No Holi is complete without gujiya. Around the festival, this elusive treat sneaks back into our lives, rescued from its long hibernation. It suddenly turns up in mithai shops, on street corners, in little mithai boxes at home. Its modesty revealed in the fact that it’s so often home-made and that, over the years, despite the rampant commercialisation and increased sophistication of the sweets industry in India, gujiya has escaped without much of a makeover. Maybe the original chefs got it right all those centuries ago and there was no need to tinker with the recipe.
Some variants exist in the stuffing, but for the most part, this Indian pastry still stays true to its staples—a maida casing with a stuffing of khoya and dry fruits (sometimes a little coconut), deep-fried in ghee.
Gujiya is said to have originated in Rajasthan, but it would be fair to say that it’s a sweet that has managed a seamless crossover and is linked to the personal celebratory rituals of many homes. There is no history or a story that links gujiya with Holi. It’s impossible to say why it has become the signature dish of the festival, but say ‘Holi’ to anyone and after the colours, the first thing that comes to mind is gujiya. That’s some clever marketing and it’s all organic!
A strange affliction seems to have assaulted hotels in recent years, or possibly it’s just boredom with the de riguer hospitality service experience. There is no other way to quite articulate what else Andaz—a concept hotel by Hyatt at New Delhi’s Aerocity—is trying to say. Admittedly, the lobby is interesting with its many books and the pomegranate installation, but the coffee shop is just a little too complicated.
For a while now, five-star hotels have been trying to redefine the coffee shop experience. It’s the busiest food outlet in a hotel and for good, albeit practical, reason. I know that gets boring, but it works. Of course, Andaz, which calls itself a “lifestyle” hotel, wants to do something different, but it’s trying much too hard. One can do a deep-dive into the whole experience, but one example will be illustrative enough: the menu. There was a time when there were menus with dishes only in foreign languages, another with no prices, cyclical menus, menus on blackboards and no menu at all—as it was felt that servers should be so well versed with the menu and the specials that they must communicate them to the guest and provide personalised service like never before.
Needless to mention, it didn’t work. Many guests actually like to be left alone with the carte du jour and not have servers come across as pushy insurance salespersons. The restaurant at Andaz makes some noise about being locally-sourced, sustainable, etc. These are things I learnt from a Google search. At Andaz, no one really bothered to highlight the ethical aspects of the food being served. Hell, when asked if there was water, the glass bottle was uncorked by the young lady and left at the table. At least she didn’t point! So maybe, the service style is hipster—the slim-fit jeans that make up the uniforms certainly were. But I digress. Back to the menu, which boasts of large and small plates (translation: main course and appetiser). However, both options run at the same price.
Neither is there any specification of the portion size. The descriptor at the top of the menu suggests that each is a complete meal in itself, but whilst some dishes come with a serving of bread, for another, it must be ordered separately. It’s the kind of menu that is intentionally hard to understand, much in the way some books are, where the writer believes that the more the prose obfuscates, the more high-brow it is! This joint seems to have the same attitude.
It’s busted very quickly because my co-diner, who is staying at the hotel, tells me that the evening prior, they ordered a wild-mushroom-something with no wild mushroom in it. Now is a good time to ask for a chef, but my friend informs me that when they asked for the man in-charge the evening earlier, they were informed he would take 20 minutes to get there, as the kitchen was far away! Which essentially means that it’s quicker to get a risotto at this restaurant than an audience with the chef. And with its unique sense of timing, the bread basket arrives exactly 15 seconds before the food does!
Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad