On India’s 64th Independence Day on Monday I woke to a text message from Old Delhi friend Amit: “Rain has played spoil sport”. I looked out to see the Monsoon rains sheeting down and felt his pain.
Normally rain is met with joy and relief in North India. In Old Delhi, though, Independence Day is celebrated by flying paper kites, a symbol of freedom – rain means the festivities will be a wash out. (There’s a nice piece here on the tradition of kite flying in Old Delhi, with pictures by my friend Simon de Trey White.
I was particularly disappointed because this was the first time I’d been invited to take part in not one, but two kite flying parties in Old Delhi.
Happily, by noon the rains had petered out and I headed off. The first stop was the beautiful haveli owned by Dhruv and Richa Gupta in Sitaram Bazaar. Continue reading
Old and Famous Jalebi Wala, Chandni Chowk
It’s time to right a terrible wrong.
For the past two years or so I’ve been a regular in Old Delhi, delighting in the wonderful street food – most weeks I’m either checking up on a new dish, gorging on an old favourite, begging for recipes or stocking up on crockery for our Uparwali Chai tea parties. We always take visitors for a quick spin and recently I’ve been doing a few food tours too.
Whatever the excuse (and I need very little excuse to jump on the Metro to Chawri Bazaar), there are a couple of places I always visit. At Bade Mian in Lal Kuan I scoop up a week’s supply of the best kheer (rice pudding) in town; I never miss korma at Ashok and Ashok; I gorge on Daulat ki Chaat whenever it’s in season and I always, always come back with a big bag of sticky, sweet, still-warm jalebis from Old and Famous Jalebiwala.
All of these I have written about droolingly, except one. Amazingly, I have never mentioned Old and Famous. Time to make amends.
I may be the only expat in Delhi who doesn’t miss supermarkets although I confess it took a little while to adjust. There was the initial shock of not being able to do all my food shopping in one place—how was I supposed to get dinner on the table without a Tesco Metro on the corner? But slowly I began to appreciate a return to a more traditional way of shopping for food.
Most British people can’t even remember a time when there was a greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and baker on every high street—all the interesting small shops have been wiped out by the rampaging supermarket chains. Street markets too are a thing of the past; it’s now virtually impossible to shop anywhere but supermarkets. By contrast, it was a joy to find that in India every neighbourhood still has daily fresh fruit and vegetable markets, dairies, bakeries, spice markets and fish stalls.
At home an obsession with “choice” means fruit and vegetables are flown thousands of miles so that we can have tomatoes in winter and parsnips in summer. We’ve forgotten that strawberries are best in June and that asparagus has a tantalisingly short season. We’ve lost the simple joy of eating a perfect pear picked at the right time.
In Delhi, my fruit and vegetables arrive by horse and cart, often picked on a local farm that morning; lauki telling me it’s monsoon time, spinach that it’s winter, mangoes that there is some compensation for the scorching May temperatures.
I had an opportunity to marvel again at India’s food diversity while sourcing ingredients for this week’s Mint recipe. In a moment of nostalgia, I wanted to try and recreate an old childhood favourite, the Fox’s Ginger Cream. It was (still is, perhaps) a biscuit that’s greater than the sum of its parts—two ginger nuts sandwiched together with a creamy filling—and there was an illicit pleasure involved in pulling apart the biscuits and licking out the creamy layer. I decided to experiment with khoya for the filling and, on a whim, to track down the khoya at its source because, well, because in India you still can.
Chai with Milk Cake is my Old Delhi equivalent of Espresso and Biscotti; a fast, sugary shot in the arm when energy levels are low. If I’m ever at the Fatehpuri end of Chandni Chowk and in need of a quick pick-me-up, I dive straight into Kucha Ghasi Ram and head for Hemchand Ladli Prashad’s lovely little tea stall.
So last Saturday those crazy kids over at Dillinet finally persuaded me to take them on a street food walk and in the process made Golgappe, Shahi Tukda and Kebabs look cute, glamorous and lots of fun.
Now what I’m about to say may cause a painful parting of the ways in the year’s mission, but I can’t put it off any longer. The plain fact is I love ghee, I love cooking with it, I love eating it, I love the way it transforms everything it touches, I even love the beautiful tins it comes from. I could eat it till the cows come home and the way 2010 is shaping up, I’m going to need a lot of cows to come home.
I know this may have been a shock and a few of you will now feel the need to form a more meaningful relationship somewhere with ‘health’, ‘low-fat’ or ‘salad’ in the title. I’ll be sad to lose you, obviously, I’ve really enjoyed having you along these last few months, our trips to Old Delhi were really cool, but well, If I couldn’t keep you, you were never mine. Before you go, though, at least concede that the tin is really, really pretty!
If, on the other hand, you’re a ghee worshipper, then this is a really, really safe place for you to be and I’m really going to make it worth your while. OK, now we all know where we stand, lets get busy.
A few days of grey skies, cold winds and heavy showers here in Delhi have been an excuse, not that I ever need one, to linger under the duvet with something buttery and sugary – preferably with two spoons! One of the most wanton, wtf-I’m-cold-and-in-need-of-comfort dishes I’ve ever come across is Shahi Tukda, the mighty Indian bread pudding.
All my birthdays and Christmases came at once last Thursday when good friend Nita offered to help me explore the area around her family’s office in Khari Baoli Spice Market. Now, I never need much of an excuse to go to Old Delhi but when an insider offers to show you around, it’s time to drop everything and run!
Three of us set off mid-morning for what would turn out to be one of my most memorable days in Old Delhi. We started at the Naya Bazaar end of Khari Baoli – Nita’s friend and foodie extraordinaire Anil, on holiday from his home in Paris, also came along and brought a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ to the jaunt. Anil has the most amazing ability to get people to behave naturally in front of the camera and I spent a lot of time pestering him for tips – hope something has rubbed off!
For once, though, this wasn’t an eating trip, but a time to look, listen and try to scribble down as much as possible as fast as possible – Nita was wonderful at coaxing out the kind of in-depth information that my ‘tuta puta’ Hindi prohibits, and by the end of the day my head was swimming with the discovery of new foods, recipes, folklore and family history. We also returned home with a whole heap of new (to me) ingredients to play with. Wah kya bat hai? as they say in these parts!
A February Food Walk
I have a new favourite Hindi word – Bhojanalaya, or eatery. And I have a new favourite Bhojanalaya – Hotel Adarsh Niwas in Old Delhi. I had lunch there yesterday with the Man with the Best Job in Indian Journalism, as part of a whistle stop tour some of his favourite Old Delhi haunts.
This time of year is bliss in Delhi. After prolonged, air-conditioned hibernation, it feels like the start of the long summer school holidays, with every day a potential outdoor adventure until we’re chased back indoors in Spring. The parks are full of power-walkers, tourists are taking their time at India Gate and al-fresco eating is the order of the day; happy family groups are out picknicking and we suddenly see the point of restaurants with gardens.
I always know winter is well and truly on its way when I spot the Shakakandi seller in Khan Market with his piping hot pile of roasted sweet potato – just say the word and he’ll load up a plate with scooped out flesh and douse the lot with masala and lemon juice – with optional kamrakh (star-fruit) garnish: a mini feast to ease you through those awkward times when your next meal just seems a little too far off.