Table for One – Nehru Memorial Canteen, Teen Murti Bhawan
Food lovers’ guide to Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This canteen profile is a part of the Table for One series.
The Raj, Britain’s empire in India, is no more, but its successor, the Nehru Gandhi family, remains. The sprawling mansion of Teen Murti Bhawan, built for the British Commander-in-Chief, was eventually taken up by the anglophilic Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru as his official residence. Today it is a museum striving to sustain the allure of his descendants. Resist the dynasty’s charm and instead ask for directions to the canteen.
The Grand Mansion
The museum canteen, like the museum, (usually) remains as quiet as grave. The surrounding Amrak, Belpathua and Gurbelia trees serves as natural air-conditioners. Occasional sounds are that of peacocks’ call. Chipmunks scurry through the leaves-strewn grass.
It is the canteen’s sunny outhouse, rather than the canteen itself, that is favored by professor-types, research scholars (taking break from their research in the members-only Nehru Memorial library), and museum visitors. Ladies smoke, men gossip, and families sup silently.
Here I became friendly with a lady who had settled in Delhi after working for several years as doctor in Berlin. Each afternoon she drives her Volkswagen from her home in Defense Colony to Teen Murti – just to have chai (served in a kettle with sugar in a separate caddy) in the outhouse. She requested me to keep the canteen a secret (“My only refuge in Delhi”, the lady says).
With apologies to the friend, I heartily recommend the outhouse to readers. Venture inside the canteen premises to re-live the Soviet-era romance (stained tabletops, gloomy lighting, empty shelves, sullen-faced attendants etc.). Popular among the museum staffers, the mood inside is more informal than in the outhouse. I have seen people resting their heads on the table. Always opt for the window seat where the daylight makes the reading experience easier to the eye. (I was carrying Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française in my last visit). Of course, the window also helps in discreet viewing of the beautiful people sitting outside.
The service, despite the lazy ambiance of the place, is quick. Food is ridiculously cheap. The honest thali, with two tawa rotis, rice, karhi, baingan curry, and sambhar was mere Rs. 15. The homely karhi had a smooth, creamy texture. The comforting sambhar pleased the palate with a decided curry-leaf essence as if the cooking pot had been forever on simmer all these years. Do try the elaichi-flavored samosas (Rs. 2) but refuse the accompanying green chutney. It’s slimy. Also avoid the disgustingly-sweet gulab jamuns (Rs.2.50).
Teen Murti House, Teen Murti Lane
Open daily from 9am – 7pm
Lunch Thali, Samosas, Sandwiches
Coffee – Rs. 3
Tea – Rs. 2
Let Me Sleep
The Honest & Humble Thali
Good Chai, Ignore the Gulab Jamun
There’s the Exit