What I’ve been watching/reading while flat on my back

So one good thing about having a dodgy back is that you’re forced to take it a bit easy.  This has meant watching way more TV than usual – happily we’ve recently started subscribing to a service that lets us watch British and American channels.  I’m now up to date with every food programme on the BBC,  including  Nigel Slater (always inspiring) Lorraine Pascale (wonderful new baking talent) and Raymond Blanc (always more French than he has any right to be after 100 years of living in Britain).  I’ve also plodded through the rather dull  Brit version of Masterchef – not a patch on the Oz series – enlivened only by an appearance by the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi.

I’ve also been able to catch up on some food-related reading, and thought it might be nice to share. Among other things,  I’ve been enjoying various anthologies of American food writer M.F.K. Fisher and the New Yorker collection of food writing.

As a lifelong sugar addict, this lengthy article in the New York Times, ‘Is Sugar Toxic?     scared the life out of me and while I’m not about to turn my back on all things cake and jalebi, I’ve decided to give up sugar in tea and coffee to see if I can stall the inevitable slide towards diabetes and worse.

My Twitter friend Robyn Eckhardt who runs the wonderful Eating Asia blog from Kuala Lumpur wrote this thoughtful piece about safely eating street food  http://www.zesterdaily.com/travel/899-asian-street-food-safety-tipJust as applicable to eating street food in this part of the world

While I’ve  been feeling very low energy, I’ve been marvelling all the more at those bloggers who seem to juggle effortlessly job, family and three posts a week, including pictures and recipes.  One of my recent favourite, super-energetic bloggers is Kathy Gori. A screenwriter and once the voice of Rosemary the Telephone Operator in cartoon series Hong Kong Phooey (I remember it well!) Kathy writes a wonderfully entertaining Indian food blog even though she lives in Hollywood and as far as I know has never been to India.  Kathy seems to cook and blog constantly – this week she’s  been cooking up some seriously impressive-looking momos.

Another  blog that caught my eye was this cutie – a young cook living in Paris who invites people to her tiny apartment for lunch.  It took me back to my own garret-living days in Paris.

I loved this article about the two families of sufi singers in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi, written by my fellow Mint writer, Mayank aka The Delhiwalla. We lived in Nizamuddin  for a while and Thursday nights in the dargah listening to the qawwals  were some of our most magical times in Delhi.

It was good to see three British restaurants appearing in the world’s top 50 restaurants announced last week.  It seems like a really exciting time in British cooking (contrary to what Masterchef would have us believe!) – I’m really looking forward to trying out some new taste sensations when we’re home in the summer.

And finally, for fun, a big talking point in our house this week: what was Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson thinking going to the beach in this hideous burkini? Has she lost the plot or was it a clever two fingers up at the paparazzi?


Goodbye Sachin, Hello Haleem


A little over two years ago I met the wonderful Eating Out In Delhi gang and it is no exaggeration to say that they altered my food horizons forever. Through them came my life-changing introduction to Indian street food and a lifelong addiction to Chhole Bhature.

At  EOID’s helm was Hemanshu Kumar who organised regular jaunts to obscure eateries – we even had a couple of out of town gorging sessions – our trips to Amritsar and Lucknow will stay with me forever.  Eating street food became less of a priority  for Hemanshu, though, when he got married recently. Several other founder members  have also moved onto pastures new. We meet sporadically now but it’s always the highlight of my week – eating and laughing, laughing and eating, then a bit more eating.

Last night we met to say goodbye to our friends Sachin and Prajakta who, sadly for us, are moving back to their beloved Bombay.  So that’s the sadness. Happily the food was exceptionally good and Prajakta kept us all entertained with hilarious impersonations of Kiran Rao.

Sachin had chosen Purani Dilli in  Zakir Nagar for his last supper and what a treat it turned out to be. Zakir Nagar is a Muslim area  near New Friends Colony positively overflowing with good things to eat.  The main street of Zakir Nagar has the party feel of  Matia Mahal in Old Delhi, with the added chaos of people trying to drive 4x4s down it. Purani Dilli is at the far end of the street so it can take a while to get there and for me it was an anxious rickshaw ride as Sachin had warned us that the Haleem for which the restaurant is famous would be finished by 8.15.  By the time we arrived there was only a spoonful of Haleem left and it looked a little forlorn  – hence no pictures.

The taste, though, was divine.  I don’t exactly know how haleem is made (and I’ve spent way too much time on Twitter this morning trying to find out!)  but I do know it’s a dish that originates in Hyderabad, a divine marriage of mutton, ghee, wheat, lentils and spices.

Bizarrely, the thing it most reminds me of is French ‘rillettes’ – meat, usually pork, slow cooked in fat then shredded and served as an extremely rich paté. When I lived in Paris rillettes were my passion (and  downfall in the dress size department) and I think Haleem might be about to become my Indian equivalent. Both dishes have a soft, soothing yet incredibly rich texture (that’s the beauty of ghee and pork fat!), set off perfectly by good bread.  In Paris that meant baguette, at Purani Dilli a perfect naan.

The Haleem was so good I couldn’t focus on anything else although the mutton stew alone would be worth a return trip.  And there will be a return trip – but next time I’ll be setting out earlier.

Thank you to Sachin for choosing Purani Dilli and thank you to both he and Prajakta for sharing some of my best times in India – eating!  All the best to them and their gorgeous little girl Aanya – we’ll be down to sample some Bombay street food very soon.



Good Times With Rocky and Mayur

Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma are the rock stars of the Indian food scene.  I’m devoted to their insanely popular TV show Highway on my Plate, on NDTV Good Times.   In their  quest to track down the authentic dishes of India, these guys spend most of the year on the road – there are dhaba-wallahs in Tamil Nadu who see more of them than their wives!

They’ve ad-libbed their way round this vast country eating everything from Juma (blood sausages) in Arunachal Pradesh to Karimeen in Kerala, they’ve hung  out in tribal huts and army camps, they’ve been feted and berated and they do it all with huge charm and panache.

In a time of creeping MacDonalds and KFC, their enthusiasm for India’s street food is irrepressible and infectious.  I’m a huge fan and couldn’t have been more chuffed when the publishers of the new book of the series asked me to help launch it.

In a packed tent at the back of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on a chilly ‘Lohri’ evening  last week I got the chance to quiz them about where their great foodie adventure began.

Rocky and Mayur have known each other since they were kids, growing up in the same South Delhi street, and fondly remember all the neighbourhood ‘aunties’ who used to feed them. As young men they would frequently take off on road trips which largely revolved around food.  Which is pretty much the winning formula of their TV show and as Rocky said ‘find something you love doing and you’ll never have to work again’.

As huge champions of what they call the ‘real food of India’, they spoke about their fears that the wildly varied regional food of the country is at risk of being lost in the headlong rush towards global chains and food courts. The book is a wonderful attempt to point us in the right direction, packed with detailed and loving descriptions of  unusual dishes we should all get out and try before they disappear.

Rocky and Mayur – food heroes and thoroughly nice blokes – oh and as you can  see really, really tall!

Highway on my Plate, Random House rs 299

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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Food ‘moments’ and why I can never leave India

A few months ago, Dean and I spent some lovely times in Old Delhi introducing American food writer Joe Ray to the wonders of Delhi street food.  Joe was a charming companion and enthusiastic devourer of  everything we put his way.

We worked our way through chaat, jalebis, japani samose, fruit sandwiches and a vegetarian thali at Adarsh Bhojanalaya.  But it was while we were polishing off korma at Ashok and Ashok in Sadar Bazaar that Joe confessed  he was ‘having a moment’. Dean, too, looked distinctly emotional as he savoured the melting meat curry. We all agreed it was one of the finest meals we’d eaten for some time.

Joe’s  lovely article  about his time in Old Delhi appeared in the Boston Globe yesterday and while I was reading it I started thinking about  the moment when my eating life was transformed by Indian street food.

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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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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

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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