Thursday, April 23, 2009

Democratic Dinning : Parliament House Canteen

Democratic dining has many facets. In the largest democracy, what better place to find dining options, other than the burrow of democracy,The Indian Parliament House.Inspired by the Café and restaurants in Westminister in London. The parliament House has set up several restaurants and cafes in the premises in New Delhi, astride the Raisina Hill within the Parliament House complex.

Inspired by , watching telecasts of "Yes Minister" on Doordarshan in the 80s and repeat telecasts afterwards. I had to go, to the canteen that served our Ministers and Members of Parliament. I tracked a friend, Chandrashekhar, working with the Loksabha Tv, and invited ourselves for lunch on a hot summer afternoon in April 09. He was apologetic that he could not arrange passes for me and Shantanu (my lunch partner) for the sanctum sanctortum, the Pariament House where the MP dine during the parliamentary sessions. Besides, security, now after the terrorist attack , a few years ago, is very very tight. We park in the adjacent Rakab Ganj Gurudwara and proceed.
There are three Canteens or Restaurants, one in the Library complex, one in the Annexe (Secretariat complex) and the one I have already mentioned in the centre of the Parliament House.

We enter, frisked thoroughly , we get a pass with a mobile (though offices of Reliance and Honda have more stringent checks with a digital photo taken and printed on the entry pass). We walk in the Library complex, which also has a parliament museum. Its a great set of buildings made in sandstone, air-conditioned, with staues in thick bronze of Rabindranath Tagore. Its very clean with thick wooden doors, almost looks like a UN office.

We enter the Cafeteria, high ceiling dome, chaos, its lunch hour and Dinesh Kumar at the cash counter for pre- paid bills and coupons is doing the job of perhaps 8 counters in Mc Donald’s . Its chaotic but he is efficient. Our host orders conservatively (we have to re-order). We have two plates of chicken curry, one plate of mutton curry (ummm, nice), Channa, Matar Paneer , 10 rotis and two plates of rice, (phew), a bottle of mineral water and three sweet lime juices all for handsome amount of Rs140/-

Firstly, our host is taken aback with our appetite, he is a vegetarian and pecks on his food, secondly, the mutton carry is amazing, old world railway mutton curry taste (rest is passable), thirdly, the prices are amazing and lastly we are served in crested crockery with the emblem of the round parliament house.
The prices are subsidized to the level of Rs5 crores a year by the funds of the speaker / parliamentary affairs ministry (and these funds are not auditable) which in turn are allotted from the central exchequer which is raised from the taxes. So, I subsidized my own lunch in a round - about fashion.

On the scale of, Salesman’s guide for eating out, it more than qualified, a sit down meal for three for Rs 140/- is a steal (though the benchmark is rs 100/- each). The service is sloppy. The siphoning off, of free food is immense. Overall , an interesting experience. I am told the parliament house consumes 200 kg of chicken a day , with all the pilferages, it looks like a well fled place (that’s when the parliament is not in session).
There are several cafes and kiosk’s run by the Tea Board and Coffee board apart from the three restaurants run by the Railways, which serve hot beverages and sandwiches.It may be good idea to try and go in the non prime hours perhaps for tea and try the exotic sounding tea menu of mutton cutlets, omelets and fish orly.Let me know, we can go, when you are upto it.

Parting shot
While the rest of the nation battles with rising prices of their chosen basket goods and empty wallets in the beginning of the month, our MP's enjoy subsidized dining (prices were increased once 1985 and then in 2003) and do their horse trading after the elections in the 5 star hotels. It feels great to get a subsidized meal out the same MP's Canteen.
When was the first restaurant set up in the House of Commons in the Great Britain ?
So Long!

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