Gopinath Menon

Food and Identity of a City : Delhi

Gopinath Menon | Updated on March 25, 2020

Representative image   -  Getty Images

“You are What you Eat”. This could not be more true for cities and the eateries which become a landmark and a hallmarks over time.

The “Memories Component” are the heaviest backpack you carry in your life. If you rewind life over the last 3-4 decades or more, you will find different memories revolving around friends and sumptuous delicacies. These delicacies may be snacks, proper main course, or desserts. The critical variables around food are always, the place of eating, and the company around you. All this lethal amalgam makes the “heartbeat of memories” in life worth living for.

So lets go down memory lane to the times when we were in school , carefree, without a fear in the world, and all that mattered to us was being the “hero” in our peer group of friends. This could be in a hectic outdoor sort, or indoors in a game of “ludo’ or even taking the customary stroll around Government Blocks with your friends.

There were food landmarks which made the place iconic. Iconic is a status you achieve when there is tremendous craving for it. The “Prabhu Chaatwaala” outside UPSC then and now inside the UPSC compound was a legendary street joint. It served Aloo tikkis, Dahi Bhalle’s, Papri chaat and the historic Gol Guppe’s” What made it iconic was the patient waiting you had to do , while you were salivating and the joy you experienced when you got your plate customized with the masala’s and the “saunt”( dry mango powder) and the dahi (curd) toppings . You never waited to start devouring it, never for your friend behind to get his plate and collectively say Cheers ! The lack of basic formalities brought back the little child in you and this whole ambience made the experience memorable. And to think it was the humble chaat that made you go crazy. That’s the magic of sumptuous food.

Another such legendary joint in Connaught Place was “Kake da Hotel” The owner was a fanatic fan of Rajesh Khanna- India’s first superstar and hence named the Mughlai restaurant after his nickname. It served mouth watering non-vegeteranian dishes, and is situated on the outer circle of Connaught Place. It crowded always, there is no parking space around it but hungry connoisseur’s from far and wide found a safe way to make way to the restaurant. Going out of the way to have their favorite rogan josh with their loved ones becomes an experience, an event and hence makes it a legendary landmark in Connaught Place, Food joints that become a landmark will see that pricing for all items on the Menu are inelastic.

The Karim’s and the Jawahar’s” at Old Delhi have now global status as its major patrons are foreigners today. The food has become less oily and even less spicy, as a result the old connoisseurs have started giving it a miss. This is a big mistake, these 2 iconic joints are making is the handover to the next generation. The youngsters only have green dollars in their eyes nd short cuts are the only way to leapfrog to Glory. The gali’s(narrow streets) of Old Delhi and the 25 kinds of fried Parantha’s ( fried flat bread) attract people from far and wide . However, the legendary dish is “Daulat ki chaat” a sweet milk and Khoya based dessert made only in acute winters is worth a taste.

The Rajinder ka Dhaba in Safdarjung Enclave, and Al Kausar on outer Ring Road near Malai Mandir temple have their own character and charm which is defined by the mobile audience it attracts. Although there is space to sit inside , but both places were famous for people driving in with their favorite beverage in the car. Both these places did roaring business after sunset on weekdays ! This itself is a clear indicator at the office goer pleasantly reaching cloud nine to face domestic challenges thereafter.

What differentiates these great joints was that they never were in the business of food. They were in the business of spreading joy and happiness. This joy was then amplified by the ambassadors they created. Science tells us that Happiness is a state of mind created when your body glands secrete a hormone called “ Dopamine” . These food places were biggest “Dopamine Creators “ over decades. This hormone is getting extinct in todays mad cut throat world.

So the key point is that the more such food joints give Delhi the status of “Temple of Food”, and once you sample these delicacies at these wonderful places you become a true Delhi wala for life. Earthiness, impulsiveness, fun loving, and living the moment to its fullest , become the traits of the Delhi guy; very similar to the food being served.

(The author is a Food Lover & an Independent Advertising and Media Strategist)

Published on March 25, 2020

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