Saturday, December 10, 2005

Foodie pretensions

(Further to the Madhuban post)

I’m often asked (online and off) why I don’t work on the food beat. Immensely tempting though this beat is for a feature journalist (you get to sample new restaurants first, make contacts in a very interesting trade, wisely dole out recommendations to colleagues), I’ve never really got into it. There are two reasons for this. One is that when I eat out I want to be able to enjoy the food unconditionally - without having to make mental notes about everything, or worse, tolerate a PR person who points at each dish and announces its name loudly or revises the family histories of the restaurateurs while I’m trying to eat. I don’t like alloying my enjoyment of a good meal by mixing it with work. (As it is, too many other pleasures have gone that route: I still occasionally miss the days when I could read a book or watch a film without the burden of simultaneously composing the review in my head.)

The other reason is that though I think of myself as a foodie in a rough sense (I enjoy experimenting and discovering new foods and am very interested in the provenance and finer points of various cuisines), I’m quite undiscriminating in practice: a meal would have to be truly, deeply god-freakingly-awful for me to say something bad about it. Not a great quality for a restaurant reviewer: I’m always getting up the noses of the many food journos at Business Standard by shrugging and saying a restaurant was good enough when it was apparently very, very bad. (That’s okay though, I’m equally snobbish when they gush about Paulo Coelho or Dale Carnegie, so it evens out in the end.)

And yes, a lot of that lack of discrimination must have come from the mediocre-restaurant food I loved so much when I was growing up, years before Delhi turned into a foodie’s delight.

But it does hurt to have to say no to free meals…

P.S. just to show I’m not all pleb, here are some of my recos for (relatively high-end) eating out in Delhi:

- The Lutyens’ Lunch at Yellow Brick Road: chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and the meltiest cheese ever.

- Fried rice with stir-fried vegetables at Pan Asian: I’m determinedly non-veg, so this reco means a lot more than it sounds.

- Prawn butter garlic at Swagath: it may seem silly but this is one prawn dish I can eat with a spoon straight out of the bowl - in between regular meals!

- Fish cakes at Chilli Seasson: most of the top Thai restaurants do a reasonable job with this starter, but here it’s exceptional.

- And lower-end but delicious nonetheless: the do-rukh seekh kababs and biryani at Indi Spice, in Malviya Nagar.


  1. You REALLY ought to ban comments on this post. Well before you get deluged... how dare you not eat the
    Kathi rolls from Sip'N'Bite on MG Road?

    BTW - have u tried the Honey Chicken at Swagath? Their Chinese food is actually their best kept secret...

  2. Umm yes, I agree with TTG.

    On a similar note, I shall be in Delhi later this month, so ...


  3. The first time I read a review and visited a restaurant was last year. The place turned out to be a dingy garage serving atrocious mallu food. I wrote an indignant mail to the journalist of TOI. I was glad to read this piece from you. I guess it must be a difficult job to do justice to a review with the PR and specially made food for the jounro visit. But a good reviewer is as rare as a good restaurant.

  4. Jai, in my opinion the fluff, sophistry and sheer travesty of facts that is rampant in food journalism is unrivalled in any other beat.

    It is in food writing that there is equal opportunity nonsense all the way from NY Times, The Guardian to TOI and HT. Mostly though it is in writing about relatively unfamiliar cuisines that restaurant reviewers stumble most. I'm always appalled by the mediocrity of reviews in TOI and HT about restaurants serving cuisines like Italian, Greek, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, etc.

    And don't even get me started on Sourish Bhattacharya's wine spiel in HT.

  5. Heh, heh, Paul Coelho and Dale Carnegie-Ia gree with you.

  6. Firstly, banning comments would be useless - think of all the suggestions you'd get!

    Lower-end, supposedly quick bites : Shawarma's at Al-Bake, NFC. Preferable with extra mayo. :D

    Ooh, and I hope the smitten kitten is reading this one- the crispy tangy chicken, a starter, at Flames is lovely. Do try.

    The chicken tikka from Galena is the best I've ever had - supple.

    Message in public interest: the paranthewali gali is sham. Don't waste your time.

  7. Whenever one is asked how the food was, back in my native place, if the food was bad, we have a courtesy answer( our version of tehzeeb in a humourous way though), the rough translation of which would be " Ah! its not proper to say food was bad( or -khane ki cheese ko bura nahin kehte)" can't give the exact translation..

  8. What about the staple Akhtarbhai? Gets better in the winters with the chicken tikka