Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mallu Joints at INA

Thankfully, the latest spasm of 'civilisation' intended for INA Market has yet to materialise. Recent demolition initiatives seem targeted only at illegal encroachments, which is actually laudable. Nonetheless, it does raise significant issues. Delhi has a history of riding roughshod over its cultural heritage. They did it with the Kabaadi Bazar behind the Red Fort and the Phatphati (or motorcycle rickshaw); they all but installed a fountain near Dariya Khan's tomb; what they will do to old markets like INA I shudder to think. It was a fortuitous coincidence, then, that my stomach led me to INA on February 16, just a week or two before the demolitions started.

My jaunt there had what must be the least likely of beginnings for a food adventure. This organisation called the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW) had asked me to give a talk on a particularly dreary subject, the laws relating to prostitution and immoral trafficking in women.

I reached the venue (Gandhi Peace Foundation, near ITO) with a whopping sore throat. Downing several cups of tea didn't help much. For that matter, three straight hours of explaining abstruse points of law to a novitate audience didn't help much either. I came out drained both physically and mentally, my throat hurt like hell, I couldn't speak above a whisper, and so I decided I wanted a special treat for lunch.

Alas, the ITO area proved a singular disappointment. A cursory looksee yielded nothing more interesting than the usual Chhole-Bhature or Idli-Dosa, which I was just not in the mood for. Even the day was gloomy - a cold, mildly drizzly February afternoon.

Then a 502 dawdled by, the way private buses tend to do. (NB: The one interesting thing about the 502 route is that INA Market falls on its route.) It rekindled memories of the many Malayali eateries INA's famous for, and I decided that was exactly what I wanted. A short sprint and running jump later, I was on my way.

Arrived at INA, I selected the least pretentious-looking joint I could discern, reasoning that the food there must be pretty good to compete with the snazzier places. It was typical of low-scale eateries found down South; soot-stained walls, bench seats and all - didn't even have a name or a signboard.

Despite it being a weekday, the place was jampacked. I shared a table with a very sweet family. Gentleman wiry, thickly moustachioed, and perpetually smiling; the lady quiet, with twinkling eyes; and their toddler looking bored and generally not interested in the food. They had two full steaming thalis in front of them. In addition, Hubby ploughed through a plate of chicken curry, while the wife demolished a fried fish with unholy gusto.

Me, I confined myself to beef curry and Appam, the way I used to back in Bangalore. Explanatory note: Appams, also called hoppers, are pancake-like things made of fermented rice-flour. They are fried in tiny little Kadhais, called appachatti, which gives them their distinctive shape - thin and crispy on the outside, and thick and spongy near the centre.

My order took its time to materialise, about twenty minutes. Given the crowds present, though, it was neither surprising nor deplorable. The food itself was your robust Mallu fare. Reasonably priced, fairly if not spectacularly tasty.

The meat was on the chewy side, but flavourful. The gravy was thickened with coconut, and generously flavoured with pepper. Admittedly not to everyone's taste, but ideal for a sore throat, what the hell. The waiters displayed an endearing propensity to stroll over every few minutes and top up my bowl with gravy. I finished three Appams and still had a bit of gravy left over in the bowl.

And oh yes, the Appams were best part of the meal. They were made just the right way. The outer parts were crispy, and yet melted in the mouth. Bits broken off from the fleshy middle were ideal for mopping up the gravy.

I spent thirty-two Rupees for the meal, and was quite satisfied. All in all, a good experience.


Smith said...

where in INA is this joint? i've been to only one place that calls itself the "malabar food plaza" which is also very good...this is the lower section of the market, closer to the AIIMS flyover and is air-conditioned!!...would love to try out your nameless joint though.

Abhik Majumdar said...

Difficult to describe. This one's also close to the southern (AIIMS) end of the market, but then, so are almost all the Mallu eateries in the area. If you're interested, do get in touch with me, and we could organise another expedition. What say?