Food Dishonesty Is Not Okay You Onion-eyed-Flap-Dragon Restaurateurs

Dheeraj DeeKay
8 min readJun 27, 2023

--

Photo by Rodrigo Curi on Unsplash

There are very few things that send me into a quiet rage as much as food dishonesty. Let me demonstrate.

Before I do that, let’s get a few things out of the way. There are no superhumans here. And superman is a figment of imagination. Likewise, not everyone can be a chef and not all chefs can cook all food items. There are as many cuisines and foodstuffs in the world as there are people. So to expect any one person to know every kind of cuisine/food is absolutely silly. And that is why every restaurant comes up with its own menu, a limited set of food items which they promise to serve their guests. So we now have restaurants declaring a set of dishes they promise to serve in the form of a menu and of their own volition. Naturally, this means they have a chef and/or cooks who know what these foodstuffs on their menu are and how they are made, also they know what goes into these items and obviously, they make sure the ingredients required to make these items are available in their inventory. There might be occasions when one might not get certain ingredients owing to any kind of unforeseen external factor related possibly to the market, weather or just some other arbitrary occasion. In such a case, you might not serve dishes which are listed on your menu but whose ingredients you currently do not possess. All this is expected and I completely understand. Whereas to take an order for an item and not serve it, and in its place, serve a different item but call it the requested food item; that’s dishonest and pure evil. Imagine a Calcutta biryani minus the humble potato or a Lucknowi biryani without the fragrance/aroma of kewda water. This isn’t a laughing matter. We go to restaurants and pay a certain amount (many a times significantly large sum than what individual ingredients would cost) expecting to eat precisely what we have ordered. That is the basic-of-basic pact between a customer and a food place. Now let me tell you what happened today.

I have been craving an excellent English breakfast all this week. Many moons ago I had one at Glen’s Bakehouse, Bangalore where I have also had it previously. And the soft yet crisp texture and taste of their bread laced with butter still lingers and entices my taste buds even after a month of having it. But I was in Pune now. And as is the norm, I looked at online restaurants/cafes that served English breakfast. I found Cafe Peter. It was closest to me and also had good reviews. Some reviews even mentioned English Breakfast. Exactly what I needed. And so I decided to pay a visit.

For those who aren’t familiar, English Breakfast is a pretty standardized breakfast spread which in a strict sense includes bacon, eggs, sausage, some pudding, baked beans, grilled tomato, fried bread or toast served with jams and butter, tea/coffee and orange juice. The bacon mentioned is a very specific cut of bacon popularly called British back bacon which is sliced carefully such that the final slice of bacon includes the belly and loin in one beautiful piece of meat to create an irresistible and unforgettable bacon-eating experience. When you eat this marvel, the crispness and fatty bit, this combination of the two different pieces of pork, each with its own characteristics, blends in to create bacon heaven. The best I remember from recent memory was at Holiday Inn on Racecourse Road, Bangalore. The sausage mentioned above is also a special British sausage which is not plain meat but contains herbs and spices spluttering taste buds when you chew it in. Now since we are in India where pork is not commonplace, it is understandable again for cafes/restaurants to not serve bacon and, sausage to be of chicken. But the rest of the ingredients are commonplace. I have seen many places skipping juice which is again, not okay but another adjusting factor. And that’s it. Anymore accommodating and it would terribly fail to be the English Breakfast. Now please serve your combination of breakfast but I beg you to not name it English Breakfast.

At Cafe Peter I was served a sandwich (don’t know why), potato fries (again why), half-fried eggs, chicken sausages minus herbs or spices, leaf lettuce (why) with a line of some sauce thrown over it (why why why). That’s it. No grilled tomato, no beans and hear this out, I asked for coffee and I was told that it would be chargeable! English Breakfast without tea/coffee/juice, really? I ordered coffee separately and made a total bill of Rs. 672! For comparison, at Glen’s Bakehouse in Bangalore, you get a proper English Breakfast including a pudding or cake plus your choice of coffee or tea for half of this price. And mind you, Glen’s is a bigger and more popular brand than Cafe Peter. There is no comparison of Cafe Peter with regards to service, ambience or taste with Glen’s. And I’m not saying this because they served a bad breakfast today. Years ago I had loved some lunch at Cafe Peter and I went there today hoping for a similar experience.

I’m not writing this merely because of one experience today but I’m seeing a pattern of these things in Pune. I have by now eaten in multiple cities and while in many of these other cities, it was mostly on limited visits frequenting their well-known restaurants; in Pune, Bangalore and Mumbai owing to long stays I have regularly been out and eating. And from my experience, limited still it may be, you are more likely to be disappointed or frustrated in Pune by your order than in Bangalore or Mumbai. For instance, my only recent complaint to a friend in Bangalore has been how the Galouti kebabs we had weren’t really melt-in-mouth. And these were still soft and tender just not melt-in-mouth like you get in Lucknow. This grievance isn’t a complaint when you think of it but a typical case of me being a snob.

On the other hand restaurants in Pune are high-quality snobs. There is plenty of pretentiousness. They have fancy menus and delicate walls decorated with such beautiful flowers and designs but the food they serve on most occasions does not match with food they mention on their menus. And god-save-your-brain-cells if you decide to point out their wrongs. I once explained to a restaurant owner how their dosa batter had gone bad which was causing their dosas to smell terrible and how idlis weren’t supposed to be made with such fine flour as theirs since with the finer flour idlis gain rubber-like texture hinders absorption of sambhar. I was told that they have been making dosa and idlis for so and so years and no one until that day had complained. I wanted to ask, so? But then I quietly walked away. Another day I was at a seafood restaurant which claimed they served Goan food. Their menu mentioned tisrya-sukka. Now tisre is a Konkani word for a specific type of clam which is different from khube which is another kind of clam. Tisre is wide, oval in shape with sharp defining lines on their shells; its flesh has an identifiable orange portion at its edges and most importantly, it tastes superior and costs comparably more than Khube which are close to circular in shape with no lines on their shells or any attractive colours on their flesh. And so restaurants always include tisre sukka (a dry dish having an abundance of tisre clams along with onions and scrapped coconut) in their famed fish thalis. When one of these plates reached my table in Pune I discovered I wasn’t served tisre but khube instead. Since the price was on the higher end, I inquired. I was told that what I had on my plate was what they served as tisre here. How do you argue with such people now?

Compare the above to Bangalore now. Once in the city, I was out for dinner with a Bengali friend who knows his cuisine really well including what goes in it and what does not right to their individual proportions. We were at a hotel buffet where they had a biryani labelled Kolkata Mutton biryani. I found the taste fine. It wasn’t great but still far better than what I had at many other places. We were quietly having our food when a waiter arrived to ask if we were enjoying our meals and if there was anything we would like different. My friend very politely suggested that the biryani was not up to the mark. A vague remark. The waiter nodded, apologized and went away. We got back to our meals. After a few minutes came the chef. He asked what did we not like about biryani. My friend paused and offered him specific details about the dish. What ideally a Bengali biryani contains and what it does not and also which ingredient shadows the other ingredient and such. And at this point, Chef apologised and explained to us how this was not a proper or authentic Kolkata biryani but a milder version of it which they cook for their buffet. He said its ingredients were cooked differently and then plainly mixed as per the demand. He also explained his motivations for this way of cooking. And then requested that we visit again tomorrow for lunch or dinner and he would prepare an authentic Kolkata biryani from the ground up. You see what he did here? There are two parts to what he expressed. First, an admission that what was served wasn’t what was claimed and second, this is less important, offering to prepare the accurate dish.

You might be wondering why this matters, why this unpleasant nitpicking?

I had a friend in the Pune office who disliked South Indian food until I took her to a small eatery run by a Tamil couple in Hinjewadi. What she was until then having was a bad kind of dosa and those rubber idlis that seem to be standard at most places in Pune with terrible sambhar and even more awful chutney. I remember my own dislike of Bengali cuisine because the first two times I tasted Bengali food at two distinct establishments that publicised themselves as Bengali places, they served what was a terrible and stereotypical kind of ‘Bengali’ foodstuffs with undesired quantities of mustard. It took a dear friend and umpteen rounds of Bengali places alongwith thorough descriptions of what was served on the table for me to fall in love with Bengali food. The point is, in most cities, and especially in Pune, with a lot of bravadoes, people serve what can easily be referred to as phoney cuisine. Please note that I’m all for food experimentation, after all, that’s how we get new things on the menu. But you cannot advertise Nestle’s Maggi and serve Patanjali Noodles — that’s just being dishonest and disrespectful of your patron. Or as the angry Scots referred to Trump (who when Brexit was announced congratulated Scots for their wise decision to leave the EU — they had in fact, voted to remain in the EU), these restaurants are being polyester-cockwombles, cock-juggling-thundercunts and rotten-orange-fucknuts!

Thank you for reading till the end. It appears you have as much time on hand as I did writing this. Much appreciated.

P.S. While the above rant is based wholly on my experience, you might experience the cities mentioned differently than I have. But the larger point about some restaurants being dishonest and such treacherous conduct being not okay stands.

--

--

Dheeraj DeeKay

I Listen. I Speak. I Write. I Do. And That’s Why I Am. Storyteller at large! Oh yeah, also a Programmer, Full Stack Developer when at desk.