City Food – Hello to the Queen, Paharganj
Homage to the Queen.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The queen died. Nobody can say with certainty if Hello to the Queen was named after her. Even so, treating yourself to this unusual dessert would have been one of the more original ways to commemorate Elizabeth II’s place in our living history.
In the pre-pandemic era, Hello to the Queen was found only at one place in the Delhi region—the ground-floor café in Ajay Guest House, in the backpackers’ bowels of Paharganj. Since the first lockdown in 2020, the Brown Bread Bakery remained closed for months and months, reopening in April this year. It serves only for a limited hours, and only essentials such as coffee and toast.
Back in the extravagant menu of the old days, Hello to the Queen crowned the café’s extensive section on “Sundaes”—the universally known American banana split was relegated to no. 2. Served in a glass bowl, it consisted of a bed of biscuits topped with vanilla scoops topped with sliced bananas topped with hot chocolate sauce. Within the limited circle of connoisseurs aware of the delicacy, the consensus is that Hello to the Queen was invented in India, and the inventor was a foreign tourist. The fact that the dish is sighted only in backpackers’ hotspots like Pushkar, Rishikesh Manali and Goa supports such an assessment. Furthermore, a travellers’ discussion on the Lonely Planet website tells the story of an “Israeli man in a Pushkar café who, after a long day of enjoying the local charas, began to get the munchies. He asked the waiter to bring him ice cream… with chocolate, and whipped cream, and bananas, coconut, marshmallow and cookies.”
While Paharganj’s Hello to the Queen was full on pomp and splendour in its fancy bowl, it wasn’t a sophisticated dessert. The constituents didn’t come together to create some new classy taste. The dish was too heavy, and it was too much like a school homework to finish it neat. Nonetheless, one hopes for the backpackers to fly back once again in great numbers to Paharganj, so that the aforementioned coffee shop can afford to go back to its menu, and to the queen in it.
Rest in peace