You know how you browse through menus and reviews before deciding which restaurant to have dinner at? You check if they offer the kind of food you prefer, or if they have brilliant dining experiences. And once you’re at the restaurant, you’ll most likely drool over the dishes and hardly notice the card that lists their food and drinks. That’s not how it goes for Anup Rau, MD of Future Generali India Insurance. His affair with a menu card does not end even after he pays the bill and gets going.
The boss of the insurance company is a proud collector of over 400 food menu cards today. You’d be surprised with the ways in which a modest (and sometimes lavish) menu card can rekindle the memories of good times. “In the 90s, I used to go to Chimney at Yashwant Place (Delhi) for their famous dumplings. I had so many fond memories of the place, and the experiences I shared with my college friends over a plate of momos,” reminisces Rau.
Over a decade later, all those memories came rushing back when Rau accidentally found a Chimney menu card lying around at his place. “I was overwhelmed with a rush of emotions,” he says. Thus began an expedition of unusual meetings with restaurateurs and managers, who would most often oblige, and at other times, bare a quizzical look on their faces. But that doesn’t mean he does that at every restaurant he visits.
Rau mentions various reasons why he would go up to the manager of a restaurant and ask for a menu card — it could be the ambience of the place, the food, sometimes a well-crafted menu, or the reputation of the restaurant. However, what matters most is his experience at the place. “The experience I share with people at the place and the time that I enjoy holds meaning to me,” he explains.
This unusual but huge collection of cards gathered over 15 years has it all. His collection is a cultural tapestry, consisting of cuisines of various states — from Martin’s Corner in Goa to Hotel Parakh in Kolhapur, whose menu is written in Marathi; and over 60 countries — Augustiner Keller in Germany; Witchery in Edinburgh, Scotland; the world’s tallest restaurant Atmosphere in Burj Khalifa; A Journey of Indulgence in London; and Koffman Bar in Moscow to name a few. From the five-star league, Rau has menu cards of Dum Pukht Begum (ITC Maratha), Rambagh Palace (Jaipur), The Park (Mumbai) and The Ritz-Carlton (Moscow).
If that’s how embellished your collection is, a favourite pick isn’t easy. Yet, Rau is able to recount one of his most interesting experiences at an eatery. In 2006-07, Rau was travelling in Switzerland, when he decided to stop by a small village and eat at a joint that had featured in Lonely Planet. “It used to serve only one dish — a soup — and had only one menu card for its customers. The lady who ran the place said that she couldn’t afford to get another card made. But she was really sweet and gave me her card after I told her about my collection,” says Rau as he shares another fascinating pursuit he has found with the collection. “Sometimes, my wife and I recall a dish that we once had at a place, go back to the menu card to read the ingredients mentioned, and prepare our own interpretation of it,” he says.