Saturday, September 28, 2013

Delhi day one

With the four and a half hour time difference Rob and I woke early (by Delhi time) yesterday (Friday 27th September) on our first morning ever in India.  We're staying at Amarya Villa in the Safdarjung Enclave on the southern side of New Delhi so we thought we'd just have a wander before breakfast and get our bearings. This is a residential area - relatively middle class with two big schools just up the road so the street was busy with lots of kids and their families and nannies at drop off time.

Amarya Villa is a boutique hotel with lots of character and very personalised service. It's not 5 star but is very relaxed with stylish touches and very attentive staff (and yummy b'fasts!).

We're travelling in style with a car and driver and our own guide - thanks to the wonderful Mr Singh of Legends and Palaces - so our first day in Delhi was a very easy and gentle one - compared to some of the scenarios we had imagined.

In such a culturally and spiritually diverse country it's essential to know some basics about India's rich history and a bit about Hinduism, Islam, and the Sikhs (and the Jains). So our first stop was at the National Museum where in a fascinating hour we saw about .01% of the museum's collection of sculptures, paintings and vessels and pots (with no time for textiles unfortunately).

Then we visited the Hindu Laxminarayan Temple, built in 1938, leaving our shoes and preconceived ideas behind to learn more about the meaning of the Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, to their Hindu devotees.

Mahatma Gandhi is revered throughout modern India and we were very interested to visit Birla House in Delhi and see where he lived for the last 144 days of his life - and where he was assassinated on January 30, 1948.  It's very poignant to see his last steps marked on the pathway up to the point near the pavilion where he was shot on that fateful afternoon. Inside Birla House there was a fascinating photographic exhibition and plenty of text about the life and times of Gandhi. His simple living quarters have been left pretty much as they were when he lived there. Wonderful to see! 

Ravi our guide took us to lunch - at a busy restaurant in central Delhi, serving South Indian dishes. We kept it very light because we knew we had a big afternoon ahead. I really enjoyed the dosa and its sauces - especially the coriander.

After some toing and froing between our guides we met up with Rajeev and JD from Food Tour in Delhi at about 3.00pm.  Exuberant Rajeev and the quieter JD were to lead us through the most extraordinary NINE hour food adventure through some of the oldest (and scariest) parts of Delhi, introducing us to some of the most authentic food tastes and experiences we could never imagine. It's now almost 24 hours after we concluded the tour and no gastric upsets yet - so it proved to be a completely successful food experience in every sense!!

We set off in rickshaws through the crowded, gridlocked streets and laneways of heritage listed Old Delhi.

And the first stop was at the award winning Shyam Sweets (Watar Kachori Wale).

Chef Rajeev encouraged us to identify flavours and learn how combining sweeter flavours and pastry based "sides" can intensify and round out spicy flavoured dishes. We loved the lassi served in clay pots at this "joint". 

Deep in the laneways, next we found ourselves in the "Jain Coffee Shop". Because Jains practise non-violence towards all living things they do not eat any meat, fish, eggs or any vegetable grown below ground. We tried sliced mango, honey and paneer sandwiches at this joint and found them much more interesting and tasty than they sound.

The laneways of Delhi have every enterprise imaginable crammed into every available space. Like traders (hardware, cooking equipment, jewellery, dental supplies, shoes etc etc) are clustered together, but the food joints spill out onto the crowded narrow walkways, millimetres away from the passing traffic.

And overhead there are festoons of fearsome looking electrical cabling and colonies of (Rhesus) monkeys playing with death in amongst the wires.

This kulfi trader is renowned in Delhi & often travels overseas to provide desserts for rich people's parties - but you wouldn't think that from the location of his little trading space in this crowded laneway.

But his saffron and pistachio kulfi was just to die for (as was his berry and pomegranate seed flavoured kulfi).

These mangoes were filled with mango flavoured kulfi and topped with a hard biscuit mixture which you break open to reveal the treasure within - a very special treat.

Water buffalo milk is the basis for many yummy Indian desserts. These guys were boiling down cream made on buffalo milk, until the cream becomes so thick it sets hard and then they flavour it with spices - yum!

This guy sitting in his cooking pot hire shop looked very photogenic I thought!

The Delhi spice market is the largest in Asia. The chili fumes are so strong here it catches you in the throat. It was a hive of energy as the sun was setting over old Delhi.

The spice and tea shop of Mehar Chand and Sons was a haven of calm refinement in amongst the mayhem.

The most up market rickshaws offer fanciful lighting effects once the sun goes down. 

By now we'd made our way out of old Delhi into Connaught Place for vegetable puffs at the venerable Wengers and flavoured milk drinks around the corner from there.

The main Sikh Temple in Delhi, off Connaught Place, serves food to the poor people of Delhi - all day.  The massive kitchens of this luminous white, gold domed temple are the last word in efficiency and cleanliness.

Hundreds of volunteers come to the temple each day to help in the kitchens - to feed the poor.

I loved the atmosphere of this place - so purposeful, respectful and well organised and clean - and lots of women and girls around (unlike other places we've been in Delhi). The girls in this lovely family were very friendly to me and engaged me in quite a lively conversation. (We all had to have our heads covered in the Sikh temple - that's why I'm wearing the funny yellow cap.)

My camera ran out of battery life at this point so I missed out on pics of our kebab stand course and the huge banquet meal at Kake De Hotel (two of the more confronting food experiences of this tour, with the possible exception of the roadside chaat (snack) joint), but it was close to midnight before we were finished - without forgetting our stop off at the ice cream stand at the India Gate!  An amazing unforgettable Day 1 in Delhi!


Malcolm said...

Sounds wonderful...I dont think I can eat anything now, after reading all this.
Enjoy and maybe a light breakfast tomorrow.

Bharat Khana said...

Thank you for writing this. It was a very enjoyable day.

Bharat Khana said...

Thank you for writing this. It was a very enjoyable day.

Bharat Khana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gopinath Das said...

Amazing food tour with peppy remarks

Unknown said...

Amazing pics.. They adjusted a lot, by sitting on the mat in a small room..