Welcome, dear readers (and eaters) to the alternative universe that is JNU, hiding right in the middle of Delhi. If you have lived in residential campuses, you know that, on certain days, the only place where the mess food belongs, is down the drain. Thankfully, JNU offers a number of alternate choices which are more inviting, any day. Cultural and social life in JNU revolves around the dhabas, where generations of students have wiled away their time discussing politics and plotting the Revolution over endless cups of chai. Located near the central T-Point in JNU are two dhabas, which are arguably the most popular: The North-East Dhaba, and the 24*7 Food Court. Both are essentially counters with seating under the open sky.
The North-East Dhaba serves a wide range of soups, noodles and some regional dishes from the North-East. I find the Thuppa here, very wholesome: a steaming bowl of delicate, simple flavours that is perfectly heartwarming on cold winter nights. Add to it a plate of crispy fried momos, and you’re looking at a healthy, but indulgent meal. And if that doesn’t fill you, go right ahead and try the crispy corn, or the crispy chicken sesame, for a plate full of crunch. It is ideal to eat them while they’re still hot, because, otherwise, they tend to become soggy and the flavour is lost.
Attached to the North-East Dhaba, in a small shack, is the popular Shawarma-wala. Whatever the name of this joint is, nobody cares. To everyone, he’s the ‘shawarma-guy.’ The ironic part is, more than the shawarma, the best thing he has to offer is the chicken sandwhich. This is easily my favourite in-between snack, just enough to satisfy a craving, and not enough to kill your appetite. A rustic looking grilled sandwich, stuffed with the shawarma filling, crunchy on the outside, and surprisingly cheesy on the inside. I prefer to have it with the home-made mayo alone, though it is served with a mint chutney as well. My relationship with his sandwich has been one of constant comfort.
24*7 Food Court is best loved for it’s rolls, which make for a perfect snack between meals. The size of the rolls is actually large enough to make a meal by itself for many people. I would recommend the chicken seekh roll, if you like your rolls to be made with rumali roti. This roll is made with two large seekh kababs and the mint chutney ties the tenderly cooked meat with the soft roti, deliciously. It’s quite a stomach full. Another favourite is the Double Egg Potato roll, which is soul food for the half-starved. A crispy, fried parantha with egg sticking to it, and absolutely stuffed with lightly spiced, soft aloo! The quickest and surest remedy to any missed meal. However, the best of 24*7 can be discovered once you move past their array of fast food. I present the Afghani chicken, which you must combine with garlic naan for, what I believe, is the best effect. The chicken is mouth-wateringly buttery, but also lemony, oozing a tangy juice that collects at the bottom of the plate. It’s just waiting to be eaten with that soft, fluffy naan. Also worth trying here, are the paranthas. They are very generous with the filling, as well as the size, so it makes for a good, wholesome meal. Especially, the keema parantha.
If you’re heading towards Lohit Hostel, make sure you go inside and have at least one cup of chai from Raju Bhaiyya’s Canteen. Raju Bhaiyya is an institution within the institution of JNU, saving lives in the middle of the night, delivering coffee before exams. Of course, the main attraction here is the student staple, Maggi, and Raju Bhaiyya offers several varieties. If it’s summer, you can ask him for a glass of his thick, creamy cold coffee. On offer usually, are a whole range of knick-knacks, sandwiches, rolls, etc. He keeps changing the menu often. Once I had gone to find him selling different kinds of pasta salads, other times, spinach and corn, or mushroom sandwiches. I would also recommend his momos which look and taste beautifully homemade, with a special sweet and sour sauce.
Right outside Lohit Hostel, the air is filled with the warm, enticing aroma of spice and the tandoor. Welcome to the legend among JNU eateries: Mughal Darbar. You absolutely must try the mutton seekh kabab here! It’s spiced to perfection, melts in the mouth, completely soft and juicy. Accompany it with rumali roti to enjoy the delectable taste of the kababs themselves. As a friend once said, it’s heaven. I will leave it to you to judge. Till then, look at this picture. You have my word, it is everything I promise. Other than the kabab, I would suggest that you try the Mutton Stew, or the Jahangiri Chicken if you’re looking for something with gravy. Among the other kababs the Paneer Tikka is also great.
Seems like a lot to swallow, doesn’t it? If you’re tired of eating, head over to Ganga Dhaba opposite Ganga Hostel, and grab a cup of tea, and perhaps a bun-butter, if you really want to. A bit of personal opinion: I think this is the best tea in campus. And the bun-butter is a very happy combination of sweet buns, completely dripping with butter, lightly grilled on a tawa. They also have some small rolls, and fresh pressed juice, smosas, bread rolls, pakodas, and all of that paraphernalia. A perfect place to catch up with your friends over an evening cup of tea.
Outside of JNU, in the surrounding neighbourhood, are a number of institutions, that have collectively contributed to the area being called Qutub Institutional Area. Hidden away in one of the back streets is a series of dhabas which serve everything from breakfast to dinner, and is a boon for all the people working in the various institutions. You can try any one of these dhabas. I prefer Laxman Dhaba. You could try their Chinese, but I would suggest that you stick to regular Indian food, because I believe that is what they make best. A particular favourite is the keema curry, which you can have with butter roti. The rotis are remarkably soft, and the keema is made in a tangy tomato gravy, spiced with garam masala. A perfect north-Indian affair. Needless to say, the masala chai makes the meal complete.