Category Archives: Dilli

Bukhara. Home is where the daal is

I am the first to admit my double standards when it comes to restaurants that serve Indian food. Most friends who have eaten with me will criticise me for being too demanding of the food and the service. I have always maintained that I go to restaurants for one of two reasons: great food, great service. Ideally both, but definitely one. All that is forgotten though, when I eat Indian food. Quite clearly because it is the food I have grown up on, Indian food to me is about hospitality, ceremony, and a great deal of love.

When I heard that India’s favourite black daal was coming to London I was beside myself. Memories of some of the best meals of my life came flooding back. I couldn’t tell you about the first time I ate at Delhi’s Bukhara, but I can tell you about the last meal I had there with my grandfather, and how we ate bowls of their Daal Bukhara and hot tandoori rotis for hours. I can tell you about the time my friend proposed to her (now) husband over his favourite meal in the world. And I can tell you about the last time I was in the presence of their majestic Sikandari Raan.

Bukhara, India’s favourite restaurant, has decided to visit London for two weeks in a pop up avatar at the Sheraton Park Tower in Knightsbridge. My Twitter-bud Dolce Dini couldn’t make it to their preview lunch and I was more than happy to take her place. Thanks to her I was able to relive some of my favourite food memories from home, right here in London.

The afternoon began with glasses of bubbly in a canopied bar bursting with Indian colour. Kashmiri carpets, silk cushions, Rajasthani chairs… they had managed to squeeze the most clichéd Indian decor into one tiny space and yet make it look beautiful. It’s a shame this bar isn’t a permanent feature at the hotel! There we stood, a group of bloggers and food critics, making polite conversation with each other; but really all we wanted was to get to the main event – the grand menu that had travelled all the way from India.

The room we were led to gave us no indication of the sumptuous meal we were about to receive. We were seated at round tables with token candles in a banquet room that lacked any splendour, glamour, or character. I ignore the bland room, and the waiters discomfort in their kurtas… thalis of the food had started to arrive.

They offered us a sampling of the tasting menus that they will serve over the next two week (Vegetarian at £59 and Meat & Seafood at £79). The first round of sharing platters had the famous malai chicken kababs, king prawns, fabulous paneer tikkas and (cold :-() naans and rotis. Thankfully the Daal Bukhara arrived soon after and everything else was forgiven. The daal tasted exactly as I remember it. Nothing else has ever come close, and I’m willing to bet, no other daal ever will.

Next, the Sikandari Raan. When we have this in the original Delhi restaurant, there is a moment of silence on the table as we pay our respects to the sheer magnificence of this dish. The lamb will be tender and make you sing as you rip into it. The London cousin didn’t inspire much singing but was close enough to the original.

They served two desserts. A decidedly uninspiring phirni and an orgasmic (I don’t use this term lightly) gulab jamun.

I am surprised to say that after the daal my favourite dish of the afternoon was the tandoori aloo, something I almost never order in Delhi. With each mouthful of the fluffy potatoes drenched in ginger, chilli, coriander and stuffed with nuts and raisins, I disappeared from the room a little. I was six and decorating Mamma’s Gingerbread Men. I was seven, on the roof with Papa, stealing ber off our neighbour’s tree. I was nine and had just touched snow for the first time at Rohtang Pass. I was twelve and was waking up from my first night on a houseboat in Kashmir. I was fifteen and kissing my grandmother goodbye for the last time. I was home.

-p

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Filed under Daal, Dilli, Foodie Events, Hotel restaurant, Indian, London

Simple. Nice.

Bombay felt different this time. I recognised it less; missed what it used to be. It was more blasé, less grateful and few had the time for a heartfelt smile. Coffee now costs Rs. 200 at a fancy deli and three girls on a night out wear more bling than a jewellery shop can hold. OK, I exaggerate a little, but only a little. I have nothing against change. The need for change made me change homes and I am probably being very selfish expecting a city to stay the same while I travel the world looking for something different. Still – just this once, I longed for a day when meeting for chai took us to Bastani café and dessert was fresh strawberries and cream at Bachelor’s.

I was definitely not going to get this in Bombay. A request for Brittania’s chicken berry pulao was answered with watermelon and feta salad at a home store’s overpriced café; the average cost of a birthday present was in five figures; and everybody I spoke to was ready to get out of the city.

I did too. I went to Delhi – a city where I spent nearly every childhood summer. Delhi is by no means any more “real” than Bombay has not become, but I knew that cocooned in the home of my family here I would have the time to remember everything I loved about growing up in India. Time almost stands still in the Suri household. It immediately feels like the summer of 1988 and I am once again part of some of the most honest and loving relationships I know. We also all still love food above most things.

We start with chaat (of course): Papdi chaat, dahi bhalla, alu tikis, gol gappa, chhola bhatura and paneer tikki at Shah Jahan Road, Bengali Market, Vasant Vihar A Block Market with old Bollywood songs providing the perpetual soundtrack to our chaat expeditions. My grandfather introduced me to Delhi chaat – my comfort food.

And then I went to Amritsar. Indian food cooked outside this city pales in comparison to the unbelievable deliciousness produced by the kitchens of this ancient city of India. Once I saw the real foodies of Amritsar I was ashamed to call myself one. You have honestly not eaten good Indian food until you’ve dined in Amritsar.

Guided by a fantastic Amritsari, my whirlwind trip started with a “light” breakfast of chhola bhhatura (and you can’t eat just one). We break for jutti and bangle shopping and then get back to business. My only request that I eat where normal people eat everyday. Alu tikki (Rs 7) and chaat (Rs 5) at Brijwasi is followed closely by stuffed kulchas (Rs 10) at Chungi Road and gulab jamuns (Rs 2) at Sharma Sweets. I spent sunset at the Indo-Pak border with over a thousand patriots on either side of the border who came there to feel a little extra patriotic that day.

My final day in Amritsar began with a meal like none I have ever, nor will ever experience anywhere else in the world. The langar at Harmandir Sahib (community kitchen at the Golden Temple) is the greatest equaliser I have witnessed. The massive kitchen is open 24/7 and feeds free vegetarian meals to almost 1,00,000 people each day (going up to 7,00,000 over the weekends).  The kitchen is staffed by devotees who ask for nothing in return except the opportunity to serve and the meals are gratefully accepted by people of all religions, castes and gender. This was a revolutionary concept in the 16th century and in my opinion still is a marvel in a world so consumed with materialism that it allows social status to dictate most interactions.

I probably sound slightly ABCD and to be honest I did feel like an outsider who’s idea of India was shamefully restricted. I allowed the new face of a city cloud my memories of an entire country. But as I ate among strangers, I felt relief. This is also India, it is still home. Simple. So nice.

-p

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Filed under Amritsar, Bombay, Dilli, Eat, Food, Golden Temple, India, Indian, Street food