Among all that I miss in this never-ending pandemic is the food of Café Lota. I still remember my visit there. A friend had told us about the restaurant that had then just opened by the Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan. I went there one evening and was fascinated by the menu – and the food.
I’d had a chat with Rahul Dua, one of the men running the kitchen, and he told me how they had sourced recipes from various regions. But Dua left the café soon thereafter. And then, a couple of weeks ago, I got an elaborate menu from him.
He has now started a delivery service called Bhawan. It includes an interesting street food component, with dishes from all corners of the country. I happily pored over the menu and zeroed in on a variety of dishes that I thought would make for a snacky lunch or dinner.
We asked for a plate of gol gappas (nine with each plate, and your choice of filling and flavoured water), a plate of karela chaat, aloo dum dahi vada, Surti khawsa, keema varqi lukhmi and bhapa doi cheesecake. I paid a little less than ₹1,200 for this. When the food package arrived, I realised that Rahul had added some complimentary dishes — tasting samples of kurkurey bhindi chaat, palak patta chaat, chicken bharta and sweets. We had the chaats and lukhmi for dinner, the bharta — a concoction of shredded chicken cooked with masalas and eggs — with roti for breakfast the next morning, and the Surti khawsa for lunch.
Every dish was lip smackingly good. We had asked for aloo Pindi channa filling and gondhoraj lime flavoured water for the gol gappa. The lemony water had a nice tangy taste and the gol gappas were large and crisp. Bhawan has on offer atta, suji, and ragi golgappas, with various kinds of flavoured water and filling.
I then had the aloo dum dahi vada, an Odia special that I am greatly fond of, and thoroughly enjoyed the dish of rich and spicy aloo dum eaten with soft, yoghurt-doused dahi vadas. I had never eaten karela chaat before, and I thought the fried bitter gourd – and the thin and crispy okra – made for a delightful chaat, doused with the sweet-and-spicy yoghurt mix. The palak chaat, however, was a bit too thick and hard. It could have done with a thinner batter.
Now let me tell you about the Surti khawsa. This is a popular street food dish of Surat, and I can understand why: It’s wholesome and filling. The dish consists of a fragrant coconut milk-based broth and rice noodles. We added some papad pieces to it and then topped it with garlic chutney. The flavours and textures — the sweetness of the coconut milk and the fierceness of the chutney, the crunchiness of the papad and the softness of the noodles — complemented one another.
Rahul tells me that they had thought of opening a restaurant but dropped their plans because of the coronavirus lockdown. The delivery business is being run from Chhatarpur, and they supply everywhere in Delhi-NCR, except in Faridabad (Bhawandelhi.com; 8178539537 for orders).
The menu includes samosas and kachoris with moong dal, onions or — hold your breath — bacon and cheddar. It has baked khichri, kathal biryani, bedmi puri and saag meat. There are all kinds of sweets — mawa jalebis with rabri, aamchoor laddoos, coconut passion fruit barfi and so on.
My bhapa doi cheesecake, a creamy dish of sweetened and steamed hung curd, was really nice, but nothing really beats my late mother-in-law’s bhapa doi, steamed on a platter over a pot of boiling water. I think the dish I loved the most was the lukhmi — it had a delightfully crispy casing and a nicely spicy chicken keema filling.
Bhawan is good news for those of us who’ve been missing the delights of roadside food but haven’t stepped out. We may have been banished from the streets, but I am happy that the streets are coming to us.
The writer is a seasoned food critic