City Hangout – Basant Lok Market, South Delhi
Once it was happening.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Dry fountain, broken benches, shoe shine boys, doped beggars, stray cows, and palmists making suspicious predictions. Don’t judge Basant Lok Market by its rundown look. In the heart of south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar – home to foreign diplomats – this shopping plaza has a history. India’s first McDonald’s opened here in 1996, as did the first TGIF (now closed). The legendary Priya cinema that screened dirty English movies in the old days is now the flagship property of PVR Cinemas, India’s first multiplex chain. When vodka was first served in a golgappa, it also happened here, at Punjabi by Nature restaurant.
One of Delhi’s most eclectic bookstores, Fact & Fiction, is situated in Basant Lok Market, just opposite Priya’s box office. This store has Delhi’s most curt bookseller; he has a very low opinion of the market. The adjacent Benetton showroom has four levels.
If not for movies or books, come here for food. Homesick western expats used to have freshly-baked croissants and café au lait at Choko La, but it closed in May 2011. They still pick up cheeses, smoked salmon and sliced turkey at Modern Bazaar, the well-stocked supermarket that has presumably every exotic ingredient sold in the western hemisphere.
Sartoria restaurant has good pizzas and risottos, and a long wine list. For desi delights like kebabs and dal makhani, there is always Nirula’s, one of the oldest outlets of this iconic chain in the city. Also try New Delhi Zaika, a small eatery run by a stern old woman who is very rude to her staff; it serves excellent rajma chawal. Then there are shawarma stalls and Chinjabi kiosks selling gobhi manchurian and vegetable chowmein, along with spicy momos and thupkas.
Although the discotheque RPM is noisy and juvenile because of its large school student clientele (it sees more action in the day), Turquoise Cottage, Delhi’s first rock music hub, could be a refuge for those who swear by Lennon, Bono and alternative music artists.
In the evening the market buzzes with people out to have a good time – movies, pubbing, eating out and partying. A few hours later it transforms into a place where people come to be picked up for sex.
While its sheen has paled by the coming of the malls, Basant Lok Market retains its importance as the second best bazaar in Delhi to ogle at the city’s beautiful people. The first is, of course, Khan Market.
Once it was cool
India’s first McDonald’s
The Market’s economy
Shine my shoes
The bookseller of Fact & Fiction
Discount on bones
The way of all flesh
Choosing at Choko La
Here for shopping, or for the movie?