A colleague was once explaining Cybercity to others who had never been there: “You will feel as if you are in Europe.” Most of us had never been to Europe, but we immediately understood. No matter how complex the reality is, the binary of India and the West is very clear in our heads—one is dust, dirt and shanties, the other is clean, organized and big structures.
Cybercity stands for all that development means to most of us: Glass-and-concrete buildings housing MNCs, fancy restaurants and open-air coffee shops nestled in the centre, not to mention people who are better dressed than the rest of the city.
Outside, you can see staff throwing water on broken roads so that the dust does not fly and SUVs speeding down the wrong side of the road to avoid the 500m drive to the next U-turn.
At night, you come out of glittering buildings to streets that have no streetlights. The roads here are not meant for walking. A footbridge is coming up now, but it won’t be enough.
So, what about the food on these streets that don’t encourage loitering? It is not as rich as in the case of Noida (read more on that here), but it is not altogether missing. The reactions of the vendors, though, was another matter altogether.
I have always had really frank, honest conversations with street food vendors. Mostly because they had never been asked about their stories, they are eager and candid when done.
The vendors at Cybercity were a different lot. Very few were willing to open up—most seemed afraid of getting into trouble with the authorities.
So, the personal accounts are missing here and their absence tells a story. A story in which the administration prohibits vendors from “encroaching”. A tow truck armed with a siren and loudspeaker makes the rounds of the streets throughout the day. No stopping, no standing, no vending. This city is on the move and has little patience for minions who can’t afford the fancy eateries.
But street food, much like a virus that Cybercity sees it as, has a way of claiming the host. Between the main entrance and the parking entry, there is a small patch where vendors have thrived.
A juice shop and a cigarette shop are more lasting structures; everything else is way more interesting/fluid. The spot next to the juice stall is taken by a vendor selling different rice combos and a thali in the afternoon, who gets replaced by a paratha vendor during the evenings.
The space in front of this is used for parking during the day, but is taken over by carts selling momos, golgappas, chaat and Chinese food after 4pm.
A food entrepreneur nearby had an interesting explanation for the carts cropping up at that specific time—the HUDA office closes at 5pm and the tow truck goes off at 4pm. Though the truck remained till late in the evening, the rationale of complicity in an otherwise forbidding system is the only acceptable explanation.
Throughout the day, you will see office workers scampering across the wide road, going back and forth between Cyber Hub, Cybercity’s fancy food zone, and a narrow corridor next to building No. 9. The corridor leads to the Phase 3 station of the Rapid Metro.
On the other side of the station is old Gurgaon. Narrow lanes, four-storey private buildings that share walls and rows of small food outlets that feed the new city. There are juice and tea stalls, as well as shops for parathas, samosas, kachoris, vadas, dosas, rolls, burgers and much more. Surprisingly, every tea stall in the area sells tea in earthen kulhads.
The lanes are teeming with old-world entrepreneurial spirit and high-tech knowledge industry workers. This is the carpet under which Cybercity brushes its dirt; this is also where Cybercity comes to let go.
As a result, making a list of popular street food vendors in Cybercity was not about the tastiest food that the place has to offer, but about availability. As a young guy waiting for a kathi roll in Phase 3 said, “Everyone eats here because it is the only thing available, not because the food is good.’ So, here are my picks.
Shahi Moradabadi Chicken Biryani Corner
Located on the corner of the main road, this is the most prominent food outlet here. Two massive banners sit on top, one yells Chicken Biryani, another hollers Veg Corner, inside it’s just one place. They have more items on the menu than a food court—parathas, Chinese, Mughlai, Hyderabadi and Moradabadi biryani, rolls and Maggi.
The place is dirty, service is haphazard and the staff looks like they haven’t bathed in years. But the Moradabadi biryani, light on the palate, was not bad. Though I could not taste the cumin, it came with red and green chutneys and loads of onions—enough to put you in a forgiving mood.
I shared the table with two young men who worked for an IT company nearby. Their Hyderabadi biryani was reddish and came with a side of rich-looking gravy. They told me the same thing that many more said later about other places—they come here because there is nowhere else to go.
It was hard to know who owned the place. Three young men looked at each other before one came forward to talk. They did not want any names to go out, they didn’t want any trouble with the administration and they didn’t want to talk. No publicity was good publicity for a place that had opened only six months ago. It opens at 8am and closes at 1am.
Taste of Haryana
Praveen Kumar is from Sonipat and came here six months ago to sell food. He sets up his cart between the main entrance of Cybercity and the parking entrance, which leads to Cyber Hub, next to the juice shop.
There are no banners or signage, but he promptly came up with the name when I asked him about it. The day I was there, he had combos of rajma rice and chole rice, as well as a thali with rotis.
The combos came for Rs30 and he served glasses of raita as lassi for Rs10 each. The food looked home-cooked, simple to the point of being bland, but tasteful in its own way.
He opens around 12.30pm and packs up by 3pm. In the evenings, as mentioned earlier, a paratha vendor takes his place.
You cross the roads from Cyber Hub, dodge the speeding cars and enter the corridor after building No. 9. There is a joint called Maggi Hotspot, two food trucks, two snack shops inside the metro station and a whole street of food behind the station. But one yellow truck grabs your attention.
It’s done up well and wears a small notice that reads “Sitaram’s chole bhature for Rs70”. Sitaram being the iconic chole bhature shop in Paharganj.
I spoke with the owner, who worked with an Indian technology company in the US before moving back and starting the food truck; he has two more trucks under the same brand in Gurgaon.
He narrated the story of how he was turned down by the owners of Sitaram for a franchise and eventually scored a chef from there to serve the dish anyway. To be honest, the chole looked exactly like the original, and if there was any difference in taste, I was not able to spot it.
Even otherwise, the menu was interesting, and I went for the discounted combo of schezwan momos and chowmein or spring rolls for Rs120. The momos were a surprise, but the noodles were average.
They also serve kachoris, samosas and other snacks, but no meals. It seems all the offices in the area serve lunch, so despite the thousands of the people working, hardly anyone goes out for a meal. The owner was hopeful that with the onset of winter, more people may venture out from their air-conditioned cocoons. Foodaucity stays open from 12pm to 9pm.
One side of the Phase 3 metro station is glass, green grass and high rises—the other side, everything is unlike Cybercity. But this is the stretch of old Gurgaon that feeds the new.
Bankey Bihari’s is the most crowded shop in the area. Samosas, kachoris and jalebis, people could not have enough of whatever he was serving. The shop opens at 8am and stays open till around 9pm.
As with the rest, getting anything more from the two guys who were busy smashing samosas and pouring sabzi was difficult; they just wanted to sell quietly and lie low.
Anyway, I got a plate of crushed samosa, sabzi and two chutneys for Rs15. It was not average, not tolerable—it was bad.
The samosas were too spicy and characterless; the chutneys only added to the mess. I asked a few young ones who were greedily slurping from their plates if they loved the food and why they kept coming here. I got the now familiar response yet again—lack of options.
In a street full of shops that would look at home in any village in India, this one stands out as a city-bred joint. A well-designed banner, food displayed in a tasteful manner and glass containers for display, Ratlam Junction easily stands out.
The menu had a whole lot of interesting items, ranging from premium biscotti to Ratlam poha, kandha vada, sev corn chaat, Ratlami special thali and mawa kachori. The baked stuff is from Avon Bakers, Meerut, but the rest is cooked at a kitchen nearby.
I tried the Ratlami pulao. The two staff members at the outlet couldn’t explain what was special about the pulao from the region. The guy at the cash counter pointed at the server and asked him to answer as he had cooked the pulao. The server, after a few enquiries, confessed that he had not cooked it. The mystery remained unsolved.
It was a good-looking pulao, with peas, corn, carrots and cumin seeds. But somehow, it tasted bland. It may taste better with the side of kadhi or raita that the menu advertised, but I never got to try it.
They had another interesting thing on the menu that is worth recommending though. The Odias and Bengalis call it the laung lata or lavang latika. Gujarat probably has it by the name of laung ratan. It tasted great. The dessert is worth a walk from Cybercity. The shop is open from 10am to 10.30pm.
Cybercity forces you to think about city planning. It forces you to think about the hundreds of street vendors who could be employed and form a legitimate part of a city’s plan. It compels you to imagine not just well-designed skylines but cities that have been planned well on the ground too. And it brings you the reality that access to food can be one effective way to evaluate such plans.
Photographs by Om Routray.
Om is a New Delhi-based writer with a keen interest in food, cityscapes, travel and fiction. The Young Bigmouth is his one-man magazine through which he shares it with the world.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
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