Traveling with Your Mouth Wide Open

Market

If you want to learn who other people are, eat what they eat. The intimate act of feeding oneself is so integral to one’s being that once you have shared it you can never completely see people as “the other” again. I can’t, anyway. Eating is my window on the world.

That’s why one of my favorite things to do when I travel is to take food tours. Having somebody vet the “safe” street food is handy and the explanations of why things are eaten the way they are tells you a whole lot about a place and its people.

The most recent place, two days ago on this whirlwind trip, was Old Delhi, a rabbit warren of busy streets and narrow alleys all connected with a tangle of electrical wires overhead that would not have passed code in any other city I’ve visited. But in Old Delhi a hodgepodge of laws passed under a British rule and the Indian government conspire to keep the electricians in business and somehow nothing burns down.

At the recommendation of Deepak Juyal of Le Passage to India (who arranged every detail of our terrific India trip) we booked with Raj Dhar, cofounder of the Old Delhi Bazaar Walk and Masterji Kee Haveli Visit.  He was a star. A local resident, born and raised on the streets we walked, a business consultant, a history and anthropology buff, and an amateur photographer who documented our visit so we could actually appear in our own vacation pictures, he could not have done a more impressive job.

Raj

The first bite of the morning was buffalo milk, whipped up somehow to an airy mousse consistency. The guy on the street scooped some warm fluffy milk into a small dish, sweetened it, and stuck a spoon in it.

As you stirred it deflated a bit until it was a rich, sweet creamy mouthful.

Happy me!

Then it was on to actual breakfast. Freshly fried puris with curried vegetables. It was a small local place where everyone seemed to be at home, with people eating the puris as fast as they came out of the fryer. We got to do some puri frying.

Followed by puri eating.

And some sweet but phenomenal semolina halwa.

Our next stop was to visit a man ensconced on the sidewalk concocting a spicy milky tea. He would make enough to supply the neighborhood shops throughout the day. It was delicious, its spiciness warming to the toes. It was also super rich (buffalo milk again) and I think would have made a phenomenal ice cream.

Last stop before lunch was another frothy milky beverage. Not sure I quite got what it was except that they had been making it on this spot on this street for decades and decades and it was luscious.

And you got to keep the terra cotta cup!

Finally we headed to the haveli, the ancestral home of Raj’s partner Dhruv. Dhruv had taken over the place from his mother and her siblings and was restoring it to grandeur long forgotten.

His wife made a lunch of puris (more puris!) and dal, cauliflower, zucchini meatballs and the best potatoes I’ve ever had. (Waiting for the recipe — will post when I get it!)

And here is is — thanks Dhruv!!

Potato Recipe

Prep Time : 10 mins

Cook Time : 15 mins

Serves: 3

Ingredients needed

  Potatoes (boiled and chopped) -2 cups 

   Green chillies -2 slit

   Ginger -1 inch piece thinly sliced

   Coriander seeds -1 tbsp

   Cumin seeds – 1 1/2 tsp

   Red Chilli powder -1 tsp

   Turmeric powder -1/4 tsp

   Dry mango powder/amchur powder -1/2 tsp

   Salt needed

For the seasoning

  Oil -3 1/2 tbsp 

   Cumin seeds -1 tsp

For garnishing

   Coriander leaves-finely chopped

Preparation 

Dry roast coriander seeds and cumin seeds separately. Powder both together coarsely. Using freshly ground spices gives a nice flavor to the dish.

Pressure cook potatoes, peel the skin and cut it into small pieces or cubes.

Method

Heat oil, add cumin seeds (1 tsp), when it splutters, add slit green chillies and thinly sliced ginger.

Sauté for a few seconds, reduce the flame and then add freshly ground coriander and cumin powder, amchur powder, turmeric powder, chilli powder and salt.

Sauté for a few seconds and then add the boiled and cubed potatoes. Mix well so that it is well coated with the seasoning.

Roast on low flame for 10 minutes stirring in between. Garnish with coriander leaves. Delicious potato can be served with rotis or rice.

And thoroughly stuffed we headed out to the airport for it flight back to Dubai, vowing never to eat again, a pledge that lasted to roughly 7:30 that night.

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