For most people, the state bhavans are limited to the Andhra Bhavan. Everyone raves about the food, the hospitality, the price and how many times they have been there. But there are quite a few others that are worth a visit. Not the Maharashtra one, they don’t have good food.
The Oriya one is good. I have heard good things about the Assam and Goa one. I can’t eat anything at the North Eastern ones and I have had enough litti chokha. Jammu Kashmir used to be very very good until it stopped being hospitable since July. They won’t feed outsiders, meaning the ones that don’t live in the bhawan. But I am sure there are many more that I can go to.
We wanted to start with the Tamilnadu House Canteen or the Tamilnadu Bhawan. They had really bad reviews on Zomato but we wondered how horrible can a dosa be. We reached at around six in the evening, which is not a primary mealtime and entered from the side door on the left, which is not the primary entry. The main dining section was closed as it was too early. A helpful server led us into a small claustrophobic, dirty room with leftover food and plates on every table. And, it was in front of the Gents toilet. Then, someone senior walked in and shifted us to the dining area reserved for residents.
The place was simple as any other govt canteen – reasonably clean, reasonable chairs, reasonable tables, reasonably polite service and reasonable food. Not exactly, we hoped the food would be better. Photoshopped, young, thin, glowing Jayalalita looked on with motherly love from the walls. Nothing could go wrong here.
I craved for the non-veg food. Year round chewing on Punjabi chicken can create an aversion unless south Indian spunky meat intervenes. I was imagining the chicken and the mutton and the curry leaves in my mouth. But somehow, we went for an all out vegetarian meal. If you think I lost in a group vote, there were just two of us.
The food, a little late in coming, finally made it to the table. A south Indian vegetarian thali, a parota (or whatever that south Indian laccha style paratha is called) with side dish and filter coffee. The paratha was good, though, it was a little too thick compared to the best ones I have had but it was good, nevertheless. The vegetable qurma was right on. You will be surprised by the number of restaurants that get it wrong. These guys didn’t and it came with the raita. The whole combo was exactly how my darling south Indian neighbor used to make, but we pushed back the tears and licked the bowls.
The thali looked good. There were enough items on it. It had none of the north Indian substitutes. The rasam was sour and packed a punch. I have had milder versions, but Chennaites swear by the perkier versions. There was this unique bitter gourd dish that we loved the most. It had a spicy tangy gravy that could pull a horse by its nose. It must have been prepared for the mutton or the chicken dishes. But combined with the sourness of the vegetable, it just kept landing punches inside our mouths. We ordered another bowl and it came without a murmur. We also ordered a another round of the kesri halwa and it was served without any side looks, angry growls or an extra row in the bill.
The total bill, including two perfect but light filter coffee, came to some Rs.270 or less. That’s the cheapest meal that one can have in Chanakyapuri, sitting down.
P.S:- Why is the Uttarakhand Bhawan, which is right in front of the Tamilnadu Bhawan, so big, massive, gigantic, gargantuan. It’s bigger than the state guest house of a state three times its size!