Tried and Tasted: Can food be delicious without onion and garlic? This place has it

Annpurna Bhoj, on Church Mission Road near Khari Baoli in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area is a place that serves great vegetarian food.

The dal, served in a bowl, is the crown of the thhali which comes with five little bowls.
The dal, served in a bowl, is the crown of the thhali which comes with five little bowls.

A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.

Let’s picture a time when Delhi was a quaint little town, when the roads were empty, markets were still to take shape and people were migrating from far and wide to the place they were to call home. Among those who came for trade to the city were people from Rajasthan who, to begin with, left their families behind. They were far away from home and missed their food. So, soon, others joined them from the state who would cook for them. And that’s how the concept of basa – a place where Rajasthani cooks prepared Rajasthani food for Rajasthani traders – took root in Delhi.


The city has changed and the basas have all but disappeared. But in some corners of Delhi, you can still find a basa or two, though they have morphed over the years and have now become bhojanalayas. The food, however, is the authentic vegetarian food of the region – prepared simply, with just a few spices, but with a taste that lingers long after you have dipped the last bit of ghee-soaked roti in your arhar dal.

Annpurna Bhoj is one such place, on Church Mission Road near Khari Baoli in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area. The food, as in some parts of Rajasthan, especially Marwar, is cooked without onion and garlic. You have to eat the food in such places to know how good simple vegetable dishes and dal can taste without the ubiquitous onion and garlic.

Take the arhar dal, cooked with just a few spices. The owner of the bhojanalaya, Rajeev Soni, tells me that they mainly use cumin seeds, asafoetida and coriander to flavour the dal. “We mix a bit of moong dal in the arhar, to ensure that the dal is not very runny or watery,” he says.



A look inside the place. 

The dal, served in a bowl, is the crown of the thhali which comes with five little bowls. Three others have vegetables – a dry veggie dish, a paneer preparation and something like kadhi pakori or aoo chholey or mangori papar in the third. The cottage cheese takes different forms – it can be with peas, with spinach, as little dumplings or koftas, in a creamy rich tomato sauce and so on. The fifth bowl is for kheer in the daytime and raita in the evenings. When a crisp papad is placed in front of you, you know that your meal has come to an end.

The vegetables – seasonal produce such as various kinds of gourds and beans, cauliflower, cabbage, okra so on -- are all cooked with just a smattering of zeera, hing and dhania powder. Aamchoor or dried mango powder lends tartness to a dish, while a pinch of kala namak and tinier pinch of sugar are added to balance the taste, Soni tells me.

There is also a special green chutney – prepared with coriander leaves and mint, with a dash of anaardana (pomegranate seeds), table salt and black salt, cumin powder and ginger, and some boiled potatoes to give the right consistency to the chutney.


And I think I can die for the tawa-cooked rotis there. They are soft, smeared with ghee and come hot off the stove.

There was a time when you sat on durries on the floor in basas and bhojanalayas to have your meal. Tables and chairs took over, and ceiling fans gave way to ACs. But the food is the way it was – wholesome, simple and delicious.

Try it out even if you are a die-hard non-vegetarian – you won’t regret it. I once took a dear friend from Calcutta to this bhojanalaya, and she has not forgotten the meal we had. More than 10 years after we went there together, she still talks about it fondly. As I said, the taste lingers long after the last morsel is gone.
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