The deli experience

Written by Anoothi Vishal | Anoothi Vishal | Updated: Nov 7 2010, 05:50am hrs
Last week, a mix-up with my appointments meant that I reached the old Ploof restaurant in Lodhi Colony market instead of the designated caf at Khan Marketbut what a fortunate turn of events it proved to be.

Ploof, Delhis first seafood restaurant in the leafy and serene Delhi market, has shut shop. But in its place what has come up, very quietly indeed, is something called Ploof Deli. It has not yet started advertising itself and is still in the process of tying up pre-launch loose ends, but this is such a first-rate concept that I cant help but feel excited about my find.

Most foodies appreciate the fact that few things in life match the pleasures of gourmet shopping. Scouting for artisan breads, single origin chocolates, truffle pates, handmade pastas, organic cheese, smoked ham and hundreds of little bottles of jams, fruit butter, marinades, sauces, dips and all manners of condiments is a de-stressing experience in itself.

In a country like India, where a huge number of people take pride in their cooking and like to entertain in style at home, this task of bringing back to your kitchen all these treasures can be doubly rewarding. But while, you may have earlier liked to shop at select gourmet stores abroad, say a Harrods in London or Murrays (the cheese shop) in NYC, gourmet shopping is increasingly available in India tooand lately, through the deli experience.

Not to be confused with Delhi, a deli or delicatessen, simply put, is a space from where delicacies are retailed. Traditionally, the fare has included cold cuts (after all, the very etymology of delicatessen is German), cheeses and wines with quite a bit of pastry thrown in too. In the US, American style delis are popular as breakfast pick-up points toocustomising your healthy sandwich or green salad and thus very often substituting home-cooking. That apart, smart ones will often do what is known as party traysfull of special cold cuts or marinated stuff that can be then conveniently served up to guests with just minimal effort.

Till some years ago, however, this was an experience that was not available to the Indian customer. All that now seems to be changing and the deli is all set to become a popular concept in the metros in the next few years.

But back to Ploof Deli: Put together by Sudha Kukreja, a restaurateur-chef, who is your best bet in Delhi when it comes to pan-Asian food, the deli stocks a lot of homemade stuff apart from the branded imported cheeses, olives, yoghurts and morethat you can find at any big food retail store in your city these days. I picked up an absolutely delicious pesto saucefragrant and with the right texture tooin a little jar that I have been using ever since to line my sandwiches with. There was fish marinated, Vietnamese style, and similar portions of ham, lamb chops and chickenall of which can be conveniently picked up, grilled and turned into party specials. And the bread is first ratemade by a Swiss lady in Delhi, so delicious and fresh that it has turned me into a multigrain fan! While I waited for my purchases to be billed, I sat down to a nice cup of tulsi tea, packaged by the redoubtable Mittals, and landed up buying a small box of that as well. But the best part about the deli was the availability of these foods at prices that are not prohibitive.

At the moment, there are just a handful of true delis in India: The best-known ones include Rahul and Malini Akerkars Indigo Deli in Mumbai (that opened its second outlet in Mumbai recently), which will sell you everything from New York aprons, wine coolers, retro coffee machines, bottled truffles, to its own branded jams, chutneys and vinaigrettes.

In Delhi, Mumbai-boy Riyazs Amlanis Smoke House Grill has extended to a sister deli outlet at the DLF Promenade mall in Vasany Kunjthe new address for luxury retail. Apart from the usual breads and cold cuts on the retail counter, there are also some great organic preserves and dressings from the Altitude Store (a growing brand for organic goodies set up by the young Ayesha Grewal, designer Ashish Sonis sister-in-law). But the real fun here is the al fresco sit out and dining, which makes this one more attractive as a caf than a deli per se.

Then, there is, of course, the magnificent Oberoi (patisserie) and deli also in New Delhi where you can sit upon a soothing glass of hot chocolate (its totally recommended) or a glass of wine for that matter while you contemplate your next purchaseeverything from pricey single origin honey to chocolates.

It is a luxury experience alright in keeping with how The Oberoi projects itself as a brand. But while, this place has become the single most popular destination for fancy cakes and breads (you can get a cake with marzipan stiletto Jimmy Choos and LV bags customised; and there is a separate entrance from the outside for chauffeurs being sent to pick up the goodies), what you can buy at the deli are mostly expensive, branded luxury products, instead of well-priced local or homemade stuff.

Besides these, a lot of retail food stores like Godrejs chain of Natures Basket offer deli counters. But the problem by and large in India is that most delis function either as stores where you can pick up imported stuff or cafes, where the real charm lies in a cup of coffee or breakfast instead of picking up eats for the party at home.

There is a gap that exists in the deli market in Indiafor places that will retail exclusive but freshly and locally made products that you can take home for a reasonable price on a weekly, if not daily basis.

And that is where I think places like Ploof deli need to step in.

With food prices rising, the difference between the cost of cooking (at least an exciting meal) at home and eating out is diminishing. This is an apt market for the mushrooming of delis. With just a little extra spend and considerably less effort, you can serve up a gourmet, almost homemade meal at short notice. Just stock up from the deli next door!

The writer is a food critic