Arjun Dev and Praveen Arora are the father-son mastermind duo behind VIG restaurant. After whetting our appetite we made a beeline for their pakwan and while we waited, we interviewed Praveen.
The story of VIG begins with the story of modern India. “My great-grandfather had a cart in Lahore from which he used to sell dal pakwan and aloo kulcha. When the partition happened, the government gave us a place to work, earn and live. We settled in Chembur camp, which back then was actually a refugee camp. From there we began our restaurant in the 50s.”
When asked about his famous dal pakwan, his eyes shone with a glint of pride, “The recipe came from my great-grandfather and has remained the same for over half a decade now. This is a Sindhi dish. Normally it’s just chane ka dal with sweet chutney. We added a twist with aloo ki sabzi, moong dal, sweet chutney and hara mirch! It has nice spicy kick now; a fusion of Sindhi and Punjabi cuisine.”
Talking about his customers, Praveen has a ready list, “People have been coming for generations and bring their children along too! We have 20 daily customers. Some of them even come here to break their fast! There is one gentleman who has been coming at 6 A.M. sharp for the past 30 years! Another person comes from the US. His flight lands at 4.30 and he’s here by 6.30. He says teen din pehele se hi taste muh me aa jata hai! Among celebrities we have, Sajid & Wajid, Nitesh Tiwari, Daler Mehndi, Aruna Irani, Saroj Khan, and since we’re so close, we get a lot of orders from R.K. Studios too. There was one occasion where Abhishek Bachchan mentioned that he liked the dal pakwan from Chembur camp.”
“The reason why they keep coming back is that we’ve kept the flavours unchanged for 55 years now. The cooks are the same. We have a cook that has been with us for 45 years now! All the masala we use, garam masala, chane ka masala, lassi ka masala are all ground indoors. We’re able to keep the quality intact. The only thing that’s changed is that we’ve replaced the bhatti with electric and gas ovens.”
“Dad works very hard overseeing the kitchen. All the cooks we have started off as utensil washers and moved up to waiter, and finally learned the art of cooking from dad. ”
“Even the quantities of masalas are exactly weighted and the portions measured. At a time a person can only eat 250 grams. We, therefore, make sure that our kulcha is 125g and our chana is 100g. If we overstuff him, he won’t order anything else. All of this adds to the complete VIG experience that our customers have come to love. Which is why on a Sunday we go through about 600 to 700 plates of pakwan and on weekdays, it’s about 150 to 200 plates.”
We steered the conversation onto a more nostalgic grove “During my grandfather’s time, the dal pakwan was for 20 paise. Now it’s 65 bucks. A big difference but still very affordable. The entire menu at back then consisted of dal pakwan, missi wala puri which is atte wala puri with stuffed urad dal and sheera. The only thing I’ve added is lassi!”
Speaking of how the customers have changed over the years, he says, “People used to ask ‘kaise hua?’ about the bill, now it’s ‘kitna hua?’ Overall, it’s an achievement when your customers come and tell you how much they like your food! It fills me with pride and happiness!”
We probed him about the name and he had an interesting story for us!. “We have our own acronym for VIG which is ‘Very Important Guest’. VIG is actually a surname among the Punjabis. My father knew of a restaurant with the name VIG that used to do roaring business selling chole bature in Lal Kila gali at Chandni Chowk. He decided to christen his restaurant with the same name thinking that it might run just as well. The rest, as they say, is history. Dad actually went and told the story to the VIG guy in Delhi! ”.
We asked him for a highlight and he said, “The meeting with Nitesh Tiwari! I’m a huge fan of Dangal. So the first time Nitesh came in a nondescript fashion, in an auto, I didn’t recognize him. After a Google search, I was sure it was him, but I was still hesitant to go say hello. And I couldn’t bring myself to say hello either. But I know he was watching me work. On the third day, I was staring at him and he was staring at me too! I went over to his table and told him that Dangal was one of my favourite films. Every time I watched it, I had goosebumps! Turns out he was a big fan of my dal pakwan as well! I blurted out that if he wanted, we could home deliver his dal pakwan. He politely declined, saying he loved the experience of coming here, watching you work and parcelling the pakwan!”
“That was one of the biggest compliments for me! The next time I met him, he told me that he had seen my profile with the post about meeting him. He’d seen all the comments that had been posted. Truly, it was awesome meeting him!”