Delhi Food Guide: The Capital’s Best Restaurants on a Platter

National Geographic Traveller

First-time visitors to Delhi are usually harangued about ticking the classics off their list: dal at Bukhara, chhole bhature in Bengali Market, or daulat ki chaat in Chandni Chowk—and justifiably so. These are all food legends, but the city has far more (and better) to offer. Here’s a more updated list of Delhi’s best restaurants, one that includes institutions like Andhra Bhavan as well as contemporary favourites such as Indian Accent and The Toddy Shop.

In addition to serving mean appams (left), The Toddy Shop in Hauz Khas Village is also known for its literary events, which include poetry readings, discussions, and book launches.



Named after dive bars in Kerala where fresh palm toddy is served, The Toddy Shop dishes out appams and Malabar parottas that would satisfy even nitpicky ammamas. The Malayali food menu features dishes like Stella’s Potato Roast, kothu porotta, and feisty Kerala chicken fry. There’s plenty for vegetarians too: the soondal, Bengal gram tempered with mustard and coconut, is delicious as is the avial. To have a traditional toddy-shop meal, get the kappa-meen: fish curry with a side of tapioca.

1-A Hauz Khas Village, Second floor (8010187777). Daily, noon-midnight. Meal for two: ₹1,200.

We Don’t Serve Cows.

By Anup Kutty (First published in Newslaundry)

Ever since the Delhi Police bulldozed their way into Kerala House to investigate complaints pertaining to bovine activities, I’ve had a flurry of calls asking for The Toddy Shop’s stand on cows.

I have to make it clear that The Toddy Shop does not serve cows. I’d advise other establishments to do the same. They are nothing but trouble. They walk in looking all war-torn with their big dark pitiful eyes like Brahminical entities that’ve seen better days. As if they were part of a displaced dynasty ravaged by years of decadence and ignorance.

But all they really want is a meal, even an empty doggy bag would do. You feed them and wish them luck. They don’t have the money to pay you but they could perhaps give you some milk. It can cure diabetes, they claim. You politely decline and ask them to leave. But they look at you like your mother does when you tell her to leave you alone. You feed them some more polythene hoping that would get rid of them. Instead, they piss around the place. They tell you their urine is a disinfectant and can even cure cancer. Perhaps you could explore the idea of bottling and selling it.

You tell the milchers that they should go back to where they belong. But they’ve already multiplied. They have grown in numbers and have little calves standing around looking at you from the corner of their suspicious eyes. You try to play with them but they run away like the ungrateful wretches they are.

our customers start complaining about all the dung they have to avoid stepping on. Some threaten to post about it on Zomato. Some actually do. You try saying this to the cows but they tell you that it cures pimples and you could plaster it on your walls to escape nuclear radiation. You call bullshit and refuse to budge till all the cows go home. But they’ve already launched a start-up selling bottled urine and milk and packaged dung to your customers. You notice that your clients are now coming to do business with them.

You can’t take this anymore. You call in the cops. But the beef-brained officer tells you that they are protected by the Constitution. He says he will help you if you help him.

You watch the cattle chew endless cud as you fumble with your near-empty pockets. You move out and look for greener pastures.

Yes sir, these bossy creatures are nothing but trouble. To protect ourselves, we’ve now installed a signboard that spells it out clearly: “We don’t serve cows!”

So, the next time a cow walks in asking for a beef fry, we point them to the board and ask them to run along.

If they want beef, they can go to Kerala.

Poetry is the only thing that matters

 

By Janice Pariat
(Published in Hindustan Times 16 May 2015)

What happens to poems deferred? When they lie unshared, unseen. Do they dry up, raisins in the sun? Fester like sores? Do they sag? Like heavy loads. Do they explode? Rarely do they land in your hands, like Vijay Nambisan’s First Infinities, beautifully bound and produced. He isn’t new on the scene. In 1988, at 24, he won a country-wide competition organised by The Poetry Society of India and The British Council. The winning poem, “Madras Central”, displays special mastery of sparseness.

 

It begins with a quotidian black train pulling in at the platform – “Hissing into silence like hot steel in water” – and comes, not to a crescendo, but what Marianne Moore calls “merely to a close” with the description of a solitary traveller carrying “unwantedness” from place to place. A quiet finish both vulnerable and lasting. In 1992, Nambisan’s poems appeared in Gemini, a two-poet project, which Dom Moraes called, in the foreword, “an indication that Indian poetry, after many years of striving, ha(d) at last arrived at maturity.” Since then, there was poetic silence. Nambisan embarked upon a distinguished career as journalist and critic – documenting his experiences of small-town Bihar in Bihar is in the Eyes of the Beholder and arguing for the importance of written communicative honesty and integrity in the Orwellian Language as an Ethic. Most recently, he has translated the devotional bhakti verse of Poonthanam and Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri. Twenty-two years after Gemini, Nambisan delivers his first full-length poetry collection. First Infinities is worth every minute of the wait.

“Poetry is the only thing that matters,” says Vijay Nambisan (seen above at the Delhi launch of First Infinities), whose first collection in 22 years is evidence of the frail hardiness of the poet who knows that his way of seeing cannot be ignored

In his preface, Adil Jussawalla touches upon the mystery of Nambisan’s creative diffidence – “I wondered why the fact [that he had poems waiting to be published] had been hidden for a long time.” Nambisan’s foreword explains that one reason was that he was pretty much convinced “poetry did not matter.” Why then were his poems now being cast into the world? Kavery Nambisan, his novelist spouse, shared an anecdote that helped clarify things. They had a house guest once, she told me, who openly belittled poetry. “What’s its use?” he’d questioned. “It has no purpose. Nobody needs poetry.”

“Vijay’s reply was great,” said Kavery.

“What did he say?”

“Poetry doesn’t need you.”

Explicable then that Nambisan admits, later in the foreword, that he doesn’t know exactly why but some years ago he veered to the opposite view: “Poetry is the only thing that matters.” A collection like this springs from many forms of resilience – a supportive spouse, generous friends, a dedicated publisher, and the frail hardiness of the poet who knows that his way of seeing cannot be ignored, and undone.

First Infinities brims with urgency from the very first piece. “Dirge”, written in 2004, the year we lost Dom Moraes, Nissim Ezekiel, and Arun Kolatkar, is a tragi-comic lament rhymed in playful couplets. It is homage and nostalgia, scathing indictment and witty repartee. His polemic in Language as an Ethic in pithy verse form, calling for a time when publishers cared, and newspapers printed pieces unchanged, unlike now, with our “wilder whirl of weeklies, tabloids titting on page threes.” Unabashedly, the speaker also lays out his own intentions, to write poems “with a shriller pen” so they live “four score years and ten”, and if he doesn’t, to blame it, delightfully, as the anaphoric line goes, on him “taking kisses from his misses.”

At the launch of First Infinities at The Toddy Shop, New Delhi, Nambisan began his reading, appropriately, with “Dirge”, and I caught myself thinking: what happens to poets deferred? Do they too dry up, or fester? Are they burdened? Do they explode? Andrew Motion, in A Writer’s Life, his biography of Philip Larkin, speaks of how Larkin always cultivated his privacy, declining invitations to read and discuss his work, revealing little of his intentions. But “[b]y appearing only infrequently, his statements have a resonance lacking in those that come from comparatively talkative writers.” At the event, filled to packing with old fans and new, Nambisan’s words held the same powerful sway. A quiet figure slowly enlivened and transformed. By the end, including a conversation with editor/writer Supriya Nair, he flourished. He indulged Nair with a reading of “Elizabeth Oomanchery”, sang a poem song, recited “Madras Central” perfectly from memory. His replies to her questions were characteristically self-deprecating – “No, I’m not” he said when Nair mentioned he was an accomplished Sanskrit scholar – and laced with wry, vitriolic humour. “I wanted to title the book The Corporate Poet but Adil and Jeet [Thayil] disagreed violently.”

“Why is it called First Infinities?” asked Nair.

“I don’t know.”

The audience laughed, enjoying the banter, but there was in Nambisan’s words a pertinent pointer toward his relationship with his art. Running through his poems is evenly tempered restraint. In “Hidden Things”, Cavafy hints that “from my most unnoticed actions and my most veiled writing – from these alone will I be understood”, and so too with Nambisan’s poetry. In “Aswatthama”, the protagonist’s (a modern-day immortal?) “silences were different from ours.” “Mind the gap”, a devastating portrayal of urban isolation, carries lines such as “each to each must forever be strange” and “our empires are within/And must not touch each other.” In “First Infinities: Drying Out”, he says “My bones are torn entire/They look at me and laugh. I am what is.” Sprinkled through the collection are also moments of lightness and humour – the hole in the earth’s bowels, that dramatic “voided ground” turns out, anticlimactically, to be a manhole. Nambisan is skilled too at upending expectations, at infusing the mundane with epic resonance – under-bed lint accumulates to “all of yesterday that we wished to forget.”

At the end of the launch, I watched Nambisan signing copies, thinking how he, of all the writers I’ve encountered, had what Joshua Rothman, contributor to The New Yorker, calls the “artist’s sense of privacy”. An inner privacy which you protect not just from others’ prying eyes, but from your own. Behind Nambisan’s “I don’t know why’s” perhaps lies a belief that when it comes to our most abstract and spiritual intuitions looking too closely changes what we feel. That to explain rather than leave certain things undescribed, unspecified, and unknown is to somehow diminish them. Poetry – all writing – springs from an innerness, a kernel of selfhood we cannot share with others. We come to know it best, and value it, when we’re forced at moments of exposure, to shield it against the outside world. First Infinities, intact, unsullied, comes from the soul.

Tenderloin Care

Pubished in Indian Express (5 April 2015)
By Anup Kutty

There’s an abundance of religion and politics in Kerala. But neither has invaded the Malayalee palate. In Kerala, you leave your ideologies behind when you dine. Feasts are meant to bring people together. The cuisine — an amalgamation of Indian, Dutch, Arab, Mediterranean and Portuguese influences — is a celebration of diversity and a matter of much pride.
I was born in Kerala and raised in Delhi, visiting the motherland only during vacations. This made me a Madrasi or a Hindikaaran depending on which side of Kerala Express I got off. My mother’s family were Hindus settled in a predominantly Muslim region of Kerala, and that was where I spent my summer holidays. Here beef was as serious a matter as bitter gourd. Some chose to eat it, some didn’t.
Cooking a Syrian Christian-style pothu erachi varratiyathu (popularly known as Kerala spicy beef fry) was an elaborate event at my grandparents’ home. To begin with, the men of the house cooked it. Usually on a Sunday. My uncles worked as a team. The older one would cycle over to the butcher in the morning as the early bird always got the best cut. He’d later head to the toddy shop out in the paddy fields to pack some for his sisters. If the toddy wasn’t fresh, a bottle of brandy would do just fine. Meanwhile, his brother would be in the kitchen chopping onions and weighing a precise measure of pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, curry leaves and green chillies. The women would wait in anticipation, delighted to be out of the kitchen. Finally, a boozy lunch would be served on the terrace under the shadows of tall coconut trees swaying gently in appreciation. Unexpected guests were always welcome. Umma, the old Muslim lady living next door; Jose, the cop on duty; or Unni, the auto driver… The chatty affair, where everything from films to music would be critiqued, would end with a siesta broken only by the fish-seller’s incessant hoots.
In contrast, the search for beef fry in Delhi has taken me on quests through the dark alleys of Gautam Nagar, Govindpuri, Mukherjee Nagar and Srinivaspuri. Mallu dhabas never have them listed on their printed menus but almost always serve them. Like bootlegged liquor, access is on a need-to-know basis. And most Malayalees do need to know where they can get a mean beef fry and Malabar porotta.
My friends and I launched The Toddy Shop a year ago hoping to recreate that magic where interesting conversations would accompany authentic Malayalee cuisine. As expected, beef fry became popular and now has a steady and growing fan following within Delhi’s discerning foodies. At a recent food festival held in Nehru Park, thousands tore through a ton of beef fry we’d prepared. By the end of the final day, we had to turn people away but not before promising to deliver to their doorstep.

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How a toddy shop rendezvous resulted in Avalude Ravukal

By Sreejith Warrier
Published in Manorama Online


Script writer Alleppey Sheriff approached several producers with Avalude Ravukal but nobody had the courage to make a film on the life of a prostitute. Sheriff was sure that his script would break all conventions in Malayalam film industry but he had no other option but to wait for a bold producer.

When Sheriff’s close friend and owner of Murali Movies, Ramachandran came forward to produce the film, Sheriff himself dissuaded him. “Don’t take risk Ramachandran, you will burn your fingers,” Sheriff told his producer friend.

The script of Avalude Ravukal was ready beforehand and Sheriff always carried a handwritten copy of it with him, wherever he went. He met a director – I V Sasi – who was keen to direct the film which no other mainstream directors would dare to lay their hands on. But Sheriff hesitated as he didn’t want his close friend to produce the film which others had rejected as he feared a big failure at the box office.

One day while both of them were sitting at Ramachandran’s office in Madras, now Chennai, Pavamani – the owner of the film distribution company Sheeba Films – came to visit them. Pavamani was in search of a suitable script for making a film and he told Ramachandran about it.

Ramachandran turned to Sheriff and asked him to read out the script of Avalude Ravukal to Pavamani. Reluctantly and without any hope, Sheriff narrated the story. The rest is history as a story which remained in the creative mind of a novelist finally found an avenue to be shot on celluloid.

“Go ahead, Ramachandran. I will give funds for making the film,” Pavamani assured. With Pavamani agreeing to distribute the film, Ramachandran decided to go ahead with the project.

For Sheriff, the toddy shop near Rainbow Theatre in Kottayam was like a school from where he learnt about the nuances of life. Both the rich and the common man were regular visitors to the toddy shop. For Sheriff, who used to frequent the shop, it was a wealth of experience to learn about life from them.

At the shop, Sheriff met some women who had strayed away from the path of righteousness. The character of Raji in his novel was loosely based on the girl who narrated her story to Sheriff. A popular actress of that time, who later became his close friend, was also an inspiration for Sheriff to write the novel.

However, when Sheriff finished writing the novel he wasn’t satisfied but he rewrote it only when he began writing the script for the film. The film was a big hit at the box office and was a turning point in the careers of both I V Sasi and Sheriff. Sasi repaid Sheriff by becoming the illustrator for other novels written by Sheriff.

Avalude Ravukal didn’t attract many viewers on the first three days but after that the crowd gradually swelled and the film became a big hit. Sheriff and Sasi became a hit combination in the later years and Sasi made a name as a hit maker and directed numerous films with multi-star cast.

Before becoming a director, Sasi was a noted art director and had also worked as assistant director. Sheriff had worked with Sasi in Utsavam which was produced by Ramachadran under the banner of Murali Movies and the film was distributed by Kalanilayam Krishnan Nair.

Anubhavam, Aalinganam, Ayalkari, Abhinandanam, Ashirvadam, Anjali, Akale Aakaasham, Aa Nimisham, Aangikaram, Abhinivesham, Anandham Paramanandham, Andardahanam, Hridayam Sakshi, Innale Innu, Oonjal, Avalude Ravukal, Eeta, Iniyum Puzhayozhukum, Allauddinum Albhutha Vilakkum, Manasa Vacha Karmana, Anubhavangale Nandi, Ezham Kadalinu Akkare and Anuragii were some of the hit films from the Sasi-Sheriff combine. In all, Sheriff wrote 23 scripts for Sasi, out of the little more than 100 he wrote in his career as a scenarist.

For someone associated with films and hailing from Alappuzha, Udaya Studios was a big institution and Sheriff’s career kickstarted in one of the films produced by the studio. Sheriff, who stopped going to school at the eighth standard, had wealth of experience gained through reading and had firsthand knowledge of the things happening around him. When Umma was produced by Udaya Studios, Sheriff, who was only 18 years old, assisted script writer Moidu.

Sheriff shifted to Madras as he felt the city would stoke up his career ambitions to become a writer. His friendship with Sathyan was his only strength and belief. Sheriff made Nalanda Lodge, which was the abode of film aspirants liken him, his base in Madras. He wrote his first script for Kallippava which was directed by A B Raja. Sheriff didn’t get any remuneration for his first script but he got his first earning for Nathan which was his second film. Till this day he doesn’t know the value of Rs.1000 he got for writing that.

Age has slowed him, but Sheriff is still alert in his mind. Many have approached him for remaking Avalude Ravukal. He still writes, dictating his thoughts to a scribe. “Writing is a passion” says Sheriff and the statement sums up his affinity towards the world of letters.

© Authentic Kerala Cuisine