“The first time I stepped into Nagpur 25 years ago, I had not realized it was so far from Delhi by train. I kept asking my co passengers, in the First class compartment ‘when will Nagpur come?'” Narrates Mr. Duggal, now General Manager at Haldiram in charge of all their kitchens and designer of their menus.
He had come as a consultant for the new venture of Haldiram, Hot Spot, first called Hot Shoppe, that was to open in Sadar.
“Nagpur seemed like a village after Delhi. Though the whole Agarwal family made me feel very welcome, I wanted to return that night only!”
“But my luck and my destiny brought me back to Nagpur to work permanantly with Haldirams” says a soft spoken Naresh Duggal who has many feathers in his cap like setting up Hot Spot Nagpur and many of the popular Haldiram eateries at Nagpur.
Naresh did Hotel Management from Delhi in 1985 and worked for two Taj Mahal hotels till 1992. Both in Delhi. Then a consulting opportunity brought him to Nagpur as Advisor to Haldirams when they were setting up Hot Spot in Sadar in the early 90s. This restaurant became a hot favourite of Nagpurians since it was the first to offer international cuisines like mushroom pizzas and pasta along with south Indian fare and also Sarson ka sag and make ki roti in winters… whether it was weekend or weekday evenings, there was always a large waiting outside Hot Spot, even though it offered 100% vegetarian fare.
There was no looking back for Taj Chef Duggal after that! He shifted completely to Nagpur, giving up his 5 star job to set up a chain of restaurants for Haldiram – each one more popular than the earlier.
Soon there was veg thali That Bat offered in Sitabaldi followed with Amantran. The thali, cooked without using onions or garlic, became such a rave that there was always long waiting queques before you got a table. Even after 20+ years, the popularity continues. Then the chain of Planet Food outlets began…. the success stories of these restaurants broke the Nagpur myth that you have to serve both liquor and non veg fare to succeed in the food business in Nagpur.
Since then, not one to rest on his laurels, Naresh Duggal has been offering innovative new cuisines to Nagpurians. He, along with other chefs employed by Haldiram, designs the fare offered at Celebrations venue Crazy Castle. We keep adding new, international dishes to what we offer – in vegetarian party meals, we have no competition, says Duggal in a very matter of fact way.
Another innovation of his has been the ‘Navratri special ‘fast’ thali’ that is offered at Hot Spot and select Planet food outlets.
It consists of a feast that even those who are observing strict Navratri fast can imbibe without fear of ‘breaking’ their fast. And those who are not fasting will also enjoy for the change in taste it offers. Duggal takes care that each and every ingredient of every dish, whether it is a spice or a condiment, is something that is allowed during fasts. Also it is filling without being heavy and healthy too. There are puris and parathas made from Kuttu ( singhada) and rajgira. There are aloo and paneer preparations made without haldi and red chillies using cashew nuts for curry. There is cucumber mint raita and raw papaya salad.
Today, we were offered a thali that hadRajgira puris, aloo sabzi, pumpkin sabzi and korma made of paneer and Makhana with a base of cashew nut paste. There was also sabudana khichdi, sabudana papad, wada, bhagar kheer and Bengali mithai all forming part of the ‘thali’. The menu keeps changing, with sometime bhagar pulao replacing sabudana khichdi and other sabzis.
The menu that sees new offerings every day, priced at the same rate as normal thali – Rs. 195/ only.