A trip to Delhi, India is an explosion of sensory experiences.
Loud noises(from horns blaring), millions and millions of people out on the streets (at all times of day or night), perpetual atmospheric haze (from the pollution and dust), constant raw chill in the air during winter months (both outside and inside the homes-which are typically not heated)… All of these factors will make you feel like running back to the comforts of life in the US as soon as possible.
Ahhhh….. but then there is the generally electrified energy all around, the smiling faces of everyone you meet, bright colored outfits, peppy Bollywood tunes playing from every radio in the vicinity, scintillating aromas of street food no matter where you turn, bold unapologetic flavors and spices, vendors calling out the tasty treats they have prepared for you, sweet and creamy desserts, curries, and chutneys, breads and fragrant rice, vegetable and meat dishes that you are sure to dream of for days to come, super-spicy snack treats and so much more… These exciting sensations will pull you back in! You will want more! And you WILL scream, bring it on!!!
This food-lover’s paradise…. this trip to Delhi, ended my 2014 with a bang! A LOUD BANG!!! 🙂
I go back to visit every few years. India calls my name when its been too long. Its the people I love and left there. Its the food I grew up on, its the history, the memories … its a feeling inexplicable in words. It’s home.
Each time I go, I make a list of people I need to see and more importantly the dishes I will request them to cook for me. True that! And I make a list of all the street vendors and restaurants I need to try. Of course there is tons of shopping but that has no place on a food blog so lets just leave it at that.
I ate a lot in this week-long trip to Delhi and I luckily managed to escape a bout of the infamous “Delhi-Belly”. There were lots of delicious home-cooked meals enjoyed by yours truly! And tons of great foodie-adventures with cousins and aunts and uncles and more. But my most memorable experience on this trip has to be a visit to old Delhi. Hmmm… was it the delightful company or the food or both?
In these couple of square miles of old Delhi is packed an intense history of India dating back to well before the 1600’s. The old and narrow network of streets (most not big for cars and better suited for pedestrian traffic) were the fundamental arteries of the city during the Mughal empire and generations beyond. The old bazaars are alive and well and so are the food vendors (perpetuated by their next generations).
With all the political and religious conflicts going on around the world right now, it is mind blowing and truly inspiring to witness the everyday and ever-so-normal co-existence of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians who have lived for generations in these tight confines of old Delhi. This is the essence of Delhi. This is the essence of India. And for someone like me, what makes it even more enriching is the multitude of cultures rolling in perfect harmony in the form of food experiences.
We started our day with a visit to a Hanuman temple in Chandni Chowk built in 1700’s where we presented a traditional offering of Roth (a crunchy, crisp, deep-fried confection which is savory as well as sweet….. oh! and ridiculously addictive I might add!). Then we made our way to Shyam Sweets in Chawri Bazaar where my uncle was ready and waiting with our order of Bedmi Aloo: A spicy potato curry served with a very unique, crunchy and spicy fried bread (kinda like Poori except better)! What a dynamite combination!
A short walk later, we happened on one of the many street cart vendors selling “Kulche Chole”. Peas (Chole) cooked in a thick curry and served with this yummy and airy bread called Kulche. The peas are cooked on an open fire and they take on a wondrous smoky flavor that adds an additional depth to all the spices already in the mix.
Deep into the very core of old Delhi, on a ledge in a tiny little lane sits a vendor that not many people know about. His treat is savory…. super spicy and truly memorable! Sultaan Ke Kulle! Mr. Sultaan (actually his great grand child now) sells “Kulle” – boiled potatoes, cut in half, shaped like a cone with a crater in the center to be filled with chick peas, green peas, slivered ginger and a very unique… one of a kind spice mix. One little bite of this savory treat makes my eyes water for next few minutes…. my tongue sets on fire and the only thing I can think of doing is to keep eating more in hopes of numbing fiery sensation in my mouth! ‘Tis the truth!
My one main mission for that day was to find a vendor selling “Daulat Ki Chaat”. Its literal meaning is “snack-food of wealth”. I guess this was the stuff that rich people used to snack on. It is one of the most interesting things I have ever eaten! A milk foam, flavored by saffron, served with a drizzle of a crystalized milk product called “Khoya”, and topped with pistachios. Incredibly delicate, unbelievably delicious…. it practically melts in your mouth as soon as it makes contact. The vendor moves all over Old Delhi and its hard to pin point his exact location. We walked and we walked and we walked until we finally hunted him down! It made my entire day totally worth it!
No trip to old Delhi can be complete without a stop at Kanwarji in Chandni Chowk to buy a bag or two of their “Daalbiji” and “Aloo Lal Lachha”. These are pre-packaged fried lentils and potato snacks. They are totally addictive and can last for a long time in the refrigerator. Ask for the medium spicy version – as extra spicy can only be handled by the locals. There are many imitations – but Kanwarji is still the best!
Our walk took us through the famous “Paraanthe Waali Gali” (ie: the little street of Paranthaas). Everyone is sure to order some delicious paranthaas (special Indian bread stuffed with all kinds of savory flavors and ingredients). You cannot miss the vendor – just let your nose and eyes guide you. Scrumptious!
Aahh! Now I must tell you about a place that my entire family, near and far, cannot ever EVER stop talking about. It is our mecca of the greatest tasting food ever! It is what we dream about most nights, it is what we live for, it is what we grew up eating… it is bliss. Karims is a restaurant in old Delhi right by a famous mosque named Jama Masjid. It was established towards the tail end of Moghul empire, in 1913. The chef used to cook for the royal family of Bahadur Shah Zafar before he decided to bring this incredible cuisine to the masses. Karims has been named among the top restaurants in all of Asia by Time magazine. Talk about a walk down memory lane – all I have to do is enter this complex and explore the various cooks hard at work. I particularly enjoyed watching the man who was preparing Tandoori roti in a hot clay oven built below ground. The speed at which he handled multiple tandoori rotis at any given time was mesmerizing. No visit to old Delhi, or even Delhi can be called complete until one has visited Karims! You got that?! 🙂
It was a fulfilling day (pun-intended)! It was a happy day! In that one day, walking around those streets of old Delhi, I savored generations after generations of incredible flavors, cultures and history. It was a day well spent. It was a day forever engraved in my memory.