It’s the perfect season in Delhi to be eating alfresco. The winter’s beginning to set in—and, what with Christmas just a little over a month away, I realized it’s time to go shopping for gifts. And, since a lot of my Christmas shopping consists of ethnic stuff, my go-to place is Dilli Haat, the open-air cultural centre/bazaar/food court/what-have-you. This last Saturday, therefore, off we went to Dilli Haat to see what interesting gifts we could find, and—of course—to have lunch.
Dilli Haat, for those not in the know, has loads of food stalls, from all across India. There’s the more usual stuff, the Punjabi and Delhi stalls with their tandoori chicken and rajma-chawal et al; there are the further afield but still familiar dosas and utthappams and interesting rice dishes of the southern states and the ghee-laden, gatte and ker-saangri waali Rajasthani thalis. There are even what are rather more exotic cuisines for Delhiites: ristas and gushtabas from Kashmir, Mughlai parathas and fish and maangsho from West Bengal, Delhi’s best thukpa (not to mention great doh neiong) from Meghalaya.
And this, the Maharashtra Food Stall. The Maharashtra Food Stall is tucked away at the far end of Dilli Haat (if you enter from Gate No. 1, walk almost till the other end, and go down a few steps on your left). Here, just beyond the Nagaland food stall, is the Maharashtra one. It’s like all the other food stalls in Dilli Haat: there’s a common seating area, with tables and scattered chairs (some plastic, some rather more upmarket cane, some even made of cement and stone slabs) out under the eucalyptus trees. You check out the menu (printed on a large board, with helpful photographs, accompanied by descriptions—though only in Hindi), place your order and pay at the counter, and then move to the pickup counter to wait for your food to be served up.
We have, I must admit, eaten at the Maharashtra food stall so many times before that I didn’t even need to consult the menu to decide what I wanted. It’s all vegetarian, and with a mix of well-known Maharashtrian dishes (like bhelpuri and paavbhaji) and less common ones (jhunka bhaakar, thaalipeeth, misal paav, etc). I picked my favourite, thaalipeeth, while my husband ordered his favourite—sabudana khichri—and we agreed to share both. To drink, we both settled for mattha. (The stall also offers other ‘traditional’ beverages like kokum soda and lassi, besides the more usual aerated drinks. Dilli Haat serves no alcohol).
Fortunately for us, there wasn’t a huge crowd around here, so the waiter on duty said he’d get our food to our table. He got our glasses (rather flimsy plastic ones) of very pale green mattha within a couple of minutes. This, sadly, left me underwhelmed. From the colour, I’d guessed there was some fresh herb in it, but on tasting the drink, had to try very hard to guess what. Mint, I finally decided, though I couldn’t be sure. Basically, what I got was a faintly salty buttermilk drink. Not unpleasant, but I’ve had far better mattha.
Shortly after came the sabudana khichri (this is ready-prepared, so doesn’t take long to dish up. And the pass at the food stall isn’t handled by people professional enough to make sure all the food for one table goes out at one time). Sabudana khichri can be gluey and mushy and all sorts of bad, but the one at the Maharashtra stall, every time I’ve had it, has been perfect: each grain of sago separate and fluffy, very gently spiced with whole cumin seed and chopped green chillies, with a few cubed boiled potatoes, topped with a generous sprinkle of roasted peanuts and fresh green coriander. With a wedge of lime, and a little plastic bowl of raita—just salt, chopped onion, and green coriander to add flavour to the yoghurt—this is one of my absolute favourite comfort foods.
While we finished off the sabudana khichri, the thaalipeeth arrived. This is one of those sensational one-item dishes that I could live off, if it ever came to that. Flour from 13 (yes, thirteen) different types of grains, mixed with salt, chopped green chillies, onions, spring onions, and coriander, kneaded into a dough, shaped into a large chapatti-like flatbread and cooked on a hot tawa. As soon as it’s off the tawa, a big dollop of butter is added on top, and three sides are arranged on the plate: raita (the same one that came with the sabudana khichri); a green chutney (made of fresh coriander, but with a generous amount of green chilly added: hot, but refreshingly so); and a gunpowder-like dry ‘chutney’, made with roasted ground lentils and spices.
Frankly, the thaalipeeth itself is so bursting with flavour of its own—all those grains, the added herbs, the butter on top—that there’s no need for the sides. For the sake of it (and because I hate wasting stuff that’s on the plate) I had my share of the raita, the dry chutney, and the green chutney, but had some of the thaalipeeth on its own too. (Incidentally, while my husband had been in the queue to place his order, he’d heard the lady in front placing an order for the thaalipeeth atta—the food stall actually sells the mix of flours too, which you can buy and take home if you wish to make the thaalipeeth yourself).
We’d known, of course, that these two dishes (not huge portions, either of them) wouldn’t be enough. And I’d already a third dish in mind, this one with an inbuilt dessert: shrikhand-puri. Though the name suggests it’s only shrikhand and puri, the truth is that along with that also comes a helping of potato sabzi. This arrived within five minutes of the order being placed: five little puris, crisp and puffy and deep bronze-gold, with, on the side, a heap of potato sabzi (a very simple but good one: boiled potatoes, cubed and fried with green chillies, curry leaves, salt, and lots of turmeric). There was the familiar green chutney, and a small plastic bowl heaped with shrikhand.
My husband was adventurous enough to try combining the sabzi and puri and shrikhand, all at once (he admitted, after that experiment was done—just one morsel—that he didn’t like it much). I, however, stuck to my rather more tried and tested way of eating some of the sabzi with the puri, and having the shrikhand on its own afterwards, as a dessert. Shrikhand, of course, is made from sweetened full-fat yoghurt which has been drained of its whey: the result is a very creamy, rich (almost buttery) dessert, both tart—from the yoghurt—and sweet, because of the generous quantities of sugar added. The Maharashtra Food Stall adds a fairly lavish quantity of finely chopped pistachios to their shrikhand, making it even more luxurious. A filling dessert, and (especially for people with a low tolerance for sugar and fat, as my husband and I are) just the right quantity, in that small plastic bowl.
Not a very fancy meal, and an ambience that could definitely be improved upon (we did spend a good bit of time swatting away flies and keeping an eye out for passing stray dogs). But, absolutely delicious food, filling, satisfying, and for a song: we paid a total of Rs 450 for this meal of ours, all taxes included. No wonder we keep going back.
Maharashtra Food Stall
No. 20, Dilli Haat
Opposite INA Market