The Andhra Bhavan canteen, almost synonymous with its luscious mutton fry and Sunday special Hyderabadi Biryani, showcases a rustic cuisine local to the state.
No wonder,it is always full to the brim, like a bustling fish marketand is readily accepted by the local population of New Delhi.
One is encountered with a serpentine queue as soon as one enters the canteen and is greeted with sulphury and burnt odour of curry leaves combined with that of meat. The queue leads to the cash counter where visitors place their order and await space a table. The service is always table-specific.
Once seated, a plate is placed on the table which has seven sections and one can eat as much as one wants.
The look and feel of the place aptly depicts a government-run canteen – humble and little to no décor. The canteen offers a meal at subsidised rates for the people in transit, who stay in the guest rooms.
This results in this place witnessing large crowds and long queues during meal times.
However, delicious food and efficient service conquer all difficulties.
While waiting in the queue, one can hear few frequent visitors suggesting chicken and mutton fry to their friends, who are probably first-timers, while they steal glances at those devouring their thalis to the last morsel.
“We keep coming here every month, sometimes twice a month, because of the outstanding food at such affordable rates. The first time we visited, we were blown away by the flavours that we are usually not used to, such as the combination of spices with curry leaves. That one visit eventually became a habit that we don’t regret,” said Monica, a visitor waiting at the far end of the queue.
It was already 2:45pm and there were atleast 60 people waiting to place their order on a Friday afternoon for lunch.
“There is almost always waiting here. But on weekends (Saturday and Sunday), the line reaches the main entrance (approximately 100 metres from the canteen),” said a staff member.
The canteen timings are 8 – 10 am (breakfast), 12 noon – 3 pm (lunch) and 7:30 – 10 pm (dinner).
There are some procedures in place, mainly to handle the large crowds in a swift and efficient manner. On entry, payment has to be made in advance. Payment is per head for the basic vegetarian thali which includes rice, poori, pappu (yellow dal), sambar, rasam, two kinds of vegetables, curd, papad (limited to one only), one sweet dish and a few accompaniments which includes dry chutney, pickle and ghee.
For non-vegetarian side dishes, there are mutton fry, chicken fry/curry, fish fry/curry. Mutton, chicken, fish and prawns are available in both curried and dried form. These are really spicy. Portion is limited, but good enough for one person.
The dry non-vegetarian items are the most sought-after, along with Sunday Biryani.
Additional requirement of side dishes have to be paid for. The menu for lunch, dinner and breakfast is different.
There are four rows of tables, each with its own supervisor and an army of waiters filling your plates as soon as they are empty. The plates are designed to hold limited quantity of everything. Probably to reduce food wastage.
The restaurant is a fast-food and quick-service outlet that serves traditional south Indian cuisine. It offers a variety of dishes such as egg podima, idli, dosa, vada, upma, pongal, and biryani (the availability of the items are subject to the time of the day such as breakfast/lunch/dinner).
Podi (gunpowder) with ghee comes complimentary on the table and can be had as much as one wants. The podi is usually a little milder than regular and goes excellent with the sides. The Andhra podi has its own set of loyal fans.
The restaurant also serves a variety of beverages like lassi, buttermilk, and coffee and has a pleasant ambience and friendly staff. The food is freshly prepared and served hot. It also offers take-away and delivery services.
“We are usually packed during lunch time and serve atleast 400-500 people during the day. People love the chicken and mutton fry especially and our Sunday special Hyderabadi Dum Biryani is a big hit. Our Rava Kesari is also loved by customers,” said Venu, manager of the canteen, chuckling about the “secret ingredient” in Rava Kesari.
Besides being a great place to enjoy a delicious and authentic south Indian meal in its canteen, the Andhra Bhavan also offers a wide range of snacks and food items that can be bought at the stalls right outside the entrance of the canteen.
The food preparation is a generous use of Andhra spices. The tinge of spices remains on your plate for some time. Andhra Bhavan restaurant is all about consistency, which is a remarkable achievement considering the quantity of food they have to cook every day.
Located in the proximity of India Gate on the Ashoka Road, a narrow lane leads one to the canteen. There are two entrances to Andhra Bhavan – one has a parking inside (visitors to the restaurant cannot park inside) and the other is prominently marked with the board of a bank.