Food in JNU is a way of life. With the hostel messes churning out quantities of bland, boring and essentially banal food for the lesser mortals, the heart of the glutton roams around the dhabas and the canteens in search of solace. Thankfully, JNU does not disappoint these haunted souls and stomachs.
· LAMB DRY AT KIECHHA
This is a cozy Tibetan joint located in the KC Market. Overlooked by a photograph of the Dalai Lama, the place can host only 14 people at a time, but the food is quite lovely. For us, the residents of the Sutlej Hostel, it’s practically our out-house kitchen! The place specialises in lamb and serves several less know dishes. Take Fouyangs for example. These are pancakes made with noodles and egg, chicken or lamb, as the preference of the customer might be. Shafali are lamb or chicken fillings inside palm-sized fried jackets. Lamb comes in chowmeins, chopsueys, curries and fried rice. However, the trademark, and most sought after, Kiechha special is surely the Lamb Dry (around Rs. 70 a bowlful) – chunks of lamb fried to a dark reddish brown colour together with onions, green chilies and capsicum. Ooh!
· KEEMA AT SIS CANTEEN
In JNU, every school building has its own canteen. The debate on which is the best one usually involves those of the School of Social Sciences II (SSS II) and the School of International Studies (SIS). My pick is the second one. Every day, during lunch hours, the place is thronged with students, out to grab a bite between busy hours in the classes and library. Manned by Babu bhaiyya, a Malayali gentleman, it specialises in South Indian food. But amidst the rolling out of bland sada dosas, onion dosas, uttapams and vadas, a dish will steal your heart. This is the keema curry (around 30 rupees a plate). Have it with paratha or rice, it is bound to rejuvenate the heart of the carnivore in the middle of a work-day quite magically.
· MOUROLA MAACHH BHAJA AT SHAMBHU-DA’S CANTEEN
This is the JNU Staff canteen, but usually goes by the name of its Bengali chef, Shambhu. The menu is predominantly Bengali – rice, several dishes of fish, vegetables and chicken or mutton curry is what one can find here on any random day. But the best dish is mourola maachh bhaja (fried mourola fish). These are the dwarfs of the fish world – one hardly exceeds 5 cm in length. These are caught in great numbers, garnished with some turmeric and salt, and then fried to a mouth-watering crispiness and a golden yellow colour. They are served in little bowls which have 20-30 of them, and cost around 30 bucks a bowl. Best had with rice and dal (lentil), mourola maachh bhaja represents a welcome flash of the culinary culture of the Indian coastland in a fish-deprived culinary desert.
· ALUNGSA FRY AT NORTH-EAST DHABA
Tossed in some God-knows-what spices, this is one of the best liver dishes I have ever had. They come in little bowlfuls, containing 4/5 pieces. Priced around 35/40 rupees, the taste is pleasantly uncommon. The quantity is not much; hence this is essentially a side dish between spoonfuls of some delightful noodles and honey chicken. The chicken sataey is also worth trying.
· BANTA AT GANGA DHABA
This is a trademark JNU drink – simple, yet tangy. A deadly combination of soda, lemon juice, salts and some crushed ice, banta is just what our bodies and hearts yearn for during the sizzling hot evenings of Delhi. Best thing – it comes for just 10 bucks. Damn refreshing, we invariably end up having several glasses.
· CHIECKEN MALAI TIKKA AT 24.7 DHABA
The dhabas are the nerve-centres of JNU campus-life. These road-side open-air joints form the general rendezvous points for students after class hours. From the afternoon till well past midnight, these bustle on. The 24.7 dhaba remains open practically throughout the whole day and specialises in Punjabi food, among which, chicken malai tikka is surely the best. These little angels come in twelve pieces a dish, served on a warm buttery sauce and accompanied with pudina chutney and onion flakes (Rs. 160 for a plate of 12 pieces). Grilled to a soft tenderness and gentle yellowish off-white colour, a plate should be just about enough for the true food lover, but has been known to be sufficient to fill up a couple of lesser mortals. Rolled on the butter before being put in the mouth, one cannot but get flashes of chicken ala Kiev while having these, but the smoky tandoori flavour of the JNU delicacy immediately sets them apart.
· MUTTON SHEEK KABAB AT MUGHAL DARBAR
Not too delicately spiced, but incredibly soft and tender, the mutton sheek kabab is the bloody best mutton dish one can find on campus. Best appreciated with the plain, and rather big, rumali roti, the kababs (Rs. 100 for a plate of 4 pieces) are made of ground mutton, together with herbs and spices, and then grilled to darkish brown. Mughal Darbar also serves wonderful chicken dishes, of which the spicy and oily chicken jahangiri, with its slight sour taste, deserves special mention. Soft and tender tandoori rotis, the gently sweetish sheer mal and the kheer are also worth trying. Oh, and also chicken afghani! Heaven!
Afterword: Once you have had the mutton sheek kabab, don’t wash your hands with soap. Let the lingering fragrance of spiced meat continue to titillate your palate for some more time.
JALEBI AT CHOWDHURY JI'S SHOP, KC
Finally, dessert. Sweets are rare in JNU; the only sad option being the packeted Haldiram ka soan papdi or the school canteen's awful gulab jamuns. Although there are several ice cream shops and carts, my choice is jalebi/jilabi/jilipi. The Nilgiri dhaba in front of Godavari hostel also makes these. But my vote goes to the ones that Chowdhury ji furnishes at his small KC shop. The sweetness is less on your face. Plus, these are definitely crispier. Have it, and you will find yourself smiling ear to ear in the same way like the kid of our childhood Dhara ad: "Jalebi?"