City Hangout - Madan & Festa, Paharganj

City Hangout – Madan & Festa, Paharganj

Two cool cafés.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

No deafening pop, jazz, or Hindi remixes. Nobody chatting loudly, no south Delhi snobbery. So calm and unpretentious, these two cafés. Laid back and moody, here one can actually follow the novel of the day, or indulge in uninterrupted idleness. Both are in backpackers’ Paharganj.

Founded in 1973, Madan Café has seen genera- tions of backpackers—retired hippies in Barcelona, Lisbon etc routinely share their memories of Madan on Facebook. Founded in 2009, Café Festa is more showy, with its framed paintings and farmyard tables. It is too new to produce nostalgia. Madan is in Paharganj’s Main Bazar. Festa is on a side lane, close to Imperial cinema.

While Paharganj is not even a pale version of what it was in the pre-Covid era, these two institutions (along with Jackson’s bookstore) are valiantly keeping its unique quirkiness alive. Stranded among the regulars in any of these two cafés, you sense the illusions of an easy-going world where life is all about Lonely Planet, slouchy dresses, and daring tattoos.

Both cafés keep tables outside on the pave as well. Madan even has a park-style bench (since 2018) overlooking the Main Bazar extravaganza— an unending flow of multitudinous humans, cows, dogs and cats. The street scene from Festa is less hectic; it overlooks a hotel called Cottage Yes Please.

Both places are vegetarian (egg dishes included). The folks at Madan are relaxed about their menu—you can even ask for whatever stuff you want to eat that isn’t in the menu, and they get the fresh veggies to cook the dish from the scratch. Their honey-ginger-lemon tea is soothing. The menu at Festa has all the essentials—pizza, pasta, paneer, Spanish omelette (Paharganj version!) and dal makhani. Plus, they make tawa rotis so pretty looking that you don’t want to tear it to eat. Its espresso is superior to the espressos served in Delhi’s pricey cafés—it is probably the best in Delhi. The masala chai is superb.

On a recent afternoon. a diner in Festa sportingly invited café staffer Anand for a video chat with a friend. See left photo. On a recent afternoon, a longtime Madan regular, Raul from the Netherlands, became an impromptu in-house artist, as he started to paint yellow the borders of the café ceiling. See the other photo.