Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cafe Tales

This morning, feeling quite blue and in serious need for a pick-me-up, I decided to try the breakfast menu at the Barista cafe on the ground floor of my office complex. It turned out to be surprisingly pleasant, considering that this was the first time I had had breakfast alone at a cafe. Maybe it was the ambience that gave me the calm I needed, the time I needed to collect my thoughts, or maybe it was the delicious food, but I felt great and ready to take on the day and the challenges it may present. Mental note: must do this more often.

On another note, it made me think of the cafes and restaurants that I have frequented in the cities that I lived in or visited.

I used to stay in the university hostels of the University of Delhi, located in north Delhi. Kamla Nagar was an area my friends and I used to frequent. It had its share of inexpensive restaurants specializing in Chinese and Tibetan food, and when the Barista and the Cafe Coffee Day outlets opened, we were a happy lot, spoilt for choice when it came to eating out. Majnu ka Tilla, located near the Yamuna, was another place you could go to if you wanted to taste authentic Tibetan food. In south Delhi, my favorites are Dilli Haat (for its myriad offerings of ethnic cuisine from all over India), South Extension Barista, and New Friend's Colony Community Center for its Shawarma, momos and of course, its cafes.

In Hyderabad, sadly, I didn't explore much of its eateries, but my favorite remains that rooftop restaurant--Koyla on Road Number 1. And my undergrad days in Shillong was a gastronomical delight! Almost every Sunday, I'd lunch at the restaurant in Hotel Broadway and feast on palak paneer (I still think they make the best I have ever tasted!) and chili chicken. There also used to be a chain of restaurants serving authentic Chinese food located all over Shillong-- I think it was called Abba, which had the best momos and fried rice and noodles. Nice ambience too. Then there was Palace, right bang in the middle of Police Bazaar, which served the best samosas and dosas in Shillong. And need I mention the traditional "jadoh" stalls run by locals that dotted every nook and corner of the city? A jadoh stall is a place people go to for tea, but mostly for lunch, and it would have an inexpensive but delicious menu that consists of rice prepared in the traditional Khasi way (more on this later) with traditional chicken and pork dishes and fried seasonal vegetables and lentils. This was a place where people, even strangers, bonded over food and enjoyed the easy camaraderie. I should also mention the Chinese restaurant that's run by my friend Chin-Hai (who's also a biker) in Dhanketi. It used to be called Touches (unless he's rechristened it) and served the best Foo Yong in town! Ahh Shillong, it's a foodie's paradise, with its restaurants and cafes, and I miss it so much.

And my hometown, used to have some nice restaurants back in the nineties. As teens, my friends and I used to wait for holidays or weekends to snack at the Lake View near the Kangla Paat (a moat that surrounds Kangla). It used to serve delicious Chinese food and had a nice view of the Kangla Paat. Sadly, the restaurant has long been closed. A restaurant that has seen the seventies and still serves nice food is Airlines (I wonder why they named it that way). It's located in the heart of Imphal on Mahatma Gandhi Avenue, right opposite my alma mater. After school, we used to go and get strawberry ice-cream from there. It seems my parents used to date there and my mom till date swears by the cutlets they serve there! I haven't been there in a long, long time. My husband says the food is still great (he went there last November to meet his buddies), and the impression I get of the place is that it's become a hang out for men, almost like a male-only watering hole, though when I was a school kid, families and youngsters would go and enjoy a nice cup of coffee there. Another restaurant I still like is Naoba's on RIMS Road, which is frequented by office goers and RIMS hospital staff and students. You can have a decent lunch and hang out with buddies there.
Now, the reason I mention that  is that Imphal doesn't have a great eating-out culture which is really sad. Apart from the places mentioned here, there is hardly any decent place to go relax over a nice cup of coffee. Some other exceptions are the Host and the Hotel Nirmala restaurants. Sure, you can see myriad establishments with the tag "restaurant" or "cafe" in their names dotting the city. However, the horror that greets you on entering these restaurants just isn't worth it. For one, these are usually dimly lit places frequented by drug addicts and couples who want some privacy and is NOT a place to have coffee or snacks with your friends or family. Forget about lunch or dinner at these places! These places have given a bad name to the terms 'restaurant' and 'cafe' and so if you inadvertently mention that you'd like to go to a cafe, people would stare at you. If you have friends from outside the state visiting you, you CANNOT think of taking them to try out these restaurants/cafes. Now, there are rice-hotels and tea stalls, where you can go and have tea and some snacks, but these are the poor cousins of the Baristas and the Cafe Coffee Days of the world. Visit these stalls if you are in for an adventure and like to give/get a taste of the local life. The plus point of these rice hotels and tea stalls is that you can taste authentic Meitei cuisine like "tharoi thongba" (escargot curry) and "tharoi angouba" (fried escargot), paaknum (a salty steamed snack made of gram flour and vegetables tempered with fermented fish) and pakoras and kanghou (fried vegetables) and ooti (a traditional curry made with peas). I long for the time when the cafes of Imphal would clean up their act and become family hangouts and serve ethnic cuisine too.


atreyee said...

fabulous Tani! absolute delight to read your cafe tales..

Deepa Khomdram said...

Che Tani... I too miss Shillong.. No city can ever beat the Shillong fervor :)