City Hangout – Sidewalk Cafés, Lado Sarai
New wave in the village.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Three coffee drinkers perched on street-side chairs, on the pave. Their arms are swaying up and down with the passions of an animated chatter.
This could be a scene on Paris’s Boulevard Saint-Germain, at the Deux Magots, the café where Simone de Beauvoir would sit with Jean-Paul Sartre.
But this is Lado Sarai, a village close to Delhi’s Qutub Minar. The road here is bumpy. One shop is selling car tyres. An exhausted delivery man is lying flat outside a courier office. The air is laden with dust.
Further ahead, this same road has designer studios — but that’s old story. The new thing about Lado Sarai is the increasing visibility of cool sidewalk cafés, a pandemic era development as suggested by an eatery owner. The one mentioned above—the nattily named Chai Kortyard—was established last year. A classroom-style black board, set on the road-facing wall, gives out the entire menu. A smaller board declares chicken bun omelette and watermelon cooler as today’s special.
The lane has more such places. Shail Foods has a table for two on the pave, shaded over by a garden umbrella. Two folks are sharing a sandwich from a disposable plate. Zantama has dak-bungalow style mooras on the sidewalk. A passerby is temped to sit on the moora with a glass of chocolate shake (90 rupees) and watch the Lado Sarai street life, which despite these new adornments remain firmly entrenched in its laidback rusticity. Such as of an elderly tai carrying a tobacco-filled chillum in her hand. Nearby, is a meeting hall for the village men, with string cots, hookahs, and the portrait of a turbaned patriarch.
The pavement joints suggest that Lado Sarai is experimenting more seriously with gentrification. It will be a dream destination if the longtime traditions of the village don’t become a touristy showcase. And the hangouts don’t get too modish.
One joint that encapsulates the new promise of Lado Sarai is the modestly named Chai Stall. It doesn’t have tables outside but that is its trump card. In a city where almost every chai stall is set outdoors, this one is inside a spacious room, with uniformed staffers stationed behind the counter. Chai is for ten rupees, and noodles for 25 rupees. The place is hushed with quietude. Just the place for Sartre to carry on chatting with de Beauvoir.
Sartre in Sarai