6 April 2009

Cheap Dates, or Budget Nights in Delhi

Broke but still intrepid, Trisha Gupta finds an alternative to evenings spent on friends’ terraces. 

(Published in Time Out Delhi, Issue 2. Friday, April 20, 2007)

(A piece I wrote for Time Out Delhi as part of their cover story 'Night City' in 2007.)

The thirty-something couple at the Kolkata Hot Kathi Roll stall look utterly content. The man is tucking into his mutton biryani, while his salwar-kameezed companion munches happily on her single-anda-double-mutton roll. It’s 6.30pm and the 15-odd stalls are doing their usual brisk business at Chittaranjan Park’s Market No 1. Since the evening’s just beginning, we ignore the Rs 40 Bengali thali at Annapurna Hotel and instead sample some of the bread-crumbed delights that emerged from the combined Bengali and British culinary preference for food fried to a crisp. We are spoilt for choice: mochaar chop (made with banana flower), fish chops, mutton or prawn cutlets. We follow this up with some of the best real Bengali sweets in town at Kamala Sweets. To complete the Bengali culture-fest, we head over to Video Palace to drool over the Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak DVDs.

Having sated our senses with sights and smells Bengali, we take an auto to GK-II. Contrary to expectations, M Block Market is a haven for budget-bound drinking: there’s Soul Punjab, Flames and M-52. Tonight, we’re headed to 4S Bar & Restaurant, which lays claim to the longest happy hours in Delhi – from noon to 10.45pm. There are few tables and not the most exciting décor (unless you count the Punjabi “village scenes” on the walls), but at Rs 75 for a bottle of Kingfisher, we’re not complaining.

If you’re in the mood for a movie and don’t want to shell out Rs 150 at a multiplex, head over to nearby Paras cinema at Nehru Place. Settle into a balcony seat (Rs 60) and watch the latest Hindi blockbuster with middle class families from neighbouring colonies. (And if you ever get to Paras on an empty stomach, there’s a little dhaba with red plastic tables to the left of the hall. And there’s a government liquor shop next door. No, we’re not suggesting anything.)

Tonight, however, we’re not in movie mode. Our next stop is a bit further away; Main Bazaar, Paharganj. As we come to a stop in front of New Delhi Railway Station, there can be no doubt: this is where the action really is. All manner of touts, hotel-finders, restaurant waiters and drug-pushers are waiting to sell you your heart’s desire. (And you must desire something, surely, since you’re here?) But it takes all of seven minutes for them to realise we’re not potential customers. Then we’re free to wander down Main Bazaar’s main street, still buzzing at 10.15pm. The place is a treasure trove for silver jewellery, slinky clothes for budget tourists and fashionable but cheap footwear: kolhapuri chappals and embroidered juttis are available at half the Janpath rates. We bought some pretty neat strappy sandals for Rs 150.

We peep into the enticingly relaxed Everest Café where pony-tailed tourists are browsing through their Lonely Planets over coffee. The friendly woman behind the counter offers us chicken momos. But there isn’t a table free, so we move on, only to stop and browse at Jackson’s Books, a tiny stall with an incredible stock of second-hand books left behind by departing tourists.

Heading in the direction of Chuna Mandi, we find the famous Malhotra Restaurant, “highly recommended by Lonely Planet, Rough, Routard and Let’s Go Guide Books”. But we give it a miss tonight, in favour of the surprisingly pleasant rooftop restaurant at Metropolis. We think we’re the only Indians there until we notice the godman (straggly beard, orange kurta, tilak on forehead) who’s here with a firang couple. Stray bits of the conversation waft our way – “Kali is a very angry goddess. How you say, bloodthirsty?” “Did he just say ‘hungry goddess’?” asks my companion mildly. “That’s me,” I say happily, attacking my minute steak.

After dinner, we figure the 9.30pm film at nearby Imperial Cinema should be ending, but no post-film crowd emerges. It turns out the hall screens Bollywood reruns for the princely sum of Rs 20. It’s past 12.30 now, and all the bars have shut shop. So we head to the first “open 24 hours” sign we see – the lobby at Ajay Guesthouse has a billiards table and a German bakery that stays open all night. But you can linger only so long over a slice of date and walnut cake (Rs 35), however large it may be. So at 1am, we finally call it a night.

4S Bar & Restaurant: M-31 GK-II, M Block Market (4166-4317).

Ajay Guesthouse: 5084-A Main Bazaar, Paharganj (2358-3125). Metro New Delhi Railway Station.

Everest Café: 824 Multani Dhanda, Arakashan Road, Paharganj (4166-4317). Metro New Delhi Railway Station.

Flames: First floor, M-61 GK-II, M Block Market (4163-7000).

M-52: M-52 GK-II, M Block Market (2922-5252).

Malhotra Restaurant: Lok Narayan Street, Paharganj, opposite Imperial Cinema (2358-9371). Metro New Delhi Railway Station.

Metropolis: 1634, Main Bazaar, Paharganj, near Imperial cinema (2356-1782). Metro New Delhi Railway Station.

Soul Punjab: M-6 GK-II, M Block Market (6660-6666).

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