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16.01.2018

Here’s a little decorative fact: the term “death by chocolate” is trademarked by American restaurant chain Bennigan’s. They get to add a stately “TM” next to their Death By Chocolate. It’d be terribly helpful in a place like Delhi, where every establishment with any chocolate in their kitchens serves up a dessert of that name.

Anyway, the other day I had a “death by chocolate” waffle from a place called Waffee, which is either a dumb baby name for a waffle or a portmanteau of waffles and coffee. It came with the now customary scoop of ice-cream and, as advertised, a whole lot of chocolate, including a mini-brownie on top of the waffle. Nice and fancy.

It was just one of close to 20 different places in a two-kilometre radius of my neighbourhood that specialise in waffles, many with “waffle” in the name for good measure (cf. Hashtag Waffles, The Waffle Factory, Waffle Town, Waffee). All of these have opened within the last few months. For some context, I live in east Delhi which, as you know, is where cool goes to die.

The mushrooming of these places raises a couple of questions. The first is: has east Delhi become hep? As you know, waffles are strictly a New Food in India. Our parents didn’t grow up eating them. Our elder siblings just about started getting waffle irons at as wedding presents, which they promptly re-gifted. In Delhi, the only places that traditionally served them were coffee shops at five-star hotels — for rich bratz — or the All-American Diner at the India Habitat Centre, where you usually forsook them to get drunk at breakfast.

Now, waffles have become the Capital’s (social) capital, purveyed in slick, red-and-orange mini-diners with contemporary design and standing tables, straight out of Star World. Drop in after a meal, meet your colony friends, ignore Gunther pouring coffee in the corner. Waffles are fast-dessert: not restaurant dessert, not pre-packaged (like an ice-cream bar or chocolate). Just a more friendly alternative to the doughnut: a more Instagrammable, down-home one. Experimental? Please. All the most popular waffles in East Delhi come in Nutella, Oreo, Kit Kat, and Ferrero Rocher flavours. Not that anyone’s complaining.

(Waffle) Iron Curtain

So who eats them? Well, I do, and people younger than me do. Waffles are having their water-cooler moment: you want to talk about them and show up in the tags about them, so you cause a spike in the demand, because they're novel and because someone (was it you, Hashtag Waffles?) marketed them smartly.

Undoubtedly things will eventually regress to the mean. In the meanwhile, during the boom, we get heaps of second-movers and impersonators doing the exact same thing in the exact same way. You know how there are so many momo specialty shops now that some of them don’t even serve the regular kind? Or how, a few years ago, a pub decided to introduce kitschy ‘rustic, earthy Indian’ cutlery, and then everyone followed suit; now, I can’t even tell which is the plate and which is the glass. That’s what I mean. Ingenuity is followed by a glaring lack of imagination, followed by a rut, followed by a reboot.

Sometimes this is awful. I hate the “wok” revolution, in which regular old noodles and gravy, previously served at reliable Chinese restaurants and takeaways, was boxed and refashioned into “woks”, leading to one of the more alarming arms race of recent times. New restaurants remain locked in an exhausting battle of (dim) wits, competing to see who can come up with the most odious puns on wok, a game in which there are zero winners. (It reached its nadir when even young adults who identified with progressive politics decided to call themselves “wok” people on the internet, in tribute. Bye, bae.)

But I like almost all 14 of the new waffle places in my neighbourhood. Their product isn’t yet in a state of despair. Dessert is an inherently joyful thing. No amount of capitalist infiltration can transform a sugar high, though goodness knows they’re trying hard. Although, if memory serves, there was a brief period when crepes were the Justin Trudeau of their time, and as quickly as Trudeau’s standing in progressive circles, they vanished, replaced overnight by Nutella and Kit Kat milkshakes. Here’s hoping the same fate doesn’t befall waffles.

Akhil Sood is an arts and culture writer living in New Delhi.

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