Delhi: hotels and restaurants
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Hotels vis-à-vis guesthouses
The difference between the two, as in 2019
Illegal Constructions Across City Put Lives At Risk, Officials Pass The Buck
To most people, a hotel and a guesthouse are the same, but in terms of building norms they are two different establishments. In this light, Hotel Arpit Palace in Karol Bagh, where 17 people were killed in a blaze on Tuesday, was a guesthouse, not a hotel. For one, the norm prohibits the operation of a kitchen at a guesthouse. Despite this, it is believed that there was a rooftop restaurant at the hotel.
The North Delhi Municipal Corporation blames Delhi government for facilitating the unchecked growth of illegal constructions through the implementation of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions), Second Act, 2007. As Avdesh Gupta, the north mayor, claimed, “The restaurant at Arpit Palace is running from before 2007, so we can’t demolish it due to the Special Provisions Act.”
Like the gutted Karol Bagh hotel, most so-called guesthouses across the city too have restaurants, kitchens and commercial establishments on their premises, all illegal under building laws. A member of the Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee that is identifying building norm violations in the city, admitted, “We can’t seal many of these unauthorised constructions because of the Special Provisions Act of 2007. In comparison, in 2006-07, before the Act was implemented, we sealed many guesthouses in Delhi.”
At the guesthouse hub of Paharganj, noticed the conspicuous absence of hydrants and assembly areas for guests in case of fire emergencies. A shop owner remarked, “The fire exits of these hotels are blocked by furniture. None of them have exit plans either.”
A civic official said because it is not mandatory to submit the construction completion certificate while applying for a trade licence, the detection of norm violations is minimal. There are 698 registered guesthouses under the jurisdiction of the three corporations, but the official candidly said, “Most of these have managed to procure fire safety clearances despite flouting rules.”
However, Murli Mani, president of Vyapar Mandal, Ajmal Khan Road, Karol Bagh, argued, “Restaurants are allowed in guesthouses located on commercial or mixed land-use roads provided they have separate entries. I don’t think the owners have violated norms.”
Rakesh Mehta, former MCD commissioner, added that the problem arose when the guesthouses were encouraged to carry out basic revamp for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. But beyond just painting and rewiring, these went to the extent of putting in wooden flooring and fibreboard ceilings. The fire in Karol Bagh was, according to fire officials, aggravated by just this sort of materials.
Japanese cuisine in Delhi
How Delhi started enjoying raw fish
Sourish Bhattacharyya | | February 27, 2014 |
Delhi/ NCR's first real Japanese restaurant, Sakura, opened in the year 2000 at what was then called The Metropolitan Hotel Nikko, even seasoned diners would shudder at the thought of having raw fish. They regarded sushi and sashimi with trepidation. Raw fish wasn't our idea of good food. And Japanese meant Fujiya's chicken gyoza ( fried dumplings) or what passed off as Japanese at The Ashok's Tokyo restaurant.
Sakura, predictably, became a hangout of Japanese expats, who found heaven in the o- toro ( tuna belly supreme), hotate ( scallop) and hamachi ( yellowtail), blast frozen and flown in three times a day by Japan Airlines, that Master Chef Nariyoshi Nakamura would slice for them with his platinum knives, which he kept with reverential care at one corner of his kitchen. For family outings, they would head to Tamura, which was run by one of them in that quiet corner where Vasant Vihar's Paschimi Marg meets Poorvi Marg, the only place in the world where East meets West.
The local clientele preferred the comfort of tempura and yakitori, the Japanese pakodas and kebabs, or go to TK's at the Hyatt Regency and assume that its Benihana-type teppanyaki offerings were Japanese. That may explain why the Taj did not open a Wasabi in Delhi for five years after launching the restaurant with the much-acclaimed Japanese American 'Iron Chef', Masaharu Morimoto, in Mumbai a decade ago. And even when threesixtydegrees at The Oberoi decided to make its sushi boat the talk of the town, it consigned its Japanese counter to one corner of the popular restaurant presided over by a Filipino expat named Augusta imported from Dubai. Augusta, with his charming ways,
Augusta, with his charming ways, made sushi accessible to the ladies who lunch by getting them addicted to his sushi-rolling classes. It coincided with the discovery of Nobu by the chatterati, who made a pilgrimage to Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's London restaurant their annual holiday pilgrimage, and they got addicted to its miso-marinated black cod.
When Wasabi by Morimoto opened at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, the market had already grown used to Japanese food, but Sakura had ceased to matter and the city still feared raw fish. Unsurprisingly, like elsewhere in the world, California rolls started getting popular ( and home delivered), because you ate the rice first and the minuscule presence of raw fish got masked by mayonnaise, avocado and what not.
Some people even tried to introduce tandoori sushi, but the trend did not catch on even in this Republic of Butter Chicken.
Wasabi by Morimoto now has competition from Megu, the Indian outlet of the trendy New York restaurant at The Leela Palace New Delhi, and the most recent addition to this growing family of Japanese restaurants, Akira Back at the New Delhi Aerocity's JW Marriott, whose tuna pizzas have acquired a cult following. Outside five- star hotels, Guppy by Ai at the Lodhi Colony Market and En at the New Ambavatta Complex in Mehrauli are jostling for attention, but the price points and location of the former are clearly working to its advantage. The menus of these restaurants have convinced us that Japanese cuisine doesn't equal raw fish, though, given any opportunity, I'd personally have raw tuna belly or scallops or salmon at any time on any day - like a tom cat on steroids. Wasabi by Morimoto has turned five by unveiling a new menu with inventive vegetarian options. The Capital's rollercoaster romance with Japanese cuisine is now a decade old, but it has shown with its adaptive agility that ten years is a long time for a city's palate.
[Indpaedia editor’s note: By 2004 sushi was one of the standard snacks at farmhouse, and even other, wedding receptions in Delhi. It caught on that fast.
[The Indpaedia editor’s favourite was Ai at Saket, which has since shifted to Lodi Colony; its black cod miso was to fly for—it saved you the trouble of flying to Tokyo.]
Restaurants with roots in present- day Pakistan
Kwality, Moti Mahal, Pindi + Mumbai restaurants
From Pindi chhole to tandoori chicken, much of what Indians love to eat today came with immigrants from the other side of the border
Karachi Bakery, the chain founded by Sindhi migrant Khanchand Ramnani who chose to honour his roots through his business, may have attracted the ire of hate-mongers in Bengaluru recently but it is hardly the only business founded by immigrants after Partition not just to keep body and soul together, but also to keep alive memories and tastes of culture beyond political boundaries.
In Delhi, the iconic Kwality founded by Pishori Lal Lamba, who came from Lahore in 1940, has recently been spruced up and bears a polished vintage look. Through the refurbishment — heirloom photographs of an earlier Delhi, a grand piano and a bar are recent additions — what has remained unchanged are many of its celebrated dishes such as chhole-bhature. Foodies whether in Delhi, Punjab or Pakistan will instantly recognise the spicy, dark and dry chickpeas as the quintessential ‘Pindi’ chhole.
Lamba got the recipe from a halwai in Mussoorie who had migrated from Rawalpindi, a city associated with a great food culture. Pindi chhole, with a robust flavouring of anardana (pomegranate seeds), cloves, and black pepper, is traditionally cooked with amla (Indian gooseberry) to give it a dark colour, says celebrity chef Ranveer Brar. These days, tea bags are used to get that colour. As the dry chhole travelled east, Brar says, they gained gravy — the Amritsari chhole thus are milder and watered down.
Pindi, the iconic all-vegetarian Pandara Market eatery that obviously gets its name from Rawalpindi, celebrates the roots of its founder K L Wadhwa. He started off selling chhole-bhature from a roadside stall at India Gate. He later set up a small dhaba at Pandara Road and finally Pindi in 1954, a restaurant that the family’s third generation now runs. Embassy and United Coffee House are some other iconic stand alones started by immigrants.
Kwality, on the other hand, moved from being an ice-cream store and café to a chain with outlets in India and abroad.
As members of PL Lamba’s extended family started arriving in India post Partition, offshoots of the brand opened in Lucknow, Kolkata, Mumbai, Goa, Nagpur, Vizag, etc. Lamba and his business partner and brother-in-law Iqbal Singh Ghai also started Gaylord’s, a more stylised concept that served what can be only described as ‘Punjabi-continental’. Gaylord’s outlets in the US, the UK — even one in Kobe, Japan — exported “Indian” food made up with bits of Rawalpindi, Lahore, Mughal-and-colonial Delhi food cultures in a sellable, pop mix.
Partition’s effect on India’s food culture was profound, with ingredients, flavours and cooking methods seeping into the new India. Ingredients like paneer, chhole, chicken, rajma, and tomatoes, now so firmly a part of restaurant retail, were not common either in home cooking or bazaar fare in the rest of northern India before that.
The tandoor, of course, was the biggest symbol of this change. The central Asian oven had travelled to western Punjab over the centuries and become common in its villages to bake bread. Struggling immigrants found an enterprising use for it — roasting meats. Tandoori chicken was destined to spread not just nationally but globally. The Mughlai kebabs, traditionally baked on the horizontal sigri, lost out in popularity to tandoori chicken that was quick to prepare and had simpler flavours.
Moti Mahal set up by a refugee, Kundan Lal Gujral, is popularly credited for having invented the tandoori chicken in Peshawar (he was a shop hand in a tiny halwai shop called Moti Sweets) and bringing it to Delhi, or so his descendants claim. What is known for sure is that Gujral did invent the butter chicken at Moti Mahal. Faced with leftover tandoori chicken and consumers who wanted gravy, he dunked it into a sauce of tomatoes and cream. The makhani gravy was an instant hit even though it was far simpler than the great Mughlai qormas, kaliyas and shabdegs.
Like Moti Mahal, the hugely popular Kailash Parbat group of restaurants in Mumbai was also built by an immigrant.
Today the oldest Sindhi restaurant in Mumbai serves dishes like aloo tuk, bhee ki tikki, sai bhaaji and dal pakwan. Its franchisee outlets have taken this food to New York, London, Singapore and even Hong Kong (more than 50 outlets globally). The third generation of the Mulchandani family runs the business set up by their grandfather who came to Bombay with nothing more than the utensils in which to make paani puri.
Karachi, the capital of Sindh, and one of the most urbane cities in the subcontinent at that time, had a thriving snacking culture. Chaat arrived in Mumbai, thanks to the memory of this culture. As you bite into bhel or paani puri, it may be instructive to remember this history that you are also savouring.