Andhra Bhawan Canteen – Food to be remembered
Post in : Category Must Visits, Raids, Reviews
Andhra Bhawan Canteen – Food to be remembered (Journey to be conveniently forgotten though). 12.30 pm on a May afternoon, the sun had no mercy on the few of us who stood waiting for the rest of the ‘Eatlo’ group at the gates of the Andhra Pradesh Bhawan Canteen. Eatlo is a group of food enthusiasts, who get together at random places and times, to ‘Eatup’ the delicacies that the city has to offer. It is also an online community for food lovers all around the globe. On this particular day, a group of 25 odd had arrived. 15 plates of biryani had been ordered in advance by the experienced Eatlo members who reached early especially for that (Don’t ask why). After many a hunger pangs, thousands of visitors going in looked-at with hatred, and buckets of sweat, we finally decided to shift base inside, or were hoping to, until we witnessed what can not be explained in words. Like a spat chewing gum half stuffed in a pen cap and half spilling out, a crowd of lungis and gajras was stuck at the canteen door, moving ever so slightly en mass every now and then. Within the mass however there was continuous activity. To and fro pushing and pulling, all heads turned one way, towards the inside. To us, standing behind everyone else, only one face was visible. This, I guessed, must be the person trying to keep the mass from bursting into the Bbhawan. Bless his soul. Having our patience tested enough, and with a shield made of the robust Punjabi men in our group, we decided to take the plunge. At this point, each one of us whispered a silent prayer. We pushed, and we sucked our tummies in. And about one lifetime, many bruises, and a near-death flashback later, we found ourselves INSIDE the Bhawan, in the center of the chewed gum, only to realise that we were not supposed to come in yet, we still had half an hour of waiting left….

Members of Eatlo outside Andhra Bhawan Canteen

To save me and my fellow comrades the agony of recalling how we made our way out and then in again, I shall fast forward to when we were finally seated and breathing again. It was a very basic office canteen setting, with not more than a 100 peoples seating available. No more than 2.27 seconds later, the steel thalis had been placed in front of each of us along with the papads. Soon the sabzi-wala and the poori-wala arrived, and the raid had officially begun. Things were rapid. On our thalis, in their particular order, we were served halwa, plain curd, aloo(?) curry, aloo fry, bhindi curry, and yellow daal. We had two bite sized bright pooris served to each one of us, alongside a spoonful of tomato rice. There were also separate bowls of rasam and sambhar for each one of us. And then there was the quintessential boiled rice. This, ladies and gentlemen, comprised their vegetarian thali, priced at INR 90, and each of its dishes was available unlimited at that cost. Apart from this, a number of non vegetarian dishes could be ordered (and they were). These side dishes included ‘Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani’ served with salan and raita, mutton fry, chicken fry, fish fry, mutton curry, chicken curry, fish curry and prawn curry. These were priced per portion, the amount good enough for one person. The Hyderabadi Biryani is a Sunday lunch special, not available otherwise, and the legend goes that it never lasts beyond 1.30 pm. Nothing surprises me about that anymore. In the center of the table was a potpourri of chutneys, bowls of ghee, and the almighty gunpowder. The ritual is to pour some gunpowder onto boiled rice, top it with ghee, shoot your spoon at the nearest visible safe spot and dig your fingers in. For drinks, fountain sodas are available, but you might have to ask 7 times to get them. That about sums up the entire menu available in this crazy little cafeteria.

This is what our thali looked like

The fare in front of me looked great, and I couldn’t help but dive in head first. So how did it actually fare, you ask. To start with, I was freaking hungry. The pooris were soft with the crispy layer crisp(:D). Not overtly thick/ uncooked, as is often the case. The aloo curry(?) was tangy, with a distinct tamarind flavour to it, and nothing that revealed the aloo in it. The aloo fry was in one word, tasty. It was the basic boiled aloo, mashed and fried with onions and rai. The bhindi curry was the interesting standout. Despite what you would tend to think of it by its appearance, and it’s obviously awkward constituents, it surprises you with its taste. The yellow dal was homelike and regular. From what I hear, the vegetarian dishes in the thali are not fixed, and you get a different random set each time. The curd was well set (but warm :( ..). The tomato rice was really good, and with some gunpowder in it, even better! The halwa was the highlight of the day for most vegetarians, with a few having had 3-4 servings of it by the end. The biryani was slightly better than the average. But it was not the traditional ‘Hyderabadi Biryani’ (a.k.a dum biryani or kacchi biryani). In its defence, I must add that unlike most other places where biryani means tandoori chicken pieces placed strategically in between coloured but bland rice, this biryani had tandoori chicken pieces placed in between some very flavorful rice. Also, the chicken was well done and separating the flesh from the bones was not a struggle. Let me add that even if it were, no-one was watching you :D . The raita was a bowl of diluted and spiced yoghurt with chopped vegetables added. The chicken fry tasted good, well cooked (bordering on overcooked), spicy and oily. It reminded me of how chicken curry that had been further dried up on a tawa would taste. The mutton fry had mixed reviews, with me personally really liking it. The others didn’t like how the meat was so chewy. Now to be fair, I must mention that it was not the undercooked chewy, it was the fried and dried chewy. Wonder how many of you would be able to relate to that. The masala of the mutton fry was delicious. The fish fry was average, served with a slice of lemon, well done, but the rub, lacking. Unfortunately, our table supervisor decided to not get us the gravies, about which Sumit Sapra enlightens, “The chicken in the chicken curry was tender and well cooked, the gravy of mutton curry very good, the prawn curry average, and the supervisor great.” You bet. The cola was served just in time to allow a certain member’s ears to have turned a crimson shade of red. Everyone was fully engrossed, with only the top of their heads visible on any occasion, and then suddenly, they all rose up, well fed, licking their respective fingers/lips, burping, and heading to the wash basin. For a minute, I found myself in a fix, with food I was yet to savor calling me on one hand (both actually) and the table supervisor giving me glances every now and then. It was a momentary struggle in my head (/tummy?). No prizes for guessing who won. When I had stuffed in everything I possibly could, I rose with one of those dizzy-headed, weirdly blissful grins on my face. I had finally Eaten-up.

Inside the canteen

WORTH IT is all I can safely say for this place. It definitely deserves a spot on your to-try list, even if you are a hygiene freak/ calorie conscious oddity. Especially because you will digest most of it on your struggle out.
PS : Do you now understand why the order in advance?
Written by Pragati Singh
Email : dr.pragati.87@gmail.com
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