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Sunday, March 6, 2011

"South Indian Vegetarians Paradise" ???

It calls itself the "South Indian Vegetarians Paradise", proudly, on the illuminated board at the top.
As I lunched, for the twentieth year, at Sagar in Defence Colony, I reflected on how much change had come about, since I first went there in 1991.
The prices, of course: a Masala Dosa used to cost 12 rupees then, and it cost 75 rupees now.
It was possible to walk in anytime then, but now, especially on weekends, there is a long queue of people waiting to enter. And the single floor has now become three storeys.
Much of the rest is the same: the sambhar, the chutneys, all of that remains. They taste as good as they did twenty years back. Even the faded sunmica, the underfed south  Indian boys, all that is unchanged.
Ofcourse, they do not innovate here.
There is an entire range of South Indian food that is not reflected in Sagar.
The food they serve is the Udipi interpretation of South Indian food, mostly done by a single community, the Bunts (famously, Aishwariya Rai belongs to this community), and is about as authentic and representative of South Indian food as Chopsuey and Chowmein represents "Chinese" cuisine.
I guess I am as contemptuous of South Indian food served in the restaurants in Delhi as a Chinese guy who lands up in Delhi must be of the Chinese cuisine here (Vir Sanghvi christened it 'Sino-Ludhianvi" in those days when he used to write his own articles).
Why? Well, I know enough about atleast Tamilian vegetarian cuisine to know that there two dozen different sambhars in the cuisine, and I keep getting to eat the same one, the "raw coconut sambhar'. Where is the great "vatha Kozhambu"?, the King of Sambhars ? And where is the "Pavakai Pitla", the sambhar made from bitter gourd? Where is the glorius "Morkozhambu", sambhar made with curds?
Where is the "Adai", the multi-grain dosa, which every home in the south makes, once in a while?
Where is the humble "Mor-Mologai", the golden fried chilli, that accompanies curd rice?
Where are the avials, the porichai kootus, the thorans and the "mambazha patchadi"? Where is the "Baghara Baingan", and the "Bisi Bele Baath"? And where is the "Vella Payasam", kheer made with gur?
If Sagar wants to be authentic, they would have these items, commonly found at the tables in Kerala, Andhra Pradhesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Instead, they have peddling the same boring stuff for 30 years, without any new items coming in, and, not surprisingly, most North Indians think they are getting to have genuine South Indian cuisine.
And, what gets my goat is the Rasam sham. Whereas Rasam is generally had with rice, they serve it here in Sagar in a tall glass with an Appalam, and a lot of North Indians really think that Rasam is an appetiser!!
I believe, that in a city full of Lebanese, Japanese, Goan, Korean, Thai, Sri Lankan, American, European, Italian and every-other-cuisine, it is a pity that there is no place which serves genuine South Indian cuisine, reflecting the range and diversity of the food, in an authentic ambience (which South Indian would want his sambhar in a little steel katori, as opposed to being poured out of a huge steel ladle??). Andhra Bhavan used to serve a good South Indian lunch, but sadly, their standards have gone down, even though their breakfast still remains a good option.
South Indian Vegetarians' Paradise? Nah!! More like a fool's paradise....
My search for true South Indian food in Delhi still continues, two decades after I settled here...
PS: I did not order Mineral Water there in the last twenty years, so please excuse me if I do not know if it is sold at MRP there, since some of my readers seem more bothered about the price of the water than the food...