Let me take you back a few decades, to a time when Angeethi was a tiny restaurant in South Delhi’s ASIAD complex that consisted of a few tables under a thatched roof.
When it rained, we would have to take our plates and run into the next door Ankur restaurant where there would be a live gazal performance in progress, which I as a kid never appreciated.
If there is one thing that I remember the most about Angeethi it is the sound of Tak-Taka-Tak in the background. Paneer Takatak was a speciality and the chef using his utensils on a hot tava, scraping and mixing the paneer created this lovely little melodious sound which would also be an indication that food was about to be served soon (well, when you heard the taka-tak after about 15-20 minutes of placing the order and provided you did order it).
The Dal Makhani came in second or maybe third after Bukhara and Moets – creamy with the lentils cooked just right – a kadak naan to soak in all the gravies, some seasonal vegetables, and we almost always started with paneer tikka, and a bowl of hot tomato soup with croutons, one into two (one bowl divided into two for us kids).
It was simple North-Indian food done right and at the time, at roughly Rs 500 for a family of four including beer for Dad, good value for money.
Then, on days when we would visit with family friends and some of us had had enough of Indian food we would go up to the first floor to the aptly named Chinese (Indian Chinese) restaurant, Chopsticks. American Chop Suey with the crunchy noodles and friend rice was a favourite and we would devour it with our mothers while our fathers, who would only have Indian food, sat down in Angeethi to have their beers and naans.
We always got special treatment at Angeethi. The staff knew us and we wouldn’t have to wait even on days when there was a huge line of people standing outside to grab a seat. It wasn’t till much later that I found the real reason for this; apparently when my father and his friend would visit Angeethi they would but obviously have beer and often would buy an extra bottle or two and leave it for the staff to have after their shift. It was a simpler time of no huge taxes and service charge and the staff preferred the beer bottle over a tip (which they also got). This meant that we got that “special” kadak roti and the food was almost always top-notch.
The service had been all smiles to start with, but extra attention was paid to our table for things as simple as refilling the chopped raw onions as soon as the earlier plate was about to finish.
Then, things changed. Slowly the place became covered and soon enough air-conditioned. A water feature was added if I remember correctly and Angeethi although now was all-weather friendly, it lost a little bit of the old-world-charm that we so loved about it. There was a time when we would be visiting Angeethi once or even twice a week, and that it was about five minutes away from our house by car (no traffic back then) was what made it such a success for our home.
We moved to Gurgaon in the late 1990s and our visits decreased to maybe once a year (it’s not even that now). With a more professional approach to the restaurant it lost the casualness that we so loved.
The food also changed as it not only became much more expensive but lost its flavour. To be fair, I haven’t been to Angeethi in a good 7-8 years now, and I do hope that some of the older tastes have been revived, but whether it was the latter experiences that left a bitter taste or maybe the chefs changed and as the menu became more updated and fancy, the food became less of a priority. No longer could I hear the soothing sound of the Taka-Tak the last time I was there, enclosed in this glassed shell that I must agree was cooled and a saviour for hot and humid days.
This isn’t a review of the restaurant because it would not be right on my part to comment having not been to Angeethi for this long, and there is a good probability that changes would have taken place over the years.
I don’t even remember what brought about this post. Memories can be funny, as something the slightest mention of an episode can bring back association with a particular place and easily dig-up these memories.
Maybe, just maybe, I came across a packet of Fatafat, those little black balls of goodness in yellow and black packaging that we would buy from the Paan shop right outside Angeethi while our parents had the Meetha and Teekha paan, and who can forget those special days where we were allowed to have a meetha paan.
Angeethi for me is a part of my childhood, a fond little memory, and sometimes when people, places, and foods that we so loved change (Nirula’s is another example), it hurts a little, emotionally more than physically, because we all want to keep our past alive and cling on to whatever we can.
My kids now have no clue about Angeethi, they know about Pizza Hut and McDonald’s but the allure of visiting the same place, one that you love, again and again and getting to know the people who work there is slowly dying with so many new places coming up every day.
I do hope to change that, and have started visiting some places, that we all enjoy as family, repeatedly, in the hope that one day my kids too can have a few memories that revolve around food they ate with their parents while growing up.