Delhi Eats – Chole Bhature or Bomb de Moscova?
Inundated with new cuisines, new restaurants and new foods? Then you need an antidote to the craziness of the Delhi food scene where new eateries crop up all the time. You need to take a walk back into time. You need to visit Embassy, around since 1948.
Haven’t heard of it? Well, if you are a Delhite, you surely know it. It’s the ancient gastronomic heaven where you go to binge on food that is delicious, is reasonably priced – and also invokes memories with each spoonful. After all, the restaurant has been around for six decades with its curious blend of dishes. Where else would you get Bomb de Moscova, Amritsari Macchi, Chicken Strognoff and unmatchable chole bhature and chicken chaat – all on the same table?
Times have indeed changed – the restaurant which sprouted up just after India’s independence and is still under original ownership, actually has a website with lovely black and white images of good old Connaught Place. They write: “We at Embassy never felt the need to advertise; our clientele does that for us. We have known many of our patrons since they used to wear knickers and came here, holding their elders hand, for a plate of handmade ice-cream.”
The prose then gets a bit more poetic: “Embassy, the restaurant that stood on the sidewalk of time, while the city was frantically undergoing many a chisel. Yet the rich culture of Delhi reflects in every façade – be it our food preferences, preparations or presentation.”
As school kids growing up in Delhi, we just knew that Embassy meant a feast of good eats: a Sunday family lunch – and more rarely a Saturday night dinner – there was the highlight of the month and an occasion to really pig out. The meals were so eclectic – a soothing cream of tomato soup could be followed by sizzling chicken steaks or fried fish and chips. Vegetable a la Kiev, Russian Salad, vegetable cutlets and Chicken Shashlik were some of the unique continental dishes I remember.
We ate family style and there was something to suit every taste. I’ve never eaten many of these dishes again – and certainly not from the same menu as tandoori chicken, Kofta Nargis, Shami Kabab and other authentic Indian dishes. We’d go on an eating binge and still manage to stop for a meetha paan outside Embassy. Paan in mouth, we’d browse the latest magazines at the nearby vendor’s display stand. Later we’d go to the week’s new movie release at Plaza or Odeon…totally blissed out if it was a melodramatic Rajesh Khanna or Dharmendra starrer…
Back in Delhi I was amazed to learn the restaurant is still thriving in Connaught Place, and also has a catering business and a branch in Civil Lines. The décor is still nondescript, but the place is packed and the food is just as good as ever. This time we went with the vegetable seekh kebab, chicken do piazza, palak paneer and the famous chole bhature which taste as wickedly delicious as street food. The accompanying bowl of pink pickled onions was still irresistible.
The menu still retained many of the old dishes and I could see that was the draw for the large number of families there, each individual able to indulge in their favorite comfort foods. The snacks on the menu include some which probably are not easily found elsewhere: peanut chaat, mushroom on toast, cheese balls, mutton samosa, lamb brain pakora, and egg pakora. Pineapple raita, anyone?
After our finger-licking good meal, we tried one of the old treats – the famous Cream A la Embassy Pudding and then just to keep old traditions, we stopped outside the restaurant at the old paan stand for a mandatory meetha paan. That burst of sweetness and flavor in the mouth was the finale to an evening of serious eating. Mission accomplished, we walked – er – waddled to the car.
(Photos: Lavina Melwani)