Atop a flight of stairs from behind the Defence Colony market is a curious little restaurant. It’s a radical departure from the plush, impersonal eateries that typify those in this market. This one is run by the owner and her family: they take orders, clear plates, set tables and work in the kitchen. Not surprisingly, they are not Indian but Uzbekistani.
I visited Karavan only to try the Uzbeki food. After all, we share the same ancestors: the first Mughal emperor Babur hailed from there. His ancestors Taimur Lane and Ghengis Khan too were from Uzbekistan. So, it would not have been unexpected to find glimpses of commonalities in Karavan. But the two cuisines are as far apart as it is possible to be. Location appears to have played a part in Uzbeki cuisine: the simplistic, carb-rich fare has more to do with neighbour Russia than with the sophistication of Persian and Turkish food.
Add to that the rather high prices and the fact that your order may be misinterpreted and it’s no wonder that I won’t be going back there any time soon. I ordered Chalop (Rs 200), a soup that was described as made of “sour milk with boiled meat”. What I got was a cold soup made of watered down yoghurt, spiked with fresh dill, no meat because the cook “thought that I was vegetarian” and extremely bitter cucumber. Zuleikha, the owner took back the soup but said that she “could not find better cucumbers in India”.
Either the kitchen was having a bad hair day or the food in Karavan really isn’t up to scratch. The Minced Kebab (Rs 300) consisted of 12 small and over-salted lamb kebabs on three skewers. They would have been pleasant if they contained less salt, but as Indians, we are spoilt with our superior spicing. The Uzbekis have no such luck. The other aspect I had problems with was the hygiene. In Daryaganj, Karavan would have fit right in. In Defence Colony, the tableware needs to be washed and dried better. Our naan (Rs 50) – Uzbekistan has an interesting bread that is midway between commercial bread and tandoor-baked yeasty rotis – had a lump of some nameless substance sticking to it. And service is way too slow.
Manti (Rs 250) turned out to be momo-like dumplings served with yoghurt. You can so easily get the Tibetan/Chinese version of the same dish that is far better at one-fifth of the cost, that it is hard to see why you need to visit Karavan for this particular item. The Uzbeki Pulao (Rs 350) is a hearty, peasant-like version, redolent with the flavour of fat. The one saving grace of the meal was Tabaka (Rs 400) a large plate of fried chicken. The bird is probably pre-cooked and then fried with its skin, so that the flesh is succulent.
At meal times, the tiny 28-seater is packed to capacity with Uzbeki and Russian nationals. If you want to visit Uzbekistan without a visa, go to Karavan. If you want good food at realistic prices and speedy service, look elsewhere.
Shop No. 41, 1st floor, Defence Colony Market
Open from 11 am to 11 pm
No alcohol served; no credit cards accepted
Meal for two: Rs 1,500