Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Return of the Icons

So, here I am - with the second instalment of iconic food joints across the country.
There was a mild frisson of controversy over the first instalment (read it here) as the venerable JAP pointed out Mocambo had much better food than Peter Cat and a senior colleague was quite distressed that Gajalee hadn't featured. Well, of course these two (and many others) serve out-of-the-world food but the point about icons is that they are not (necessarily) about food.
It is about the legend.
In an untraceable blend of history, society and serendipity, these places have become part of the folklore of the city they are located in. So, even a person who's never been to Calcutta will say "I have heard that Shiraz ka biriyani is too good. My co-brother was saying..."
Which brings us to the first name in this list.

Calcutta - Shiraz
A not-so-glitzy shop at the edge of the glitzy Park Street is known as The Golden Restaurant. The adjective probably refers to the golden hue of the rice and potato (Yes! Calcutta biriyanis have potatoes) that arrives in perfect heap on a gleaming white porcelain dish. The chicken biriyani would have one end of the chicken bone sticking out of the rice (to distinguish it from the mutton version, which is a plain heap of rice).
I have never seen the biriyani remain on that dish for more than 9 minutes. Be it the democratic open area in the ground floor or the AC section on the mezzanine, people just jump the biriyani the moment it arrives.
Of course, the rest of their fare is magical too. They have a sort-of-multi-layer-sweetish paratha (which is not really a lachha paratha) that - when served with their Chicken Chnaap - is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
While writing this post, I realised that I have never had kababs from Shiraz. I have gone through three-and-half decades of my life having tasted only 4 or 5 items of their menu!

Bangalore - MTR
This is one place I was totally unimpressed by. When I was in Bangalore, I could not voice my opinion in the fear of being lynched (or being mistaken for a donkey and sacrificed!). But I am completely convinced about its status as a Bangalore icon.
Its unobtrusive facade. The stern guy at the billing desk. The (waiting) coupon which always seems to have a number in excess of 400. And the queue seems to go on till the end of the universe. Even before you get a glimpse of their overloaded stainless steel thalis, MTR imposes its legend upon you.
Their serving style is old-style Bangalore - suffused with a confident lethargy. They know you'll wait. They also know the wait will be worth it. So, they stop of sniff the flowers before they let you sniff the sambhar! For people like me - used to inhale full plates of biriyani in 7 minutes - this art is lost on me but that is clearly my loss.

Bombay - Bade Miyan
This is clearly the one Bombay institution which divides the city right down the middle. Some people think it is over-hyped rubbish while others swear it is manna, dropped straight off carnivorous heaven. Without taking sides, I can safely say that any food that ignites such debate is an icon.
All my brushes with Bade Miyan came immediately after a longish booze session at Gokul (which could well be an icon itself) next door. After finishing the liquor that is served rapidly and cheaply, the steps are a little unsteady when you come out but the hunger is beating a steady rhythm. It is in this state that everybody approaches Bade Miyan. Be it the cheap rum at Gokul or the swish wine at Indigo, this small nondescript shop is the purveyor of protein in a sea of alcohol. And thanks to the inflammable nature of the liquid, Bade Miyan is never short of flying fists around it.
A food joint where fights happen regularly. If that is not an icon, what is?
While on the subject of violence and carnivores, read this post (and the comments with it).

Hyderabad - Chutneys
This is where Chiranjeevi comes for breakfast.
What? You are not convinced it is an icon. You Rajini fans, I tell you...
Located at the triveni sangam of Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills and Punjagutta, Chutney's is just another restaurant serving dosas, idlis, uttapams and pesarattus to hungry souls. But their Baba Hotel Idli - oh god! Or their MLA Pesarattu... don't ask me why it is so named. I just thought its because it is as thick-skinned and oily as a MLA!
Like Swagath in Delhi tries to do a Chinese gig to increase menu pages, Chutney's also thulps in some North Indian delicacies. But I don't think they ever get any orders of those as people just jump on to the 70 mm Dosa and all is well with the world.

Delhi - The Big Chill
The wait. The massive menu. The four pages of desserts. The walls jam-packed with Hollywood posters.And the blueberry cheese cake.
The Big Chill serves a mixed menu that draws laughter from critics when it wins prizes for Best Italian at food awards but that's because that's the best category they fit in. Otherwise, what prize can you give them. Best Place To Take Girlfriend On First Date award? Or Desserts That Blow Your Mind, Diet and Wallet Award? In a strange inversion of the demand-supply laws, Big Chill seems to increase demand in Delhi as it increases supply. Every outlet they have opened in Delhi have got jam-packed within 17 minutes of opening the shutters. There are many places in Delhi that serve better Italian food and are quite reasonable too. But nobody packs it in like BC. And that's an iconic queue!
BTW, have you ever been to Big Chill and got to sit straight away? Yes? Hi Rahul. Hi Priyanka.
Picture courtesy: Delhi Photo Diary



Abhishek Mukherjee said...

Alas, the Golden Restaurant doesn't live up to its name any more. Leave alone Arsalan, even Rahmania and Zeeshan have surpassed Shiraz's quality of biriyani.

Jabberwock said...

Went to Big Chill just last evening coincidentally (the DLF mall one in Saket) and there were a few empty tables - surprising for 7.30 pm on a Friday. On weekends there's usually a waiting line.

L'Étranger said...

Nice list, but I find it hard to believe that you left out 'Vidyarthi Bhavan' of Bangalore! VB is as big (many swear it is actually bigger) an icon as MTR.

And how come Chennai is missing from your list? Ever heard of Saravana Bhavan?

Lazyani said...

Siraj is undergoing a makeover at the moment. A 3 star swank hotel is coming up at the location with the restaurant being shifted to the first floor of the building.

The Weekend Blogger said...

The Biriyani at Shiraaz just does not taste the same anymore. My loyalties have shifted to Arsalan. All said and done, I have realised that the eating joints in Delhi lack the "personality" of those in Calcutta.

Aishwarya said...

I support Big Chill one hundred percent. Although I hoenstly think, for Delhi, Sagar Ratna could well be a big gun contender too. Lines? Serpentine. Food? *insert appropriate reply, I'm too busy stuffing my face*

If you would, please do go through my blog too, it's ONLY about the food I eat/ate. And if you like it, please forward it among your friends.


Aishwarya said...

Uh, also, since you're Bangali and a foodie...please see this...

Hades said...

Sadly, Shiraz'a golden days are behind it. Cal's best Biryani (which in all prob, would also be India's best Lukhnavi Biryani) is now made by Arsalan (park circus/ripon street). While I have tons of lovely memories from Shiraz (that two hour wait for a table on Oshtomi, 1999), the Arsalan stuff is really, really good. Almost as good as shaadi ki Biryani, in fact.

Actually, come to think of it, even during the 90s, Shiraz wasn't the best. That crown would need go to Royal, no?

Tan said...

Was going through your old blogs about Calcutta. Even though I am from a 'Hai Raam-you said ANDA' variety of UP brahmin family, have always been a wannabe bong. And now have turned my thoroughbred beef eating mallu husband into one hell of a bong convert. So much so that we are sneaking away to Calcutta for 3 days which has left our families befuddled and enlightening us about Air Asia and cheap foreign travel ;). I have always been a fan of yours and would love to have a chance to explore the place through your eyes. The must dos and eats and drinks! I have been there once and did the Victoria memorial, Flurry's routine but would love to spend these 3 days as a true blue bong would. Would you mind helping me out if it is not too inconvenient for you?
I promise to return the favor by divulging all the secrets held close to my heart about Lucknow and Bangalore! Pretty please?

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@ Tan -

You want to spend 3 days in Calcutta like a true-blue Bong would? Check into Ffort at Raichak and don’t move unless you have to eat or drink. I am told there’s a new place called Ganga Kutir – which is even more luxurious, pays even more attention to culinary matters and frowns at physical activity and raised voices. But I am sure you don’t want to do that…

Try to eat at Mocambo (Devilled Crabs), Peter Cat (Chelo Kabab), Arsalan and Shiraz (Mutton biriyani), Kewpies (Bengali cuisine) for the meals. Remember – it is important to eat at both Arsalan and Shiraz. Otherwise you would never be able to take sides during the Great Biriyani Debate and remain a perennial outsider to Calcuttans.

Between meals, make do with (double-egg, double-chicken) rolls at Kusum (Park Street), pastries at Kookie Jar (just ahead of La Martiniere school), phuchka near Bibekananda Park (on Southern avenue) and coffee at, well, Coffee House (College Street).

Don’t forget to sneak in a drink or two at Olypub (Park Street) along with cocktail sausages. Browse books at College Street. Watch a movie at Nandan. Catch a play. Visit Presidency College. Take a tram ride around the Maidan.
While on the subject of drinks, it has been ages since I had a drink in the interval of a movie. Do that as well. Unless the world has come to an end, New Empire or Lighthouse should still have the bars.

Chat with the cabbies. Ask the Nandan usher for a review of the movie. Tell the Presi students their college sucks. Walk past 1/1 Bishop Lefroy Road. Get on the Metro and get off at Uttam Kumar. Buy a CD of Rabindrasangeet. Passionately criticize the ‘blue colouring’ of the city. Floor the citizens by asking “amai ektu Bangla shikhiye deben?”

Fall in love with the city. And then spend the rest of your life trying to explain to the infidels why.

Chowder Singh said...

Agree with your assessment of Chutneys