Friday, July 10, 2015

A Lota Good Food

You know how there are some special memories that get associated with certain places. For most people, it’s a place where they shared a beautiful moment with a loved one. I wish it were like that for me too. It’s just that my son of a beach brain has taken upon itself to associate the most ridiculous things with every goddamn place that I visit. For example, on my visit to Patiala last year, I stayed at a hotel called the Eqbal Inn. Now just to exhibit how exquisite the hotel was, the concierge told me about how Patiala is the Bombay of Punjabi movies and just the week previous to my visit, Emraan Hashmi had been staying on the same floor as me. His intention could have been to make me feel like a Bollywood star; except, I chose to sleep in full pyjamas for the four days that I was there, not wanting to touch any part of my body on the same bed on which Mr. Murder may have massaged his naked chest vigorously a week before.

Similarly, Pragati Maidan used to elicit in me a feeling of the nice Book Fair until a person by the name of Salman Khan decided to look like a total eunuch and dance on that pristine building to a song called Lagan Lagan Lagan Lagan Lagan Lagan Lag Gayi Hai in 2003, earning the love of everyone with an extra long nail on the pinky finger. I continued to visit the Book Fair year after year, but my hopes of bumping into someone with long and silky hair, making all her books fall and then picking them up for her while she fell in love with me died a miserable death. I would bump into people, of course, but all that would fall were the fliers to Rapidex English Speaking Course, and the long silky hair bore resemblance to nothing but Radhe Bhaiya’s tresses from Tere Naam.

However, not a very long time ago, I happened to visit the Crafts Museum at Pragati Maidan and everything changed. At the entrance of the museum is an army of terracotta horses and elephants, all of them with perfectly circular holes strategically placed at biologically correct parts of their bodies: more specifically, at places like the anus. Some of the cavalry and the elephants, though made of mud, look so overjoyed that you’re forced to wonder what could cause such immense happiness. You wonder if the amusement is because a number of these statues have boob like structures on the top of their heads, but a glimpse across the courtyard gives you the answer in the name of a café.

Café Lota, the open air, bamboo covered eatery at the Crafts Museum, justifies its name perfectly with its ambience and menu. While the “Lota” reminds you of the country folk walking towards the fields in the morning, adding to the manure, the “café” says that it is equally inviting to those with blonde hair and Ganesha tattoos. You understand its personality when you notice that it chooses to use desert coolers instead of AC’s, but still invests in pristine white bone china, plated with aplomb.

The ambience aside, what really sets Lota apart is the menu. I remember how during my first visit to the café in January this year, I was perfectly in time for lunch. Expecting to order myself a Dal Makhni, I flipped through the menu page-by-page to notice names like Ragi ki Roti, Kamal Kakdi Raita, Katthal ki Biryani and Matar Parantha: words that I could only imagine my mother pronounce in her over-ambitious attempt to make her children have some veges. While everything seemed equally difficult to choose from, I settled for a dish which was described as being accompanied by “bhang ki chutney”. Wanting to make sure that it was exactly what I thought it meant, I called on the waiter to confirm. “Bhang ki chutney?”, I asked while holding an imaginary glass on my head and a drunken smile. “Bhang ki chutney”, he nodded with a smirk; and I knew that the place was worth trying everything it had to offer.

While the drinks range from Aam Panna to the Kesari Lassi and Roohafza Milkshake, the appetizers boast of names like Dal ka Chila and Palak Patta Chaat. My usual order is the Sabudana Popcorn and Mushroom Cheese Uttapam with the Bel ka Sharbat, but that in no way undermines the quality of anything else that you may choose to order. As the café brings unheard of dishes from various corners of the country to your table, you realize how little we know about the cuisines of India; and how having had Dal Baati Choorma or Doodh Jalebi doesn’t qualify in making us experts on Indian food.

If you think serving Ragi Banana Pancakes for breakfast is creative, you should wait for the dessert menu, in which the chef, Rahul Dua, has put more than his soul. Even though I’m not too big a fan of the Bhapa Doi Cheesecake, the Mango Cream Golgappas and the Apple Cinnamon Jalebi have won Mr. Dua a soft spot in my very heterosexual heart. The Jalebi is made of thinly sliced apples fried in a syrupy batter, sprinkled with cinnamon and served with coconut rabri. It comes closest to my otherwise favorite version of the Jalebi, being the Aaloo Jalebi that you get only in the small village of Govardhan in Uttar Pradesh.

Glad that this place now tops my list of places to go to on a first date, I thought it would be wise to read more about the café and keep some trivia ready for an interesting date. In the process, I happened to stumble upon chef Rahul Dua’s photograph on the Forbes’ website and my life suddenly has a rainbow Instagram filter. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and now I wonder if there’s any other Jalebi that this chef likes to eat.


I also asked my dear friend Uzair to write a review for Lota, where we recently caught up over a meal, and he very happily obliged. Over to food critic, Uzair Siddiqui :)

If you have ever found yourself sauntering through Fort in Bombay, the Jehangir Art Gallery will be a place you recall with ease. And if, like me, you were cash-strapped at the time, you would have developed a roaring friendship with Samovar Café. Keema paranthas and tea- doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Things like these have long been possible in Bombay. There are small, no-frills eateries dotted through most neighbourhoods that you wouldn’t mind going to if you’re on a budget. Delhi is different in that sense. There is way too much stratification and it resonates in things as unseemly as food.

Café Lota at the National Crafts Museum in Pragati Maidan is one of those rare places that appeals to Delhi despite being a great leveller. A well-curated menu from different parts of the country inspired by fresh, seasonal produce has not been a very successful format in the past- especially when we’re talking about meals under five hundred rupees. 

The bravado of Café Lota lies firstly in its location- open air dining in the heart of the city, inside a museum. When did that ever work? Secondly, Chef Rahul Dua is nothing short of smart in his menu choices. He comes across as rather inquisitive. Mutton salli boti, beetroot bhaja moshla from Orissa and mushroom utthapam are not at all mainstream options. And yet, they sing.

In the last eighteen months, I have been to Café Lota countless times (owing to my undiagnosed disposition of eating through entire menus) and I can safely tell you that it is one of the most heart-warming places I have been to. There is tons of nostalgia to be found on the menu- from bel (wood apple) sherbet to Amrtisari fish with sweet potato chips, molgapodi mini idlis to palak patta chaat- and the place delivers with bags of flavour. What is even more interesting to note is Dua’s conviction of highlighting regional ingredients in easy recognisable formats. The popular Kannada ragi (finger millet) flour finds itself transfigured into pancakes with bananas and amaranth seeds, sabudana (sago pearls) come in the form of fritters with a spicy Marathi thecha chutney, while cult superfood quinoa is rendered as an upma.

Dessert at Café Lota is a fun territory too. We recently had golgappas stuffed with mango and a touch of cream (as if the theatrics of golgappas weren’t enough, now there’s an equally enticing sweet alternative). Or go for the apple jalebis finished with a whiff of cinnamon and rabdi. As they say the proof is always in the pudding, and at Café Lota, the jalebis are clean and crisp.

Things to try
Breakfast- Ragi & Banana Pancakes, Molgapodi Idli
Lunch & Dinner- Pondicherry Fish Curry, Varangi Bhaat
Please come back already- Mushroom Khichdi, Chicken Ghee Roast with Ragi Appam


Image Source:,,

None of the pictures belong to me and I found them all on Google Images. If a picture belongs to you and you want me to take it down, please let me know and I will.


  1. @@@@

    I'm already drooling while sitting in my office in Mumbai!! It's in my bucket list when I next visit Delhi :)

    1. Oh you must. In fact, you should tell me when you plan to visit. I'll take you along. We shall invite the other peeps from college too. Not kidding.

  2. I'm a vegetarian and I avoid eating at outlets that serve non-veg too. It's like the place has bad karma to be cooking meat & that also means their veg stuff isn't good. But palak chaat was extolled by food critic vir singhvi & jalebi apples have always been there,so it's not new. Try chinese bhel too.
    Lota is too far to be on my radar. Plus,if I'm dining out,I don't want to ruin my experience by trying new dishes that are a flop & I have to pay for them nonetheless.But how often do you dine out and what about sagar ratnas & pind baluchis & their stuff?

  3. Two things:

    1) I finished reading this and it instantly reminded me of your post, given how eerily similar our idea about bumping into members from opposite sex and sweeping them off their feet has been, wrt to Book Fair, only to be wiped by Radhé Bhaiya's antics. This was deeply saddening, much more than what Tere Naam did to my fond memories.

    2) Café Lota has restructured their menu, yet again (third time now, I've been told). Unfortunately, it's no longer the place with the food I ever so fondly think about while cooking (again versions of friends). However, it's got the charm in place.

    1. I hope they've brought Kaanji to the menu. The only restaurant I know to have Kaanji is the Country Inn in their Sunday Lunch Buffet Menu.

      Will you please do a guest post on Kaanji for the blog? I loved your Cinnamon Toasties one.


If you had 5 Jalebis, how many would you give me for writing this post?

None = You don't deserve any >:O
@ = Soggy and stale! :(
@@ = Stale! :|
@@@ = I'll need a samosa to digest this with! :P
@@@@ = Sweet and Crisp! :)
@@@@@ = I'm opening you a Halwai Shop! :D