We, the Government
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Fast-foods are meant for fast lifestyles. But for all the creative
variations of the Big M, the southern charm of the Chicken Colonel, and the blandishments of the chaat-wallahs and pan-clanking pao-bhaji street-food cooks of Mumbai, we still enjoy a quiet, slow dinner in an elegant restaurant where the waiters are soft-spoken and attentive and the food is of our choice, ordered from an elegant menu.
That’s a long and complex sentence, for a long and sustaining ritual. Sadly, that is one of the fortifying pleasures that the pandemic has snatched from us.
That is, until we saw the flyer in one of newspapers we get every day. (We prefer the feel of crisp newsprint to tap-tap tapping on our smart-phone!) Among other things, the single-page, illustrated, glossy, flyer said:
Experience Home Cooking Service at your place
Experience professional cooking at your place for the first time in Mussoorie
Take Away or Home Delivery
Enjoy the best meal experience at your doorstep
Availability of Cakes, Pastries for special occasions
It then went on to give contact details of the hotel.
We were not interested in chefs coming across to our cottage, or even bar service. We did, however, want to know what they could deliver. The menu on the reverse of the flyer listed thirty-nine dishes which, in our opinion, was a fair selection. This was followed by an assurance that the service would be available from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the charges and taxes that would be levied for the distances covered by the delivery person. Both these were very reasonable.
We gave our name and phone number, had a call-back, and waited expectantly.
It was delivered precisely on time, excellently packed. The portions were substantial, the texture and flavour was all that we had expected. In short, it was such a good experience, that we ordered more home delivery a few days later.
This is what we ordered.
Tandoori Chicken; Awadhi Murg Biryani; Chicken Stroganoff; Murg Malai Tikka.
Some of these dishes were repeated over the two days. They also listed vegetarian food on their menu and a number of Garhwali dishes, and sweets/puddings.
Many travel writers are also foodies: it comes with the territory. Consequently, we don’t identify ourselves till after we have finished the meal. In this case, we did not reveal our profession but did say that we were old Mussoorie residents who had done a fair amount of travelling, and wrote occasionally. We asked to speak to the chef. We learnt that he was from Bengal’s former Portuguese colony of Bandel, once famed for its cheese. We’ve toured Bandel, as well as its adjoining settlements: the former French colony, Chandanagore/Chandernagar; Chinsurah which once belonged to the Dutch; and present-day Sri Rampur formerly known as the Danish possession of Serampore. Till some years after Independence, there was still a Gantzer Street there but that has nothing to do with food!
We now learn that there are two hotels in Mussoorie, and at least one in Landour, which offer a food delivery service. They have not bothered to reach out to the general public as this hotel has, so we cannot comment on the quality of their service.
We do say, however, that the a la carte food delivery that we experienced is in the true spirit of Indian Jugad: that never-say-die outlook. When it sees a door closing, it looks around, finds a window of opportunity, and uses it.
In Gujarat, we saw their four-wheel public transports powered, reputedly, by engines removed from pumps used to irrigate fields. We were not able to get this confirmed by a technician but we do recall the words of another surprised visitor who did peer into the innards of one of these noisy and brightly decorated vehicles. He must have been in his mid-70’s, bushy white moustache, khaki cotton suit and a floppy cotton hat. Very much a proud remnant of the Raj.
He peered into the greasy, smoky, entrails of the jugad quad-wheeler and then, wiping his face with a red bandana, said, “By Jove! Dashed creative! Sterling response! What?!!”
So, too, was this home delivery, a-la-carte, enjoyed in the elegance of our own Dining Room.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)