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.

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 …

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.