Thursday, May 07, 2009

Last Orders

Delhi really isn’t the same anymore.

My brother called me to say that Grub Pub is closed. For good. Apparently the owner passed away. I can remember his face. His voice when he answered the phone with “Hello Grub Pub”. The scooter he used to ride around the lanes of Hauz Khas. His curly-haired little girl. And I am so sad to hear not only of the family’s loss, but also to think that there is no one who will carry forward this small but important restaurant, which was probably the first taste of Chinese food for most Hauz Khas residents.

Set by the main central park of Hauz Khas, one in a row of shops – hardware, tailoring, rickety stairs going up to courier shops – Grub Pub was your average greasy cheap Chinese joint. Except that it was our average greasy cheap Chinese joint.

In all the years I knew it, Grub Pub didn’t change, except to get air-conditioning. An unassuming glass and wood door with some stained-glass pattern and the instructions “Pull” formed the entrance to gastronomical bliss and contentment on a budget. You walked in, the unmanned reception said “Please ring bell for service”. Rickety stairs went up at a steep angle into a hole in the ceiling. If you were new and rang the bell, after 5 seconds one of the staff would come thumping down the thinly carpeted stairs. You could order and wait on bar stools while they packed your food.

But if you were a returning customer and meant serious business, you would go up the stairs, pull back the standard-issue, airport/hospital waiting room chairs with a loud noise, and park yourself at the sunmica-topped tables. The kitchen’s swing door would open and someone would emerge, look at you, go away, come back with menu cards and glasses of water.

I devoured my first momos at Grub Pub. With incredible amounts of chilli paste. Knowing that the chilled Thums Up Grub Pub always stocked would bail me out when I turned into a fire-breathing dragon. My standard order:
Ek Chicken Momos, steamed
Ek Veg Hakka Noodles
Ek Chilli Chicken Boneless, Dry
Ek Chicken Manchurian
Ek Thums Up

And then sit back and wait, drooling a little already. The table would have those plastic sauce bottles, and steel containers for 3 sauces, with holes cut in the lid for the spoon to go in. You could while away the short wait for your food by looking around. There was that never-changing, ever-green moneyplant near the bathroom door. A never-changing poster of George Michael graced one wall. There was another poster, a surreal, blue and purple, semi-illustration of a lonely island amid stormy seas, no people, done in a style that I have only ever seen on Magic game cards. Years later, when I first saw Brooke Shields on TV, I recognized her from Grub Pub’s poster, where she gazed steamily at indifferent, pre-Cable TV middle-class families who were intent on eating their fill off those brown chinhat plates. The meal would end with a pleasing figure scrawled on a piece of paper, and, years later, proper bills, resting on a bed of saunf. It was the essential Indian restaurant, even if it served Chinese.

Later Grub Pub expanded to kathi rolls and some other Indian stuff. But we stuck to our preferences.

Grub Pub was our break from monotony. On boring food days, we would order in for a plate of momos and rush out to get some Thums Up to accompany it. There was no minimum order. On busy days, on oh-no-there’s-tinda-days, Dida-doesn’t-want-to-cook days, we’re-whitewashing-and-the-house-is-upside-down days, we would rely on Grub Pub. Budget birthday treats happened there. Surprise meetings with old friends happened there. Fits of hysterical laughter happened there.

I still have the Grub Pub number stored on my phone, though I have changed phones twice since I left Delhi. Not that I need it, because 26966317 rolls off my tongue like my date of birth.

When I heard the news, for the first time ever I Googled Grub Pub to see what the WWW has to say about it. And the answer – nothing. There is an entry on Sulekha but the map is wrong. Another site says “no customer reviews”. No one ever debated on Grub Pub food. You ate it. You loved it. You loved the price. You got the recognition from the staff. And you left, mouth bulging with free saunf. It was an institution, and that was that.

An era is over.




25 comments:

Arunoday said...

You forgot chicken sweet corn soup! But... I couldn't have said it better. I remember the faces of every single Grub Pub waiter. I think there were only two of them, who worked in turns. We didn't even need the menu, the guy looked at us, smiled and knew what we wanted. Even if there was no Thums Up, it was brought from the nearby shop. Food during Durga poojo days, last day of exams, birthdays... I am always going to drive past and think of the memories we've had. I am so glad you wrote this.

Thinking Cramps said...

Hey, Grub Pub partner (and sibling)! I never used to have the soup there - this was what I used to order. That's why the VEG. hakka noodles, see!

Yeah, specially-ordered Thums Up, all celebrations...sighhhh.

SBora said...

hey i know this place..i lived with my aunt (X4-Hauz Khas) for about a year before i moved on to a new place...this was the place i used to clandestinely meet my then BF.
yep..food was great and i remember it as a cozy little place.

Diligent Candy said...

very touching.

OrangeJammies said...

TC, when you move back to Bombay we're so going food-blogging.
RIP, Grub Pub owner. I'm glad someone's immortalized your life's work on the www.

baba said...

It is such a moving account of a joint you all enjoyed eating !Initially, I was not very fond of it but later started loving the place. What I liked the best og Grub Pub was its customer friendly service- a rare thing these days.
Very well written Anamika.
The owner was not too old to go away that soon. May his soul rest in peace.

Thinking Cramps said...

Suku: When was this? You mean we were neighbors at some point of time? I lived in D1 - that corner house at the intersection going from X block to the market.

Candy: :)

OJ: Oh yes...hopefully from October onwards :)

Baba: Your comment came through!! Yes, I know you were never a fan (you used to check the plates to see if they were warm!!!) but you got swept along with our enthusiasm!

Tharini said...

I was right there with you at Grub Pub, eating what you ate (setting aside the fact that I am a vegetarian)! And it certainly sounds like the end of an era. You have captured the poignancy of the void the closing of an establishment has on its patrons who have weaved many life moments around it. I hope the sadness is easier to bear.

SBora said...

95-96..i had just gotten the boat-a dehaati in a big city.

Sumita said...

Very touching piece! A deluge of memories floods my mind... so many happy occasions celebrated in that humble little place. With the closure of Grub Pub a big chunk of your childhood associations is lost for ever.My sincere condolences to the family I knew from my teenage years in Hauz Khas.

Sumita said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
A Muser said...

George Michael poster? Wow, grub pub was some hub! Laughed at "oh-no-there's-tinda-days"! Lovely post as usual, Ana.

dipali said...

You've rendered Grub Pub immortal, Anamika! Beautiful.
I'm sure the late owner's soul will find peace with this bit on the eternal www.

rr said...

Delightful.

The other day we went to Bong Market nearby and saw that Luxmi Stores on the corner was on a clearance closing sale. The owner, who was standing outside, told us that clothes weren't selling any more, because of malls and etc. etc. So they were selling stock and going to choose a new business.

Funny thing is, that was really a good clothes shop. Brother and I used to go all over Delhi to the cooler places, try all the brand stores and not find anything much -- then give up and come back to Luxmi and there find the nice cotton shirts and jeans and undies etc etc etc that were silly or oddly shaped or ridiculously expensive everywhere else.

Only neighbourhood shops can do satisfaction guaranteed -- everyone else gets customer service all wrong.

Thinking Cramps said...

Tharini: Glad I could transport you to such a far-off world. And yes, I know I'll live, but I know Grub Pub will be yet another element of a rapidly-growing world I remember with longing and can never return to.

Suku: Okay, you really should visit there now to see how much it has changed since then! There's even a Cafe Coffee Day!

Sumita: Ma - must always thank you for first taking me ther when I was too young to visit restaurants on my own!

A Muser: :) Oh yes, it rescued us from parwal too, sometimes!

Dipali: Thanks. I hope he knew how much Grub Pub meant to all of us.

Rr: Exactly. The big stores try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one most of the time. Sorry to hear about Luxmi Stores. Bengali Market has a whole different set of memories for me, mostly involving detours on the way home from college to eat chaat!
Rr:

I scribble here said...

hi! first time at your blog and love it, u might as well make a living out of that kind of writing.. unless you are already doing that :)
the post reminds me of this small time place called 'momos point' in DU, North Campus, Delhi.. the order used to be ditto as yours.. i dont know of any place in Dubai which serves momos even half as good as that

Thinking Cramps said...

Hey, I have heard so much about Momos Point - but can you believe it, despite being a North Campus type, I NEVER went there in all 3 years of college!!!

Thanks for the praise - do keep coming back. And if you know where I can eat momos in Dubai, please tell me!

Bong Mom said...

That was a wonderful wonderful piece of writing. I don't have enough words to say how truly good this piece was, maybe as good as that order

sandeepa

Tagore Town said...

Just stirred a deep nostalgic feeling....such wonderful memories get always linked with such joints..your wonderfully woven blog just reminded me of our days and the eating joints that are no more.
as for the menu...hmm...drooling !!

Thinking Cramps said...

Sandeepa: Thanks. Am trying your kala chana recipe tonight - wish me luck :)

Tagore Town: Yes, maybe you should do a post about them - there's a blog idea :)

iz said...

Sigh. I feel you. All Father A's and my places have been shut down in Bangalore.

Transient... said...

'Gazibo' in Bur Dubai sells amazing momos (next to Sharaf DG)

Aunty G said...

May the Grub Pub man rest in eternal peace || Your tribute to him is a beautiful piece || Now he's immortal on the web || Thanks to you taking this step || Am sure he'll confer you an honorary niece!

Bong Mom said...

A

How much time did it take to cook in the pressure cooker ? Do you think we need to add anything more to get that UP taste ?

the mad momma said...

grub pub..

yes - i went hunting for it a few days back and was quite shattered to see that it was gone :(