It is not the most fashionable dining space in this day and age of PR-led restaurants. It is pure vegetarian to the extent that you cannot get onion or garlic while you’re inside. And the chaat alone is worth a visit, especially if you want the taste of chaat in the 1960s, when the accent was on the bhalla or the papdi rather than on the meetha saunth as it is now.
What I love about Vega is its unashamed throwback to an era which has long since gone. Even the roadside chaatwala is inventing newer and more fancy chaat, with green peas and pomegranate pearls for colour. But authenticity? And more than that: honesty? That’s not an element you will find in today’s restaurants. And that’s where Vega scores.
There’s something for all times of the day. At tea-time, you can get a perfectly made paneer cutlet (Rs 155) with no trace of flour to bind it, yet it holds its shape perfectly. And while the inside is pure melting-in-the-mouth minced paneer, the outside is crisp. Dahi vada (Rs 100) is not served in a single-serve portion as it would be in a chaat shop, but is suitable for a table of four to share. The faint whiff of pure ghee, the robust vadas and the merest hint of sauce atop a generous serving of dahi takes one back to an era when all these treats were made in those private homes that had a maharaj. It’s the same with papdi chaat (Rs 110).
The thalis are the glory of this delightfully antiquated restaurant with old film songs wafting from the speakers. In fact, among the crowd of young western tourists, the odd corporate and old-timers, there will usually be at least one 70 year old who is so carried away by the music that he sings along with it: Vega is that kind of place.
On any given day, there are two sizes of thali: Maharaja (Rs 295) and Maharani (Rs 255). The former has a few more add-ons than the latter, but both are superb value for money as well as very representative of the Vega brand of cuisine: completely traditional, with no modern twists. It is the food of the Vaish community with not a single compromise. For the full month of February, there is a Rajasthani promotion on, that features a thali (Rs 350) with ker sangri, a Vadhvani mirchi stuffed with spiced potato, papad ki sabzi, dal bhati choorma, besan ke gatte and dahi vada.
Part of the owner’s family hails from Rajasthan and it is obvious that their maharaj has prepared the feast. The ker sangri had a pickle-like appeal with the judicious use of a souring agent. If the bhatis were soaked in ghee, the papad ki sabzi is thin and watery, but packed with flavour. The besan ke gatte were tender and small, just as they would be in a private home, and no effort was made to thicken the gravy by hook or by crook. Out of all the Rajasthani festivals that are held all over the city, this one is the most representative of what you’d be served in a friend’s house in or around Jodhpur.
I like Vega because of the noble cuisine of a people who can not only not eat meat, but who are not allowed onions and garlic either.
Hotel Alka, P 16/90, Connaught Circus
Tel: 23344328, 23344000
Open from 12 noon to 11 pm
Credit cards accepted; no alcohol served within Vega
Meal for two: Rs 700