Rush for taste of Orissa in Delhi

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 22.07.10
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New Delhi, July 20: Orissa’s reluctant politician, the reclusive chief minister Naveen Patnaik, is known to be fond of tea and snacks from the Orissa Bhavan canteen here. But the frugal eater that he is, Naveen mostly sticks to roasted kaju, an Oriya favourite. Otherwise, he prefers homemade food in the relative anonymity of his plush Lutyens’ bungalow at 3, Aurangzeb Road.

The Governor also has a suite in Orissa Bhavan, but again, he rarely uses it as incumbent Murli C. Bhandare also has a house in Delhi. The bhavan is where the Oriya celebrities stay during their forays into the capital. But its canteen is closed to the public. A halt at the more accessible Oriya Niwas canteen, however, is a must for Oriya hoi polloi passing through Delhi, if only to feel at home.

Every Oriya politician, actor, writer and artiste worth his salt has visited the place. Actor-turned-director Prashant Nanda has been here and so are star couple, Uttam Mohanty and Aparajita. Jatin Das, the famous painter, and the legendary Hariprasad Chaurasia, known for his mastery over flute, are some of the many who have enjoyed their repast here, said catering in-charge Debasish Rautray. This is possibly the only place in Delhi, apart from the Jagannath temple in Hauz Khas, where you get authentic Oriya food. The two canteens are run by the state Home department. If the temple is the cultural hub of the non-resident Oriyas, the Orissa Niwas canteen is the culinary attraction for them.

Another popular joint (a private food chain Dalma) in Delhi Haat, south of the national capital, has just shut shop, unwittingly leaving this place as the only showcase of standard Oriya fare, though of very limited items.

“The Delhi Haat stall will re-open in a few weeks. The contract has been handed over to Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC),” manager of the canteens Biplab Pradhan said.

Till then, the Orissa Niwas canteen is the only place in Delhi, where you can aspire to tickle the Oriya palate. On its menu are: par-boiled rice, chappatis, channa dal, saag (with a garnish of garlic), ghanta (assorted vegetables with a smattering of chana) and mashed potatoes served with a dash of mustard oil. Fish, an Oriya staple, is also available.

Fish a (curry) and fries are a major draw here on weekdays. Saturdays have a mustard-paste seasoning fish and thinly-diced karela dipped in rice flour fry. Prawn and crab curry are available, if an order is placed a day before. The food is a big hit with Oriyas here.

“It is not very popular among non-Oriyas (read north Indians), who are used to more spicy fare,” said Deba Mohapatra, who supervises the Niwas canteen. But the food seems to be a hit with those from Bihar and Bengal, who share the Oriya fondness of mustard paste and mustard oil. A standard thali costs Rs 35, relatively modest as per Delhi standards.

A special thali is priced at Rs 70, a plate of chicken at Rs 35 and mutton at Rs 50. The only hitch — there are no sweets on the menu. It’s very difficult to find an expert to make them, Biplab said, regretfully. “We have tried to find one, but have not got anyone so far,” he said. “However, we do supply kheer and malpua at a day’s notice.”

The state government should pay a little more attention to improve the canteen, said a regular at the joint. Such simple and limited costs do not befit a state, which is a veritable foodie’s delight, the regular said.

“The state’s culinary traditions are steeped in its temples, traditions and mythology. Where are the chennapodas (ultra-soft Oriya cheesecake liberally sprinkled with raisins and kajus) and the rasogollas?” he wondered.

However, catering in-charge Debasish said, “It would happen very soon.”