Supplanted from the big tree (pun intended) and the machan surrounding it located near the centre of the NSD compound, Bharat Rang Mahotsav 2015’s food court is now adjacent to the entrance, at stage left, as it were. Given that taste is probably the capital pursuit in Delhi, this is probably a wise decision. Culture, after all, doesn’t get cold and rubbery. And speaking of cold and rubbery, this year the emphasis seems more on the quality of the food, rather than serving it in a picturesque setting.
The machan and the food court last year relied more on its visual appeal; the food was indifferent at best. It was a sight, a monolithic tree, tacked all over with wooden platforms and tented by a ginormous shamiana, the air smoky with the smell of kebabs sizzling on skewers, the inchoate sweetness of jalebis frying and of course, the ubiquitous litti choka, a subtle reminder that much of the nation’s naatakbazi is at home in the East. The kebabs choked amid clouds of chaat masala, the biryani was more colourful than flavourful and the jalebi was only good, because really, how can you mess that up? Not so this year.
Apart from a mungfaliwala located right at the beginning, there are 12 food stalls, offering a cross-section of cuisine. What’s interesting is that instead of the usual anonymous vendors dishing out characterless food, this time around there are stalls put up by established brands, from Daryaganj’s delicious (and contentious) Changezi Chicken to popular Lebanese eatery, Zizo. There are also stalls selling Delhi’s favourite standby of stuffed paranthas, daulat ki chaat, chicken korma and sheermaal, tikkas and kebabs (unmired in chaat masala), pastries and the bastardized grilled Indian sandwiches so beloved of the roadside. The prices are easy on the pocket, with a meal for two setting you back anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 200, depending on your choice in food.
We tried the chicken biryani from Khan Mughlai Kebab and the chicken shawarma from Zizo. The former comes piled high on the ever-present thermocol plate, accoutred with chatni (not chutney) and sliced onions, and is, to borrow an Americanism, “just good eatin’”. The latter is the largest shawarma we’ve seen in the city, stuffed with chicken, actually pickled vegetables, and freshly beaten mayonnaise; accompanying it is a garlic sauce sharper than the most acerbic theatre critic. Both priced at a fairly reasonable Rs 120, they engage us like a work by Ibsen; though far easier on the stomach.