A homecoming menu at New Delhi's Pandara Road featuring burrah kebabs, butter chicken, dal makhani, garam doodh & loads of memories : Gulati, Havemore

Butter chicken and kali da/ dal makhani and roti shoti
at Havemore, Pandara Market, New Delhi

Lunch done, let's plan for dinner


Having had lunch at Kake Da Hotel the day I arrived in New Delhi during my recent trip to the city, my next question was, ‘where should I go for dinner?’

I put this question to my young food writer friend, Amit Patnaik. My brief to him was that I was looking for traditional Delhi food joint, and ideally some place near the Connaught Place area given that my hotel was located there. That’s when Amit suggested that we meet and go to Pandara Road at night. I readily agreed, as I have a bit of the history with the place and have not really explored Pandara Road during my recent visits to Delhi.

This is the second time that Amit and I met and ate together
That's the burra kebab at Gulati. The last time was at Chennai


Tracing the Roy Family Tree at Pandara Road


This is where my grandparents lived in the 1970s at Pandara Road
The picture is from my trip to Pandora Road in November, 2017


The thing is, Pandara Road is possibly the first place that I ever stayed at in India. This is when I came to India on holidays during the late 1970s. For those who didn't know this about me, I was born in the UK, then lived in Iran, before I moved to India as a kid. On trips to India then, New Delhi where the maternal side of my family lived, would be our first stop before we headed to Kolkata where the paternal side of my family lived.

My maternal grandfather, the late Narendra Nath Roy, was an officer in the Indian Railways. He stayed at Pandara road with my aunts and my uncle and my grandmom back then. My mother had grown up in that house too and lived there till she got married to my father and went off to the UK. My first visit to India was possibly when I was around 3 or 4 years old. I was the first grandson in my mother’s side of the family. To add to that, I was born in bidesh (vilayat), which was a big thing in those days. I was tiny, chubby and fussy and very very spoilt and pampered, or so they say.

A flood of memories came back to me when I headed to Pandara Road with Amit. That of being chased down the road by a little dog. The blue plastic potty that they had got for me as I couldn’t use squat at 'Indian toilets’. I remember becoming friends with my chhotomashi, or youngest aunt, who was in school then. We would play and hug and then fight too. She’s around ten years older to me. I remember being taken from house to be house to be showed to neighbours and friends, and my grandpa later telling me about how I’d once gone to someone’s place, eaten and then said, ‘now we can go.’ Children do not beat around the bush you see. I also remembered asking folks about where my grandpa’s car was. In UK, everyone I knew had cars. In India in the 1970s, having a car was very rare and my grandfather didn't have one. My grandpa used to cycle down to work at his office at Shastri Bhavan, well before cycling became trendy. So my aunt told me that, that the black and yellow ambassador taxis, which looked the same and were all driven by elderly Sikhs, were my grandpa’s car and I used to call them 'dadu's car'.  I also remember my mother cooking noodles and fried chicken for me as I wouldn’t eat Indian food. Then there was the time my granny made pantua, the Bengali cottage cheese based version of the gulab jamun, which I refused to eat as I had no idea what it was. Then at my aunt’s urging, I tried one and liked it so much that I finished the whole vessel, and my granny had to make another vessel full of pantuas for me as she became my favourite cook in the family. Didu, my maternal grandmother, spoke no English and I spoke no Bengali or Hindi, but we did get along well. My grandpa spoke English of course and told me stories that would take me across the world on a journey of discovery. I also remember a doll who sang a lullabye if one pulled a string attached to it. My father had got it for my aunt but we both played with it (I was not alpha male type) and my granny sewed a salwar kurta for it. I also remembered there being a roti shop where my grandmom would take kneaded dough and where they would make rotis for us. 


Back at Pandara road. 40 years after I was last here.
Not so bratty now, nor so plump or long haired

Remember, I was just 3 years then, and yet I remembered all of the above from my first visit to Pandara Road which was forty years back. As I did remember the Mother Dairy booth, with a milk dispenser which used to fascinate me then. Imagine my excitement when we reached Pandara Road and when I saw the booth still standing there. Thanks to my mother whatsapping the number of the house where she once lived,   I was able to locate the house where I had stayed when I first came to India. We spotted it rather easily in fact and took pictures. This experience reminded me of the time when I had gone back to Canterbury a few years back. I went to the hospital where I was born then and to the house where we lived in. The experience felt surreal and yet filled me with happiness and I had blogged about it.

The Mother dairy booth is still there and with milk dispensers


My family doesn’t live at Pandara Road anymore and yet I felt as if I was back home when I reached there. I will ascribe this peaceful, easy feeling to the company my friends, Amit Patnaik and Ankita Goel, who joined me there.  I had got to know Ankita from Twitter recently and I met her for the first time that evening and Amit for the second time but we all got along very well. Add to that, the warmth of the people around us and you will know why I was smiling in all the pictures and in some of the funny phone videos that we shot that evening.

That's Ankita and me


The Pandara Market Food Crawl 

We then went to the Pandara Market to eat. There were three restaurants there that people on Facebook had told me that I should go to. These are Gulati (not Gulati veg), Havemore and Pindi. Interestingly, they were all recommended for their butter chicken. There was also a Japanese restaurant named Ichiban there and another Indian place called Chicken Inn.

Amit told me that the area around Pandara Road still houses folks who work with the government. Folks who usually prefer to eat at traditional Indian restaurants which are not too expensive. These places are not too posh or trendy. They are oriented towards making families at home said Amit, and are definitely more lux than Connaught Place restaurants such as Kake Da Hotel which I had been to in the afternoon.

When I later asked my chhotomashi (aunt) about whether she remembered these restaurants from the time she grew up at Pandara Road, she told me that she did remember there being dhaabas at the market. However, the families of the government officials who lived there, like ours, didn’t go to these dhabas in the 70s and early 80s, she said. The dhaabas were popular though, she told me, and would be usually be filled with men. She didn’t know where they were from. What she does remember is a little corner shop where my grandfather would take her and go to every evening after work. “He would buy a cigarette and then he’d buy me a Chicklet (chewing gum). That was the high point of the day.”

The restaurants that we saw at Pandara Market were all equally recommended to me on Facebook. Amit and Ankita didn’t have a clear favourite either. So I suggested that we go to a couple of them, Gulati and Havemore, and check out the food.

Saluting the Burrah Akbari Kebab at Gulati


Our first stop was Gulati. The ambiance reminded me of the Copper Chimney at Worli in Mumbai.  It was ver Indian ' family restaurant and bar' in look and feel. It was almost as if we were back in the 1990s again. The restaurant was clean, well lit, had good toilets and a happy buzz to it. The place was quite full though it was 8 pm and on a weekday at that. Most groups seemed to be that of families. The service was very warm and the waiter was visibly committed to his place of work and made recommendations to us and answered our questions in English. He offered to take photographs of us so I got him to shoot a video on my phone too. Which was fine, till I started speaking about the food, when he lost focus and started describing the food himself with the camera pointed at the great beyond as you will see in the video at the end of this post. 

All the Pandara Park places had ‘we do not levy service charge,’ written on the menu. The tipping is left to you unlike in modern restaurants in Mumbai at least, where service charge is added by the restaurant.


 


We tried the Burrah Akabari Kebab at Gulati. The meat, served on the bone, is marinated for four hours and finished in the tandoor as the waiter proudly told us. His pride was most justified as the kebabs were indeed very good. The mutton (goat meat) was tantalisingly juicy. It was not ‘melt in the mouth,’ (does everything have to be so?) but gave in beautifully to each bite and gave lots of pleasure. The spicing was pleasantly intricate and yet not overwhelming in terms of either salt or chilli. The burrah kebab is a dish that we often order at the Bukhara and Peshawari restaurants of the ITC Hotel chain. It would not be fair to compare the Gulati and Bukhara burrah though as I didn’t eat the two at the same time. However, what I can say for sure, is that the burrah kebab at Gulati is definitely a dish I would recommend strongly to you and go back for myself too.

Murg Gulati Bemisal


The other dish that we tried there was the Murg Gulati Bemisal. Tender pieces of chicken, served in a gravy of minced meat and egg. The latter we knew of, thanks to our waiter, as the presence of the egg was not obvious otherwise. This is the sort of the thickish, masala heavy gravy dish that one associates with Punjabi restaurants. The quality of the kukkad (chicken) was pretty good. The spices and seasoning again, as it was in the burrah, was fairly well balanced. As a concept, it seemed similar to the ‘rara’ where meat is cooked in a meat mince gravy. I am not sure if the dish could be called  'bemisal' (matchless), but it definitely went well with the rotis on a chilly Delhi night.

With Amit and Ankita at Gulati
Aishwarya Yadav, an Instagram follower wrote in to me saying that Gulati dinners was an integral part of her childhood. She goes there whenever she returns to Delhi, she told me. She said that the ambiance and presentation has become more posh now, but that the food tastes the same and just as wonderful as she remembers it to be from her childhood.

Butter chicken at Havemore


Nothing symbolises the world of traditional Indian restaurant like these
pickled red onions do


The other restaurant that we went to at Pandara Market that night was called Havemore. The name reminded me of Havmore, an ice cream chain in Mumbai. Like Gulati, Havemore too claimed to have been established in 1959, as the sign outside the restaurant said.

Butter chicken at Havemore


We tried the butter chicken at Havemore, as it had been recommended to me by folks on social media. The good thing was that it came in different sizes, and we chose the smallest one as we were fairly full. Thankfully I had company with me, and good company at that, to help me finish the chicken. We were offered options of boneless chicken and chicken on the bone, and we chose the latter. Chicken tastes nicer when cooked on the bone, though that’s a bit difficult to share. There were two pieces of chicken between the three of us, but we managed with me doing a George (of Masterchef Australia) act and portioning out the food. Delhi’ites find the butter chicken of Mumbai  restaurants too sweet. The butter chicken that I had at Havemore told me why this is so. The gravy here was thick and creamy, a tad tangy, but not sweet for sure. Nor was it high on chilli heat despite the orange colour. A heavy dish not doubt, but packed with flavour. If I was to compare it with the ‘Goila Butter Chicken,’ in Mumbai that I like these days, I’d say that the latter is lighter and something that I can eat with relish and with a lighter conscience compared to the Havemore variety, but when in Delhi I would definitely loosen my belt and go straight for a butter chicken like Havemore's.

Dal makhani at Havemore


We tried other famous ‘Punjabi restaurant cliché dish,’ the dal makhani at Havemore. This was disappointingly thin and salty  and the only blip in the evening. I've had better for sure and in Mumbai too.

At Havmore too, the service was competent, though not as ‘evolved’ as at Gulati next door. Havemore, like Gulati, was packed with diner, the place was neat and clean as was the toilet, and the vibe inside was warm.

With Amit and Ankita at Havemore


Garam doodh


Most of there restaurants at Pandara Market claim to have been
established in 1959 when the market was set up


The thing to have for dessert at Pandara Market, I am told, is the kulfi. Given that it was cold, and that I had a panel to speak at the next morning, this didn’t seem to be a good idea.

Garam doodh


Ankita took us to the corner sweet shop, where I first had some excessively sweet gulab jamuns in memory of the pantua that my granny had made me when I visited her at Pandara Road. 

Didu's pantuas were nicer


Ankita insisted that we try something called, ‘garam doodh’ there. Hot milk, boiling on a kadhai, served in a disposable earthen glass, flavoured with garam masala and saffron and with sugar added to it. I was sceptical at first as I am not a milk drinker. Ankita insisted that I try it, and said that it’s a Delhi winter thing. I gave in and tried some. It wasn’t bad after all, and I actually finished the whole glass. 

I did give the malai, milk fat, to Amit though.




The owner of the shop was a chatty and friendly elderly gentleman. I told him about my family who used to live close by. He told me that the shop dated back to 1959, ‘like every other shop here,’ he  added with a smile. He’d come to work here in the late 1970s. He showed me pictures of himself from then and said, “I look very different now.” What hasn’t changed though, I am sure, is his huge smile.

I finally bid farewell to my friends at Pandara Road and headed to my hotel. When back in my room, I checked Facebook and saw that my mother had left a comment where she spoke of a milk shop at Pandara Market where she was tempted to have hot milk from as a kid but could not. 

‘Being Bengali, we were not allowed to have food cooked outside back then,’ she said with an audible sigh.

That’s when I realized that by having the garam doodh at Pandara Park, I had unknowingly fulfilled a childhood dream of my mother. We grow up to be our mothers as they say!


Approximate costs; Gulati: Rs 2,000 for a burrah kebab, the chicken bemisal, 3 rotis and two lassis, Havemore Rs 1,000 for a small butter chicken, a dal and 2 tandoori rotis, milk place: Rs 400 odd for 3 milks and 2 gulab jamuns.

Videos that we shot on my iPhone that night:

Gulati:


Havemore:


Garam Doodh:



Please also read:

2. A post which my mother had written about returning to the house at Pandara Road
3. My post on my lunch at Kake Da Hotel earlier that day  


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