It's cut to cut, but Sai Food in Old Delhi provides a fulsome meal.
There was a time not so long ago when you could go to one of the many small eateries in Old Delhi and have a meal there. The Marwari community had something called a basa, where people who had left their homes in far-away Rajasthan for business could get food the way it was cooked in their own kitchens.
Now, of course, you hardly ever get to see a basa anywhere. And that I think is a real pity – for the Marwari food that they offered was authentic, and excellent.
In fact, it's not just the basa, but the small restaurants where you can have a full and satisfying meal have almost vanished from the area. There are a few well-known places still — such as Shakahari and Adarsh in Chandni Chowk. But most of the other eateries there now only serve snacks.
You can throw a stone and hit a kachori or a bedmi stall, but you can't find too many places where you can sit — or even stand — and have your rotis and sabzi.
Then, some days ago, a friend went to Chawri Bazar and came back with the news that he had had his lunch at a small place which made some simple and tasty food, Then, of course, I had to go and try it out.
The place is called Sai Food. If you start walking down Chawri Bazar from Hauz Qazi, you'll soon find it on the left.
It is a small place, with counters on which the food is served. You have to stand and eat, so it's not a place for those who want to dawdle over a meal and round it up with a leisurely coffee and a cigarette. You go to Sai Foods, eat, and then leave.
The menu is limited. For Rs.35, you can have a choice of a vegetable curry (out of three options), a dal, a raita and your choice of rotis.
The day I was there, the three main dishes were paneer, chholey and cauliflower. I asked for paneer, which I think was a wrong decision.
The chholey, in hindsight, would have been better. The paneer had a sweetish taste to it, which made me think that they had doused it with some kind of a sauce. The mixed dal was good — it was a lighter dal makhni, without the spices.
The rotis were excellent. I asked for a stuffed nan and a missi roti. The nan had been filled with pitthi — or ground lentil — and the missi roti was nicely crisp. The food came with some shredded radish, onion and a tart chutney. It was a good meal and I enjoyed it. But I don't think I should have eaten the raw vegetables, for I had a bit of a dismal time that evening. But the food, indeed, was lightly cooked, and rather tasty.
What's good to know is that you can still find a little place in Purani Dilli, where you can have a full meal. And 35 bucks is a steal.
But, then, Old Delhi always manages to surprise you.