May Your Year Be Filled With Jalebis

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.

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Diwali in Old Delhi

As I sit down to write this, on Diwali night, the  lights are twinkling all over our neighbourhood,   Delhi’s streets and skies  are erupting with fireworks that will build to an all-nighter of explosions. The  local children are shrieking, stray dogs are howling  and our own pups Spike and Mishti will be gibbering wrecks till morning. It’s going to be a long and noisy night but we’ll sit on the terrace and marvel nonetheless.

I think Diwali maybe one of my favourite celebrations. Continue reading

A Round-Up of Delhi’s Best Street Food

I recently put together this street food list for The Guardian newspaper to coincide with the Commonwealth Games.  I’m not sure how many athletes or officials have managed to get beyond the Games Village canteen to sample Delhi’s incredible street food but for anyone  intrigued by Delhi’s wonderful  street food, these are just a few of my all time favourites.

Best korma: Ashok and Ashok

If you only eat out once during your stay in Delhi, head for Ashok and Ashok: the chicken and mutton kormas here have been known to make grown men crumple. As well as boasting an edgy gangster heritage, A&A make chicken korma every day, mutton korma on Wednesday and Saturday (invariably sold out an hour after opening at 1pm) and biryani. The meat just melts, hinting at a magical mystery masala (apparently up to 30 different spices), pistachios, and a devilish pact with the ghee (clarified butter) tin.

42 Subhas Chowk, Basti Harphool Singh, Sadar Thana Road, Sadar Bazaar, Old Delhi

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Monsoon Breakfast in Sitaram Bazaar

Breakfast time at Ram Swaroop

Well folks it’s been a while! I seem to have been so busy since we got back from the mountains that I just haven’t been able to apply myself to the serious business of street food.

Good to see that some things never change, though – like my fondness for the Hipstamatic app on my iphone (as per above photo).  Is it just me or is it really cool?

Something else that never changes is the Eating Out in Delhi gang’s dedication to gorging in the gullies. And certainly no-one could ever call us  fair weather foodies.  This was the scene when when 15 of us stepped out of Chawri Bazaar metro station last Sunday.  By the way, as of last Friday I now have a metro station on my doorstep with a direct line into Old Delhi. Top Kebabs and Kheer now minutes away at all times!

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‘Old Delhi’ Cheesecake

Along with railways and a mind-boggling bureaucracy, the British are also assumed to be responsible for India’s unbridled passion for biscuits. In fact biscuits were spotted in India as early as 1660 when French traveller Francois Bernier tasted “sweet biscuits flavoured with anise”: It wasn’t until 1847 that British firm Huntley and Palmers began to ship the colonialists’ favourite tea-time treats.

One of the first desi biscuits was the nan khatai which, despite tasting like a crumbly, buttery Scottish shortbread laced with cardamom, is actually a legacy of early Dutch settlers in Surat who introduced bakeries to the town. When the Dutch left, Indian bakers continued to turn out fresh loaves but as the colonial custom dwindled, so did the sales; locals never acquired a taste for European bread and it invariably went stale on the shelves. Happily, customers discovered slices of these “crunchy” loaves were perfect for dipping in tea and bread started to be made purely to be turned into biscuits, a process which survives today at the Diamond Bakery in Old Delhi where a delicious brioche-style loaf is made into rusks.

When the Surat bakers started to experiment with Dutch Butter Biscuits, nan khatai, meaning “bread with six ingredients” (typically flour, semolina, butter, sugar, cardamom and nuts), was born, soon travelling on to Mumbai and almost every tea stall in India.

I first tasted nan khatai, hot off the pan, in Old Delhi and I never return from my frequent jaunts there without a big bag of warm, crumbly delights under my arm. I recently had a surplus and decided to turn them into a cheesecake base.

Cheesecakes aren’t difficult to make but there are a few cardinal rules. First, a real cheesecake does not contain gelatine. Second, and this might sound obvious but I’m constantly amazed at what passes for cheesecake, there has to be cheese, preferably Philadelphia. You also need a good quality cream or mascarpone and I’ve also added malai for an additional sour note. I’m happy to report that the humble nan khatai continues to surprise—it gave the cheesecake a tantalizing other-worldly flavour, a semolina crunch and a spicy hint of the bazaar in every bite: If I’d been asked to bake a tribute to Old Delhi, this would undoubtedly be it.

Incidentally, the last time I went to get nan khatai, I was a little early and the sellers I normally buy from hadn’t yet rolled out their carts. I would have returned home empty-handed if my enterprising rickshaw driver hadn’t managed to track down the nan khatai wallah—whose family has been baking biscuits in the backstreets longer than Britannia— in one of the more obscure gullies. If you want a good dollop of Old Delhi in your cheesecake, and I can think of no good reason why you wouldn’t, look him up in Roshanpura, off Nai Sarak, Old Delhi.

Old Delhi Cheesecake

Ingredients

300g plus a few extra nan khatai biscuits

80g Amul (what else?) butter, melted

400g mascarpone cheese

300g cream cheese

150g caster sugar

3 large eggs

1 egg yolk

150ml cream (malai)

Zest of 1 orange

Zest and juice of 2 lemons (nimbu)

1 tsp real vanilla extract (not essence)

Method

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. You will need a 22cm, loose-bottomed baking tin (the springform variety is ideal here) and a large roasting tin which the baking tin can fit into. Fill a kettle with water and bring to the boil.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Crush 300g nan khatai either in a food processor or put them in a plastic bag and bash away with a rolling pin. Mix the biscuit crumbs into the butter then tip into the baking tin. Press the nan khatai to cover the bottom and provide a smooth base. Put the tin in the freezer to harden while you make the topping.

Put the mascarpone, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, egg yolk, orange and lemon zest into a bowl, then beat either with a handheld mixer or wooden spoon and strong arm until the mixture is completely smooth. Then gently fold in the lemon juice, malai and vanilla extract.

Take the tin out of the freezer and wrap two layers of aluminium foil around the outside—this step is important as the cheesecake tin will be baked in water, so the tin has to be completely sealed. Pour the creamy mixture on to the nan khatai base and place the tin on the roasting tray. Slide the tray into the oven then carefully pour enough boiling water into the tray to come halfway up the sides of the tin. Baking over water in this way keeps the cheesecake smooth and moist.

Leave the cheesecake to bake for about 1 hour. The top will be firm with still a bit of a wobble in the middle. Switch off the heat but leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven.

When completely cool, gently remove the cheesecake from the tin and use the remaining crushed nan khatai to press on the sides.

This cheesecake really needs nothing else, it’s perfection as it is although I couldn’t resist gilding the lily a little with a few Old Delhi falsa berries. Some sour cream might be nice too.

Fruit Sandwiches – posh ones and not so posh ones

While idling on Twitter the other day, I came across this recipe for Strawberry Cream Cheese Sandwiches in the British edition of upmarket food magazine, delicious.   The accompanying picture, I think, is meant to conjure up lazy afternoons watching Wimbledon  with posh snacks but it also reminded me of something a little closer to home.

Possibly  Old Delhi’s most surprising  street food joints is the Jain Coffee House in Raghu Ganj.  People are always astonished by it, not just because of the  location, in a quiet little  grain store off bustling Chawri Bazar, but also because of the sweet delicacy of  Pavan Kumar Jain’s fruit sandwiches.

Fruit Sandwiches at Jain Coffee House Continue reading

Making Bedmi Aloo at Home: A Masterclass with Anju Singh

Anju at the stove with daughter in law Vandana

There is something I love almost more than eating.  Yes, I know – big claim! I love, love, love when someone gives me a recipe.  Especially when it’s one of those recipes that you don’t find in any cookbook – the true family recipes  passed down from generation to generation.  And when the holder of the knowledge invites me into the kitchen for a masterclass, well I’m pretty much hyperventilating with excitement.

Last weekend, I was privileged to be able to experience all of this as I watched my friend Siddhartha’s Mum Anju Singh make short work of Bedmi Aloo and a Pumpkin Sabzi, a dish that’s  eaten enthusiastically  all over north India and one of my absolute favourites.

Before we arrived, Siddhartha had started writing down the ingredients and quantities – the first time Anju’s Bedmi Aloo had been chronicled in this way  – his Mum always cooks by instinct rather than by slavishly following Nigella, Jamie and Anjun like me.  Anju confessed it was extremely hard to start thinking in precise quantities after a lifetime of ‘a bit of this, a bit of that’!

First up was a dal-based filling for the Bedmi, the gorgeous, puffed, deep-fried bread that has been my downfall since I came to India.  Most of the food prep had happened earlier, TV cook-style,  so there was already a bowl of  course-ground (to make sure there’s a bit of crunch in the finished bedmi) Ural Dal (200g soaked overnight then a pinch of Hing/Asafoetida added in the morning) ready to use.

urad dal paste

Then the thick paste has to be fried in about 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil in  a non-stick or heavy karahi  You have to keep stirring furiously because the paste will stick to the pan, adding more oil if necessary.  While stirring, add the spice mix: 1 T ginger paste, chopped green chilli  and red chilli powder to taste  along with the following, dry-roasted and ground: 1 T fennel seeds, 1T coriander seeds, 1 and a half t cumin seeds, half T peppercorns, 10 cloves, 4 whole black cardamom.  Keep stirring until the mixture looks sandy with powdery, separated grains. Stir in 2T chopped fresh coriander.

While this was going on, with her other hand Anju was effortlessly rustling up the ‘Aloo ki Jhol’ (literally ‘potatoes in liquid’).  Into 2T sunflower oil heat 1t cumin seeds, half t fenugreek/methi seeds, 2t each of ginger and garlic paste, one whole dried red chilli crumbled, 2t turmeric.  Give the mixture a good stir then add 2 finely chopped tomatoes then 1t saabzi (vegetable) masala.  Saabzi masala is simply a basic garam masala to which has been added turmeric, coriander and red chilli.  Cook for about 10 minutes by which time the tomatoes will have completely broken down then add about three quarters kg of chopped, boiled potatoes and about 2 cups of water along with half a cup of chopped coriander.  Bring to the boil and cook for about 5 minutes (or to 1 whistle of the pressure cooker if you’re that way inclined)

By the way, things were moving so fast I struggled to keep up with photos and now realise I have no shots of the potato!

chopped pumpkin

chopped pumpkin skin

I think Anju has at least two pairs of hands because she was also making a pumpkin  dish at the same time.  For this she defied the health police (I’m always all for that!) and tempered some spices in mustard oil – in 1T of oil she fried a pinch of hing/asafoetida, heaped half t of methi/fenugreek seed, 1 and a half t of cumin seeds and 20 small garlic cloves, chopped.  Fry for a couple of minutes until the garlic starts to brown then add 2 dried red chillies, 2 medium onions chopped.  To this add about one and a half kg of pumpkin chopped into small pieces.  Anju’s pumpkin, she called it ‘kumhada’, was a lovely creamy yellow colour, definitely what I’d call a pumpkin rather than a squash.  With salt to taste, the pumpkin is left to cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until completely tender.  Stir in 1t of dried mango powder (amchoor) then mash slightly.

delicious cooked pumpkin

Now it was time for the Bedmi to be assembled and fried.

In a karahi, about 3 cm sunflower oil was heated. The dough had been made earlier with 2 and a half cups of wholemeal flour (atta), half  t of salt and 1 and a half T sunflower oil and enough water to make a firm dough. Anju’s hands were a blur as she broke off nimbu-sized pieces and rolled them into smooth balls.  She then pushed them into a cup shape with her thumbs and inserted about 2t of the urad dal mixture. she then brought the sides of the dough up over the dal to enclose it then rolled them out flat.

shaping the bedmi

Interestingly, Anju called her ‘Bedmi’, ‘Kachori’ which I know as the smaller, harder deep fried breads.  Actually, when it came to frying, I could see that these breads were a little on the kachori side of the spectrum, cooked slower and longer than I associate with the instant puffing up of bhature or puri.

Each bedmi was oiled then slipped into the hot oil. Turn the bedmi over after about one minute and keep turning until a rich golden brown then drain on kitchen roll.

cooked bedmis

Needless to say, the resulting feast was amazing – I’m still reliving it daily – the crispy, spicy bread; the soft comforting potato and the surprising sweet pumpkin made for a meal I’ll remember for a very long time.

Thank you so much to all of  the Singh family, the afternoon was an absolute delight.  But most of all, huge gratitude to Anju for sharing her family recipes and letting me invade her kitchen and watch a master at work!

By the way, if this all sounds like an invitation to bombard me with family recipes – great! Bring it on!

Ashok and Ashok – a taste of The Sopranos in Old Delhi

A happy eater at Ashok and Ashok

Sorry for the silence  – life seems to have gone a bit crazy around here. Ever since The Hindustan Times wrote a lovely feature about Eat and Dust a couple of weeks ago, my inbox has been overflowing with offers of exciting foodie projects! One that I’ve been extremely happy to be preoccupied with is a new newspaper  column on baking – coming very soon – stay tuned!

I did, though, still manage a couple of street food forays – and that despite the 42º heat!   One outstanding new find – and it took a bit of finding! – is Ashok and Ashok’s Meat Dhaba in Sadar Bazaar.

For those in the know,  Ashok’s chicken and mutton korma is legendary. The tiny little street eatery also has an extremely macho pedigree.  Word has it that the original Ashok and Ashok (now deceased) were, how shall I put this? Locally referred to as ‘toughies’ or ‘hoodlums’,   I gather there was a touch of The Sopranos about the two friends, who to curry (!) favour with patrons, used cook up great pots of mutton and chicken.  Catering eventually became their main activity and the legend lives on in Sadar Bazar.

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Milk Cake in Kucha Ghasi Ram

Milk Cake steaming over a kettle

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.

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Jain Sa’ab – the Gordon Ramsay of Daryaganj

I’m definitely developing a very pronounced culinary split personality. The past couple of weeks have  seen wall-to-wall macaroons and cupcakes for our recent Uparwali Chai tea party events: cake-stands piled high, pastries nibbled, Assam sipped and pinkies crooked over fine china cups.

Happily, I have a seriously sweet tooth but I’m definitely back in the mood for some savoury street fare. Just as well, then, that my friend Rahul Verma, who  writes about street food  for The Hindu newspaper, has decided to  revisit all his favourite old haunts.  Rahul first started writing about Delhi’s street food over 20 years ago,  so there’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months. Hurrah!

I’d hardly finished reading Monday’s piece about Jain Sa’ab’s Bedmi shop when I was in the car and heading to  Daryaganj.  A substantial street breakfast was just what I needed to set the right tone for the week and the wide, leafy streets of Daryaganj, dotted with colonial relics and publishing houses make a nice change from the teeming gullies of the old city.

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