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.

God bless you, beta

One of the things that’s either really interesting, or really annoying (depending on your attitude) about living in India is that very strange things happen here almost every day. In fact, just by leaving the house I can pretty much guarantee that I will witness something – or someone – odd.

Such was the case last week when I was trying to take an auto from Saket to Green Park.

In front of the Saket PVR there’s always a row of autorickshaws, but, as usual, most of the drivers were asleep (in various contorted positions) on their back seats. The one driver who was fully conscious refused to take me to Green Park for less than a hundred rupees; a ridiculous price for a fifteen minute journey. I began to argue, but stopped suddenly when I heard a voice behind me.

‘Excuse me, my child,’ the voice said. I turned around and found myself standing face to face with none other than Jeff Goldblum.

Okay, it wasn’t actually Jeff Goldblum, rather an Indian guy with strange glasses and an uncanny similarity to the American actor of Jurassic Park fame. But at least now you’ll be able to picture him in your head. He continued. ‘Beta. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe you think that this driver is trying to overchange you.’

‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘He’s charging a hundred rupees to go to Green Park!’

Jeff placed his hand on the top of my head in sympathetic blessing. ‘Which country do you belong to, child?’

‘Scotland,’ I replied. The bemused auto driver twiddled the corner of his moustache.

‘Ahh. The United Kingdom,’ said Jeff in a mist of nostalgia. ‘London. A magnificent city. I lived there once.’

The auto driver and I glanced at each other. Jeff continued. ‘I have lived in many places. Paris, New York, Louisiana, Washington, Barcelona, Amsterdam. And of course your city, beta – London. But anyway. Back to the matter at hand. One hundred rupees. Do you really believe the driver is trying to cheat you? What do you think the correct price should be?’

‘He should use the meter!’ I said, raising my eyebrows at the driver. By now a few passers by had stopped to listen to the conversation, and the man who makes paranthas had left his stall and wandered over.

‘God bless you, my child,’ said Jeff, placing his hand on my head again. ‘This is India. This driver man has very little money; perhaps he has a family to care for. One hundred rupees is a very small sum, really.’

‘But-‘ I protested, ‘but, I know a hundred is too much! He’s cheating me because I’m foreign!’

‘Oh, my child. You are new in this country and you have much to learn. Indian cities are very different to your London. It is not common to use the meter, for example.’

Exasperated, I had no choice but to stir things up. ‘In Mumbai they use the meter!’ I wailed. The crowd around me uttered a small cheer. The auto driver started laughing. Only Jeff Goldblum remained serious.

‘Listen, beta. I will now speak to this driver in Hindi. You will not be able to understand.’ Jeff then switched to Hindi, and politely requested the driver to use the meter, promising that I’d pay twenty rupees extra. The driver seemed satisfied with the offer.

‘Twenty rupees extra?’ I shrieked in Hindi. ‘That’s like foreigner tax!’

Completely unshocked at my change of language, Jeff only shrugged. By this stage I was really quite late, so finally I convinced the driver to take me to Green Park for sixty rupees and sat down in the rickshaw. Jeff sighed and adjusted his glasses.

‘Remember, child, this is India. Not London!’ said Jeff. Slightly confused, I nodded solemnly and told the driver to get moving. He started the engine.

‘God bless you, beta,’ Jeff raised his hand in a limp wave. The crowd (now taking up most of the pavement) grinned and waved enthusiastically as we drove off. A minute or so later, the auto driver caught my eye in the mirror. He looked just as baffled as me.