A Spot of Surgery and a Saveur Blog Award Finalist

IMG_3137

To be honest, blogging has been the last thing on my mind recently.

About a month ago I suddenly decided to have some hip surgery I’ve been putting off for a while. I did a few last beautiful spring walks in Old Delhi with friends, my husband and son wangled some time off work/school and we flew back to Edinburgh.

It’s now been two weeks since the surgery and needless to say my usual musings on my beloved Old Delhi have been on hold as I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m very thankful that all seems to have gone well but frustrated to not be racing around yet. One of the things I think about every day is ‘could I manage Old Delhi yet’? That could take some time – I’m still struggling to cross the road in Edinburgh before the green man disappears!

I’m also not doing much in the kitchen beyond making cups of tea and heating up soup – although Dean says I must be on the mend because I’ve started bossing him around when he’s cooking.

I’ve got to say, though, everyone in the family is proving to be pretty nifty in the kitchen. Dean has produced a constant supply of stews and roasts (it’s bloody freezing here – in fact yesterday, the alleged start of British Summer Time, saw snow in Edinburgh). My daughter makes a mean Thai Green Curry and my youngest son is the king of Carbonara. My eldest son has yet to rattle the pots and pans but I have big plans for him in the weeks ahead.

My Mint newspaper baking column is also on hold for the time being but I’m hoping to rustle up some recipes in the next week or so.

Anyway, as you can imagine blogging has been the last thing on my mind given that the things I most love to write about – Old Delhi and baking – are out of reach for now.

So I was absolutely flabbergasted, in fact I thought it was a codeine-induced hallucination when I saw on Twitter yesterday that Eat and Dust is a finalist in the Saveur Magazine Blog Awards 2015. Stunned – out of 50,000 entries, I’ve been shortlisted in the Culinary Travel category. Thank you, thank you, thank you to whoever nominated me!

If you’d like to vote, or just take a look at the wonderful range of beautiful blogs Saveur have highlighted again this year (they’ll certainly be helping me pass the hours between physio and binging on Netflix), click here.

If you’re new here, I apologise for the lack of ‘eat’ and ‘dust’ (Edinburgh has to be the least dusty place in the world and street food is limited to the weekly hog roast at the farmers’ market) appearing at the moment but here are a few posts from the archives you might enjoy:

One of Old Delhi’s Most Fabulous Breakfasts at Khan Omlet Centre

God’s Own Street Food – Daulat ki Chaat

Eid Prayers at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid

A Round-Up of Old Delhi’s Best Street Food

A Recipe for ‘Old Delhi’ Cheesecake

Sita Ram Diwan Chand’s Chana Bhatura (with recipes)

IMG_3255

Advertisements

Some (non-election) snaps of Old Delhi this morning

 

Image 

The world’s biggest ever democratic election got underway here  this week and, as always in India, the numbers are staggering. Over 800 million people are eligible to vote in 9 phases between now and 12th May (there will be 6 days of voting in UP and Bihar alone); 543 seats will be contested; there are 930,000 polling stations equipped  with 1.4 million electronic voting machines and 11 million personnel have been deployed to keep the whole show on the road.  The Indian media and Twitter, needless to say, are in a frenzy trying to predict the outcome. Will Congress and the Gandhi dynasty cling onto power or will the right wing BJP sweep in? In most Delhi neighbourhoods the last few weeks of campaigning ahead of voting on Thursday have been, to put it mildly, boisterous. We happen to live right next to one of the  Aam Admi (‘common man’) Party’s offices and getting any peace and quiet to work has been virtually impossible.

In comparison, Old Delhi at dawn today was blissfully quiet. I arrived with a  friend just as it was getting light and the city was starting to come to life. I think this might be my favourite time, in my favourite place, when the craziness of the day is still to come and people are taking a little time for themselves. We wandered mainly around the Jama Masjid area where many were waking up on the pavement, the seat of a rickshaw or at one of the many open air charpoy (rope bed) ‘guest houses.’ The chai and  omelette sandwich-wallahs were doing a roaring trade.  Some early birds were already out selling fruit, vegetables and buckets of meat.  

We probably saw more men in their baggy underwear than was strictly necessary but watching a young barber set up his stall in the shadow of the Jama Masjid was sight for sore eyes.  We climbed onto the roof of the Haji Hotel and marvelled at the (rare) blue sky behind the mosque. We had a quiet cuppa in Haveli Azam Khan, stocked up on rusks and biscuits at the Diamond Bakery and were back home in time for breakfast and a full  day of campaigning.

 Anyway here are a few non-election snaps…

Image

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

 

Image

Image 

Image

Image

 

 

 

 

 

Chikki Market and Gupta Chaat Wallah, Old Delhi

IMG_4573
As we cling onto the last few cool days here, it’s a perfect time to take a leisurely wander around Old Delhi and enjoy some some of the winter specialities that are still available.

One of the never-ending delights of walking in Old Delhi is coming across the tiny markets within markets, the little lanes devoted to one commodity. This winter I discovered a market tucked away in Kothi Shri Mandir near the Khari Baoli spice market and devoted almost entirely to Chikki – a type of nut brittle made from jaggery in the winter months.

Kothi Shri Mandir is so narrow there is hardly any daylight and it almost feels like walking through a secret underground passageway where your path is lit on either side by piles of magical sugar.

IMG_4399

IMG_4409

IMG_4412

There’s chikki everywhere you look made from sesame (also called gajak), peanuts, cashews even dried rose petals which come in all shapes and sizes – bars, rolls, discs, slabs, golf balls, tiny coin-sized pieces and hearts.

IMG_4403

This is my favourite shop, Lal Chand Rewri Wale – beautiful fresh chikki and I love the way the owner is practically wearing his merchandise.

IMG_4415

There are also some namkeen shops in the street like Pappu Caterers who sell everything you could possibly wish for to put a bit of crunch into your chaat – the spinach matri was particularly good.

IMG_4394

IMG_4395

You can  see the chikki being made in some of the shops – these guys are pounding slabs of sesame and jaggery

IMG_4477

And this is the peanut brittle being shapedIMG_4570
IMG_4401

As you come back out of Kothi Shri Mandir, take a minute to appreciate Gali Batashan itself – a whole street devoted to all things sugary, pickled and candied – like these carrots, ginger and amla.
IMG_4417

The gali is also home to some excellent snacks. The Bombay Sandwich wallah often makes a stop here and there is a chana puri stall doing a roaring trade on the corner of Kothi Shri Mandir.  But my new favourite chaat is made by the Guptas who told me they had been in the gali for 45 years – verified by a happy customer who said he’d been visiting their stall for over 40. They run a hugely popular, very spic and span cart from which father and son dish up all kinds of fresh and flavoursome chaat.

IMG_4474

IMG_4419

IMG_4418

IMG_4476

Finally, on the corner of Gali Batashan and Khari Baoli there is a  seasonal vegetable stall – look at all these gorgeous black carrots, fresh green chick peas, star fruit, sweetcorn, lotus roots and fresh turmeric…

IMG_4424
Gali Batashan runs between Khari Baoli and Naya Bans.  If you’re coming from Khari Baoli, Kothi Shri Mandir, where you’ll find all the chikki wallahs, is the last turning on the left before reaching Naya Bans. Gupta Chaat wallah is on the left of Gali Batashan before you turn into Kothi Shri Mandir.  Here’s a map of the exact locations.  Go soon, though, the hot weather is on its way!

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z5yQqd-1sTFU.kwW3uh74zD_M

The Truest Sign of Winter in Delhi? The Daulat ki Chaat Wallahs are back in town!

 

Image

Winter has arrived here in Delhi.  I know this not just because we’re all starting to cough and splutter with the dreaded ‘Change of Season’ ailments.  Or because my feet are starting to get cold in bed at night and I can’t quite remember where I stashed our quilts last spring.  

No, I know the cooler days are here again because a few days ago I got a call from Babu Ram Kumar to let me know he and his brothers are back in town.  The Kumars are from Uttar Pradesh but every winter they’re based in Old Delhi where they continue a family tradition of making Daulat ki Chaat, that ethereally magical dessert that’s like a cross between a soufflé and a cloud.

Image

 

The lore that surrounds daulat ki chaat is every bit as amazing as the taste.  Food writer Madhur Jaffrey remembers it from her childhood in Delhi when a mysterious ‘Lady in White’  brought it in little pots to her family every morning.  It is said that Daulat ki Chaat must be made, by hand,  by the light of a full moon then left to set in the morning dew. It can only be made in the winter and has to be served and eaten quickly before the sun reduces the vendors’ snowy platters to a milky puddle. I’d been intrigued by these tales for years but for my book on Old Delhi I was determined to get to the bottom of the stories.  I pestered every Daulat ki Chaat maker I could find to let me watch them at work but it was the Kumar brothers who  eventually buckled under the pressure.   And so, last winter I spent several  unforgettable hours in the middle of a freezing cold  night watching pails of milk  being transformed into the food of the Gods. Were angels involved? Or the morning dew?  I couldn’t possibly say – at least not until my book, Korma, Kheer and Kismet, comes out in April!

For now, though, don’t miss the brief season.  Once almost extinct, for the past few seasons the daulat ki chaat stalls have been multiplying and from now until about Holi you’ll find them at various spots in Old Delhi including Dariba Kalan, Kinari Bazaar and outside the Chawri Bazaar metro station.  

Image

Kishan Lal Halwai – the rock god of Old Delhi sweet makers

Narender Lal, rock god

I’ve been putting off posting about this recent Old Delhi find because the pictures I took are so terrible. Like this…

Not an illegal poker game, a sweet shop

and this…

Literally throwing money at the guy

Then it occurred to me.  The reason the pictures are so bad is that the food is just so good and the crowds so mental that it’s impossible to get a shot without  being trampled in the crush.  How could I not pass on such treasure?
The chaotic scene you see above is played out every evening on Chandni Chowk and if you didn’t know any better you’d think it was a high-stakes illegal poker game.
In fact it’s possibly Old Delhi’s most popular sweet shop.
Actually, it’s not even a proper shop, more of a nightly pop-up event in the doorway of what during the day is Bishamber Dass Prannath Jewellers.
Whatever you want to call it, Kishan Lal Halwai make some of the best sweets and samosas you are ever likely to taste.  The proof:  the trays of freshly made Sev ki Barfi, Karachi Halwa and samosas which are carried in at about 7pm are gone within an hour.
As you can see, above, people are literally throwing money at the poor guy whose job it is to weigh the sweets out.
Despite its seeming impermanence,  this is no fly by night operation.  The family have been in  business for over 50 years; the founder,  Kishan Lal, used to sit outside the Mercantile building on Chandni Chowk.
The business is now run by the founder’s son Narender who I imagine must feel like the rock god of halwai  every night in life.
They also have a shop in Sitaram Bazaar  which I later remembered visiting a couple of years ago  during monsoon when they make stunning ghewar.  I didn’t manage to get any good shots then either…

A sweet maker at Kishan Lal in Gali Shankar

Ghewar, although not Kishan Lal’s

The sweets I sampled, Sev ki Barfi and Karachi Halwa, are some of the best, and certainly the freshest, I’ve ever eaten.  Sorry there are no drool-inducing close-ups – you’ll just have to take my word for it.
A huge thanks to my high-energy companion for the day, Surekha Narain, for pointing out Kishan Lal’s spot in Chandni Chowk.
How to find Kishan Lal:  The stall is at 1210 Chandni Chowk and is directly opposite landmark shop  Chhabra 555 which is roughly halfway down Chandni Chowk on the Gurudwara side.
Arrive before  8, though!
To find their Sitaram Bazaar workshop: from Chawri Bazaar metro walk almost to the end of Sitaram Bazaar, then turn right into Gali Shankar.  Ask for Kishan Lal Halwai

Gorgeous Goddesses and Lashings of Aloo Puri in Old Delhi

Saturday was Ashtami, the 8th day of the nine-day Hindu fasting period known as Navratri  (literally, ‘nine nights’) during which the goddess Durga is honoured.

Food, as ever, plays an important part.

Continue reading

Gulabi Chikki – Coming Up Roses In 2012

Happy New Year everyone – wishing you all great things in 2012! One  of my wishes for the year ahead is  to spend more time here on my poor neglected blog. Thank you to everyone who wrote to find out if I’d dropped off the face of the earth – I really appreciate all your messages.

The truth is, I wouldn’t let myself do any blogging until I’d made some serious headway with the book.  I spent most of the autumn in Old Delhi, taking part in all the festivals, soaking everything up and filling dozens of notebooks but as soon as Diwali was over I knew I had to just sit down and try to make sense of it all. For a while I seriously doubted I could do it (I still have my doubts actually).  How could I possibly do justice to my beloved Old Delhi? How would I ever get beyond my journalist’s comfort zone of 1500 words?  Was my spine , and sanity, going to survive sitting at a desk for months on end?

Eventually I gave myself a good talking to,   strapped myself to a chair, switched off the internet and vowed to do no blogging or  excursions to Old Delhi until  I’d made significant progress.  It worked, sort of, and  it was a massive relief when  I sent off the first chapter a day before Charlie arrived back for the Christmas holidays.  Baby steps, but still an achievement.

My back’s still killing me but at least I’d earned a trip to Old Delhi. So last Friday, Dean and I left the kids sprawling on the sofa and headed out into the chilly morning. When we  arrived  in Chawri Bazaar  the streets were still thick with cold winter fog so we decided to warm up in Standard Sweets, a few steps from the Metro station.   We ordered two plates of Chhole Puri, a soft and comforting chick pea dish served with piping hot deep fried breads.  The Standard version of  this ubiquitous Delhi  dish is the addition of   potato, paneer and an extremely tasty kofta (a creamy vegetable dumpling).  We parked ourselves at a table to watch the shop and street get ready for the day.  A huge platter of carrot halwa was set on a stove to keep warm while young men in mufflers trooped in bearing trays of freshly made samosas and balushahi. Our breakfast, washed down with sweet spicy chai was delicious – I particularly enjoyed the kofta.  All round, a perfect winter warmer. From Standard Sweets we decided to wander through  Gali Peepal Mahadev where several temples were doing a brisk trade in early morning pujas.  Here, on the left,  we spotted the young owner of Standard Sweets making his offerings

We came across  an embroidery workshop and a dyeing shop

From Ballimaran we headed towards Kinari Bazaar and found a Daulat ki Chaat vendor.

I say ‘found’ but they’re not exactly difficult to come by these days.  Has anyone else noticed the multiplying of  Daulat ki Chaat wallahs in Old Delhi this year?  A happy renaissance to be sure but I’ve noticed some of them, particularly those clustered round Chawri Bazaar metro station,  taste a bit synthetic – cutting corners perhaps? The one we ate in Kinari Bazaar, however, was top notch.  The vendor, a serious young man in a Nehru waistcoat, was almost hidden from view in a side lane.  He took great pains to make sure each plate was just so, waited for us to finish then folded up his stand, put the platter on his head and disappeared into the main bazaar.

Dean stopped for a haircut, which as cruel friends have pointed out, never takes that long

From Kinari Bazaar we turned into Paranthe Wali Gali, not for paranthe but for sweets at Kanwarji which is at the end of the street on the corner with Chandni Chowk. Here I bought the beautiful rose chikki you can see at the top of this post. Chikki are like  nut brittle –  usually  nuts, seeds or puffed rice set in sugar or jaggery.  In the winter months, when the roses are at their best in India, the sweet shops sometimes add rose petals to their chikki.  Delicately rose-flavoured and beautiful to look at, they made the prettiest of new year gifts.

We also popped into the historic Ghantewala sweet shop a few doors up on Chandni Chowk to try their Habshi Halwa, a dark sugary, nutty, spicy sweet which, it turns out, both looks and tastes like Christmas pudding.

Then, just as we were about to head home, we decided to  take a peek in one of the lanes between Chandni Chowk and Kinari Bazaar. And in that little detour  we found  this lovely little place;

this young man with his thriving knife-sharpening business. Can you see the sparks flying from the scissors he’s sharpening on a stone that he’s turning by pedal power?

an old abandoned desk;

and a happy doggy  soaking up the winter sun…

It’s not just the food of Old Delhi  I’ve missed over the past few weeks, I’ve also missed  these endless discoveries.  It doesn’t matter how often I go to Old Delhi there’s always something I haven’t seen before; a doorway, a clock, a shaft of light, someone making something or fixing something, the boy with one blind eye  watching the crazy foreigner have his hair clipped.

Here’s to a year of discovery!

Standard Sweets, Gali Hakim Baqa. From Chawri Bazaar metro station   turn into Chawri Bazaar and take the first little turning on the left and you’ll see the shop on the left.

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.

Continue reading

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

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!

Continue reading