A middle-aged woman walks up to the counter and asks for a takeaway order of imli chutney. The young man manning the space says they don’t sell the chutney separately. She does the fake “But I’ve bought it from here so many times before!” thing. He snubs her coldly. He probably lacks empathy.
Now that we’re bombarded with the most excruciating, mawkish smiley-emoji service at every restaurant, the rare vinegar employee is a welcome change of pace. This guy notices me standing at the counter, but he doesn’t entertain me until I finally muster up the courage to narrate my order. He’s efficient — the whole process is wrapped up in seconds — but also apathetic.
I’m at BTW. Well, Bittoo Tikki Wala until, presumably, some heir of the family decided to rebrand in order to canvass the youth vote. It’s in Jasola, at the corner of a big shopping complex, right next to a theka. A “Bittoo tikki”, the flagship item, is their take on the regular tikki you get at every chaat shop. It’s cooked in olive oil and comes with an alarming slice of tomato on top. Worse, a handful of paneer chunks appear to give the potato company.
It’s odd. What’s odder is that the introduction of paneer to this staple doesn’t suck. The chutney-curd-chutney swirl, with the scrunched-up tikki buried underneath and the pomegranate afloat on top, retains all its familiarity. But the paneer, with neither taste nor personality, adds an unexpected counterpoint to the wandering sensibilities of all the things happening on the plate — like a designated driver in a party of drunks, the elected grump of every group.
Let’s zoom out and talk about parties. The greatest one known to Delhi, even better than the Diwali scenes where rich people gamble away their BMW and Audi (pronounced “aoodi”) keys, grander even than an “NYE” island blowout in Thailand, is currently the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is this behemoth that, as per reports, has bestowed the of-course-all-vegetarian BTW with the honour of catering lunch at their new New Delhi headquarters.
BTW, which has been around since the early 1990s, has some 14 restaurants in in the NCR, and serves a wide demographic. Most items cost no more than Rs. 100. During my visit to BTW Jasola during lunchtime on a weekday, my companions are a father treating his two daughters and one son (with whom I share a table), a middle-aged lady obsessed with chutney, a lonely foreigner, a group of engineer-looking men who hate their jobs.
Is such a place worthy of feeding our overlords? I don’t know, honestly; I don’t know what Amit Shah likes to eat (bpb ed who used to know a guy at NDTV: poha and green tea). BTW is certainly worth my time though. See, north Indian fast food works in a very special way for People Like Us. Stuff like chhole-bhature, papri chaat, badaam milk, masala dosa (yes, it’s ours now) has a strange role to play in our culinary journey: it’s familiar and endearing, because we grew up eating it. It’s Sunday food. It’s the food we don’t put on Instagram unless we’re eating it by a highway.
So I get why it might work for Hindu-Hindu-Hindustanis. At BTW, the tikki makes me feel healthy because of all the olive oil. Yet the food has the comforting, predictable quality that you’d expect when you enter an Indian fast food place. As the lady asking for tamarind chutney takeaway found out, so does the service. No sooner has her curt young server dismissed her than his older, calmer, colleague intervenes to say yes, of course. The chutney will be ready to take-away.
This is, as things go, a pretty decent party scene. That they have a little section inside the restaurant with two water taps — one for drinking, one for hand-washing — just establishes the lack of pretense here; BTW is, among many other things, not one bit self-conscious. I can safely say that of the many many decisions made by our leaders, this is one that definitely doesn’t need judicial scrutiny. Take it from an amicus chur-iae.
Getting there: BTW, Shop 1 & 2, Living Style Mall, Jasola.
Akhil Sood is an arts and culture writer who lives in New Delhi.
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