A brush with kadhi-chawal: the history behind Delhi's Triveni Terrace Café

The Triveni Terrace Café in New Delhi is a haven for art aficionados and foodies alike

Usually, design defines a space. Sometimes, a personality shapes a space. Rarely do design, persona and space come together to create a beautiful confluence. Triveni Kala Sangam is one such place. The brainchild of Sundari K Shridharani, it is a result of her struggle as an artist, which made her envisage a space for artists to display work, perform and teach.

So charmed was Joseph Allen Stein with her panache and perseverance, that he designed the place for free. He shaped the brick and mortar in keeping with her ideas, and even today, the place runs on the same ethos. The auditorium and gallery are rented out to artists at modest prices and classrooms are home to 12 disciplines of performing arts.

Triveni Terrace Café was unplanned, but happened naturally and became a popular hub. So popular that Shridharani, much to her consternation, would discover that after giving a tour of the place to visiting journalists explaining her objectives, they would feature the Café more prominently than anything else.

A brush with kadhi-chawal: the history behind Delhi's Triveni Terrace Café

Despite this popularity, it is to Triveni’s credit that they have not promoted it to their advantage. It still is a place where people can eat good food at very reasonable prices, while soaking in the environment.

True to its culture, no customer is nudged to leave or disturbed, if he wishes to stay. The Café, with its competitive pricing, also made art more accessible. Anyone walking in can see various artists’ work on display.

A refreshing take

The Café began to service the Institution in 1963. A little cart vendor offered tea or coffee initially. Then Puran Acharya, who was close to the art fraternity, offered to run the canteen.

She started the popular snacks here: pakoras and cutlets, served with chai and coffee. A couple of years down the line, by the mid-60s, she was offering lunch as well.

Lunch was traditional Punjabi fare of hearty parathas, kebabs, palak paneer and kadhi chawal. The aloo parathas and kebabs soon developed cult status, and today are a part of the ‘heritage menu’.

The Terrace Café soon became the place to hang out; an ‘adda’ for artists. It was frequented by MF Hussain, Krishen Khanna, Vivan Sundaram, Pandit Ravi Shankar, ambassadors and Stein himself. With no other option except the Indian Coffee House, the who’s who descended. However, in a testament to its discretion, the Terrace Café has never displayed any photo of any celebrity eating there. For them, everyone was and is equal.

In the 80s, it was taken over by Kamala Ranjit Rai. Later, Minna worked on the menu, introducing carrot cakes which became very popular. The menu remained the same with some twists. In true canteen style, the place closed in the evening with no dinner.

New beginnings

In 2012, Shridharani passed away, and later Rai’s family also wanted to move on with their business, without having to concentrate on the canteen. Finally, The Melting Pot Food Company, who run Café Lota at the Crafts Museum and Roots Café in Gurgaon, took over.

The Terrace Café is housed at the far end of Triveni Kala Sangam. It is an unpretentious, non-air-conditioned place, with limited seating indoors and an open patio in a terrace-like environment, overlooking the open air theatre. The new team has not only energised the space, but also made it more contemporary, attracting a younger generation of diners and artists.

Udit Maheshwari, chef-manager at Terrace Café, says, “We modernised the kitchen, which was more of a home kitchen. We also introduced dinner from 6 pm to 9 pm and now are open on Sundays.”

On the cards

The food is delicious, portions are substantial and prices so affordable that patrons eat here four to five times a week.

Maheshwari elaborates, “We have retained the heritage menu and added some new dishes. We fine-tuned the original menu of parathas and kebabs as well. There is mint-flavoured nimbu paani, parval kebabs, pumpkin kebabs, thate idli topped with ghee, and roasted chicken which is a huge hit. The Kashmiri tarami — mini wazwan vegetarian, served only for dinner as thali, includes dum aloo, yellow paneer, khatte meethe baigan, mooli and akhrot chutney, and lotus stem crisps with rice. Ragi bread sandwich is a new addition and very popular.”

Any cajoling for the recipe for the vegetarian kebab only elicits this princely gem from Maheshwari: “The pumpkin kebabs are made with ripe pumpkins and chilka moong, while it is mattar and parval in the parval kebabs.” The dessert section includes a cake topped with aam papad and served with raw mango chutney; the beetroot halwa and gur kheer are also must-tries.

    In this weekly column, we take a peek at the histories of some of the country’s most iconic restaurants

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    Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 2:03:07 AM |

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