Tihar Food Court: Kesar Lassi & Dahi Bhallas Are a Hit

   |  Updated: July 22, 2014 12:17 IST

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Tihar Food Court: Kesar Lassi & Dahi Bhallas Are a Hit
Would you have ever thought of going to jail for a dinner date? Tihar Jail, which is the largest complex of prisons in South Asia, has recently launched its very own Tihar Food Court that will cater to the public a variety of foods prepared and served by the inmates of the jail. (More: Tihar Jail Sets Up Restaurant.)

The concept of prison restaurants has been accepted and appreciated internationally.Fortezza Medicea in Italy is a popular restaurant housed in a high-security prison for criminals. The restaurant was opened in 2006 under a rehabilitation scheme and has now become a major tourist attraction. Similarly, 'The Clink' is a fine dining European restaurant located inside HM Prison High Down in Surrey which employs offenders with the idea of training them and placing them in the hospitality industry on being released. The aim is to reduce the re-offending rate.

While the concept may not be new, Delhiites seem to have embraced it with great excitement and expectations. "Customers make their first visit to the eatery out of curiosity. But when they return with positive feedback and want to get our food packed, it feels great," says Suresh Kumar, a chef at the eatery.

Suresh Kumar, who has already served over 14 years in jail is among the seven inmates who maintains and manages the spacious and clean joint, adjoining the furniture and bakery showroom, whose products are also made by the inmates and are all a rage. The eatery located on Jail Road opened its doors on June 14 and hopes to become a crowd-pleaser that serves quality food at reasonable prices.

It is an extended facility of the Tihar Shopping Plaza near gate No.3 which is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner.

Impeccably dressed in red and white striped uniforms, the courteous staff at the Tihar Food Court flash a smile as you enter. Though it is just a month old, it has managed to woo Delhiites with some of its delights like kesar lassi, dahi bhalla and sandwiches - freshly prepared and swiftly served by the inmates themselves.

The eatery has 10 tables to accommodate about 40 guests. From samosas (Rs. 15) and soyabean chaap (Rs. 150) to their thalis (Rs. 120), they serve a wide variety of dishes.

Dost Mohammad, whose job is to keep the eatery clean, says that he feels happy to meet outsiders and see them enjoying the food. Mohammad has spent over 12 years inside the Tihar Jail for murder.

Suresh Kumar and Dost Mohammad live in the semi-open jail, which houses those who have spent 12 or more years in prison. Prisoners are also shifted to this facility depending on their good conduct. The staff of seven was selected from a batch of 50 inmates who were then trained by experts from the hospitality sector in housekeeping, cooking and bakery. Good conduct, education and other skills were also taken into consideration. The staff receives an extra daily allowance of Rs.74.

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The staff of seven was selected from a batch of 50 inmates

Balkrishna Grover, who cooks at the eatery, says, "It was a two-month long training inside the jail complex itself, after which we were given a certificate and an amount of Rs.1,000-Rs.2,000 depending on the nature of training received." He was taught to make 106 dishes during the training period. "Try my shahi paneer. I consider the dish to be my specialty," gushed Grover, who has completed 13 years in the jail and was earlier an electrician.

Customers seem to be quite satisfied with the food as well as the service. "I got to know about the food court at the Tihar jail being run by the inmates through a friend. I was extremely inquisitive and wanted to see what they serve. I am extremely impressed by their service and food, especially their dahi bhalla," says Dev Gulati.  Another customer, Rajat Singh, wrote in the feedback book that he was 'amazed' by the humble and cooperative staff.

"Since the launch, about 40 to 50 people come here daily," says eatery manager Mohammad Asim who has served 13 years in jail. "I recently got married when I was out on parole. My wife often comes to meet me and I cannot explain the happiness on her face when she sees me working here," he added.

Apart from serving delicious food, the eatery also showcases other skills of prison inmates in the form of artworks that adorn its walls and the artistically carved furniture. The restaurant also has an outdoor seating arrangement where about 10 customers can sit on jute seats.

Head warden Kishan Singh Bisht says that the authorities are now planning to advertise the eatery. Apart from giving the offenders a chance to meet and offer their expertise to the world outside the boundaries of the prison complex, the food court has also given them a new lease of life.

"I used to work as an electrician earlier, but now with the coming of advanced technology, the vocation might not be as lucrative. I would love to continue cooking and take it forward," shares Balkrishna Grover.  Agrees Dost Mohammad, "Yes, I will also continue working in the same profession after being released from here."

According to the Tihar jail spokesperson, Sunil Gupta, "The main idea is to reform, rehabilitate and re-integrate the inmates back into the society. Through such initiatives, we want the public to become aware about the measures that are being taken to reform the prisoners." He also added that the prison has received requests for home delivery which the authorities are currently considering.

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