted about a new collaborative e-zine called Outside In. We toyed with the idea of turning chai drinking into a sport, envisaging headlines like ‘Team Chai completes race across Delhi, discovers chaiwallah with best recipe’.

Creative ideas in a creative space: Kunzum is just like that.

And then it was closing time. And we decided to go in search of soup. The quest took us along the Village’s narrow gullies, round dark corners and up crumbling staircases – via detours at Flipside and Elma’s – until we reached Lah! – an almost brand-new Southeast Asian eatery with bright pink walls and a slightly out-of-place Christmas tree. Studying the menu that promised tasty-but-perhaps-not-100%-authentic dishes from the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, Maegan and I ordered a gigantic bowl of ‘Laksa Lemak’ to share. A spicy coconut soup full of noodles, veg and beansprouts, it was the perfect meal for a cold winter night. We were very happy indeed.

So while I didn’t move to India to sit drinking coffee and using free wifi, or to eat Thai soup beside an elegant vase of bamboo, there is definitely room in my life for the odd night in Hauz Khas Village. And with Brandi filling me in on the events at Kunzum (she does excellent Facebook updates), I expect my visits will soon become more than occasional.

Cooking up a Storm

From time to time living in India I find myself faced with the question: “Can you cook?”

No, I didn’t make this …

Well, that really depends on what, exactly, you are asking. Following tried and tested recipes from my Dad I can turn out some (if I do say so myself) fairly yummy puddings: treacle sponge, chocolate brownies, fruit crumbles and the like. And while not exactly gourmet cuisine, my shepherd’s pie is pretty passable.

“But”, as my boyfriend’s sister probed me, “can you cook actual food – you know: rotis? Sabji? dahl?”

Hmmmm, perhaps not.

How many cheesecake girls does it take to make a roti? All three!

Part of the problem is my inability to recreate home dishes on Indian soil. With ovens few and far between in Indian kitchens (most of the cooking is done on the stove top) whipping up a pie or a cake just isn’t going to happen. When a familiar dish can be created on a gas ring – treacle sponge (which is steamed) or spaghetti bolognese, it’s often ingredients which throw a spanner in the works. Golden syrup is not on the shelves of any of my local shops, and for pretty obvious reasons I haven’t even attempted trying to find minced beef in the markets near my house. All of this, perhaps, reinforces the belief that foreigners are not very domesticated. “In your place everything is pre-prepared, isn’t it, beta?” a not entirely mis-informed auntie recently clucked.

Well, action has now been taken, and on two fronts: learning some Indian staple dishes, and brining a little bit of the west east. While learning how straight-forward it is to prepare rotis has been a revelation and I have discovered a love of shelling peas, I’m perhaps more excited my recent acquisition of an OVEN! (disclaimer: an oven in the loosest sense of the word as it is about the same size as a standard toaster, and doesn’t have a temperature dial)

One batch of crumble emerges from the tiny oven

Acquired from a charity shop back in the UK for the bargain price of ten pounds, it made it’s debut this weekend as a group of us joined together for a Saturday cooking party. With matter paneer courtesy of my friend Sangeeta, and an apple crumble & biscuits courtesy of said oven it was a truly multi-cultural feast. Just a shame that it took three batches of crumble through the teeny-tiny oven in order to feed five people …

Thanks to Susanna for the lovely photos from Saturday, more of which can be found on flickr.