Contributed by Amit Uppal
My love for South Indian cuisine began a few years back at Bangalore, where I tasted real South Indian non-vegetarian fare for the first time at a restaurant called ‘Coconut Grove’, located just behind the main MG road. Before that, all I knew of South Indian food were vadas, idlis, dosas, uttapams, sambhar, and rasam; hated them all. It was Bangalore and Chennai that brought me closer to South Indian cuisine, and made my craving for the food even stronger. Being in Delhi, the best places I could think of for authentic (or close) South Indian food were the state bhawans… and the first name that popped up was Andhra Bhawan.
It was lunch time, and I suggested lunch at the Andhra Bhawan canteen to a few of my colleagues.
As you go straight on Janpath road from Connaught Place, you will hit Ashoka Road. Continue on that and cross the first two roundabouts. Circle the third one, and you’ll see a sign saying “Way to canteen”, next to a signboard for Andhra Bank. Parking may not be easy, as there’s no parking place around. Walk through the gate and a pathway leads you to a seedy looking entrance, where a burly cop frisks you, then lets you in… if you’re not carrying any weapons or incendiary devices.
The interiors were that of a typical canteen with all the standard noise and bustle. Seating and service were coordinated by a heavyset gent who continuously shouted out the order slip numbers for seating diners (try matching his pitch!), which you get at the counter after paying for your meal. There is always a minimum waiting of 15-20 minutes, any day of the week, unless you’re lucky. We weren’t. You might get the feeling you’re sitting somewhere in Andhra Pradesh, because of all the Telugu flying around. All the staff and about 80% of Andhra Bhawan Canteen clientèle belong to Andhra Pradesh. There’s no menu to speak of; a vegetarian thali is the standard offering along with a few non-vegetarian dishes available a la carte.[nggallery id=94]
If you’re a fork-knife-spoon-napkin kinda person, you’ll need to adjust a bit. As with most south Indian states, your fingers replace cutlery. The rule here is – order fast, eat fast, leave fast; there are others waiting.
We were seven people and each of us ordered a thali (Rs 80 each). The thali consisted of Pappu (cooked Redgram lentils with a tempering of onions, tomatoes and curry leaves); Dondakayi Kura (Ivy Gourd, boiled and tempered with spices); Aloo Sabzi (potatoes cooked with spices in a thick curry); Baingan Chutney (a chutney made of eggplant, tomatoes and spices); Pulusu (a slight variation of Sambhar); Rasam (a soupy dish, made of tamarind juice, tomatoes, pepper, curry leaves and spices); Curd; Appadums (Poppadoms); Avakai (mango pickle); Gongura Pickle (Gongura is green/red stemmed leaves, extensively used in the Andhra cuisine); Kandipodi (Dry chutney powder made of lentils); Ghee (clarified butter, compulsory with pickles and kandipodi); Poori (deep fried bread, made of wheat flour) and rice. The dessert was Chakrapongali (made of rice, ghee, sugar, dried coconut pieces, cashew nuts, raisins, cardamom powder, flavored with camphor).
All this was served in a thali (a heavy bottomed, rectangular, sectioned plate). The servers were hovering around with a bunch of containers filled with the dishes and kept asking for a refill, till we exploded. For us carnivores, the place has Chicken Fry, Chicken Curry, Mutton Fry, Mutton Curry, Fish Fry, Fish Curry and Prawn Curry (try saying that in one breath!). We ordered one of each. The Chicken Fry and Curry, Mutton Fry and Curry and Prawn Curry were just great, went well with the rice. Andhra cuisine is predominantly spicy, but the other flavors are just as conspicuous. The Fish Fry was awesome too; the Fish Curry was quite fishy and probably not for most north Indians. Everything in the vegetarian thali was delectable, except the Gongura Pickle, which was a bit too sour and not to my liking. You might like it though.
The food at Andhra Bhawan Canteen is a must-try, and we ended up paying about a 120 rupees per head. I really couldn’t ask for more.