Delhi 5th – 7th April
I am waiting for my luggage at Delhi airport and it’s not going to be hard to spot. An extremely large black Samsonite sticking out like a sore thumb amongst what appears to be nothing but a sea of boxes of Alfonso Mangoes which are currently in season and accompanying nearly every traveller to Delhi. I almost wish I had of bought a box of them myself I am feeling so left out without one.
I meet my next guide and driver. I’m slowly getting used to ‘Team Nellie’ and when I finally get home it takes some readjustment not to expect them there on the doorstep every time I leave home, ready and waiting, air conditioning and wi fi on, bottled water and anti- bacterial hand wipes at the ready….
Check into the wonderful Imperial Hotel in Delhi, a truly colonial beautifully run hotel with exceptional service. Despite my first room being perfect there are builders banging loudly below in the garden so I am whisked to another. This room turns out be even nicer but unfortunately has a mal-flushing loo. I’ve unpacked twice now so it’s getting a little boring. More people arrive and move me yet again, finally to a very nice suite just a short journey down the corridor peppered with profuse apologies.
6th April – Into the streets of Old Delhi with Anubhav Sapra founder of Delhi Food Walks. A thoroughly lovely guy who is unbelievably knowledgeable his brief is to give me a deep insight into the lives lived through the streets of the Old town.
First off is breakfast street food. Bedmi Pooris, a puffy hefty deep fried affair; bread made of wheat flour, spices and dal which is served with a spicy aloo sabzi, or potato curry; Pitthi and Matar Kachori – a proper Delhi preparation with peas and dal stuffing spiced up with condiments served hot with potato gravy; Paneer Pakoda – huge cubes of cottage cheese immersed in a flour batter and then deep fried; Nahari – a non vegetarian dish cooked overnight with hot curry spices. Paaye – with a soup like consistency, considered to be a royal food, made of goat’s trotters or buffalo tongues and usually eaten for breakfast and sweets made of milk and milk solids are served hot in the mornings.
Some of the most impressive sights on the streets are the examples of resourcefulness in ways of making a living. Men don’t bother shaving at home, you get a better one on the street for a few pence, you can get your ironing done while you wait by a lady with an iron filled with hot coals, and even get your ears cleaned.
Bread forms a very important part of any meal in India and is made normally to order on the streets. I could of watched this for hours, the technique and skill take years to learn properly. I was asked if I wanted to have a go but to be honest sitting cross legged on a tiny mat rolling dough in front of a street full of passing people isn’t really my thing, plus I didn’t trust myself not to fall head first into one of those ovens and get burnt to a cinder.
Walking down a crowded street we come upon a butcher setting up his stall doing a bit of butchery as you can see in the back of his cart. Meat is sold quickly in this heat and as it’s so fresh it doesn’t smell at all. I’d feel a lot better about it if there were some sort of fly covers though.
Abnuhav flags down a bicycle rickshaw to take us to the Spice Market and the thought of whether the rider can speedily peddle it through the streets of old Delhi laden with the weight of the two of us at his age does fleetingly goes through my mind but I should have had more faith. An impressively fit guy, there’s no way I could of peddled two hardly skinny people for twenty minutes in 40 degree heat.
Another quiet day reading by the pool before I visit The National Gandhi Museum & Library. This small unprepossessing place tells the story of his life with countless marvellous example of his works from papers to bound books. It’s a very humbling experience and I am glad I made the detour. I am beyond impressed with his Eleven Vows. The only one I find completely unacceptable is (for those of you not familiar with it) No IV entitled ‘Control of the Palate’.
‘Eating is necessary only for sustaining the body and keeping it a fit instrument for service, and must never be practised for self- indulgence. Food must therefore be taken, like medicine, under proper restraint.’ (He goes on…) ‘In pursuance of this principle one must eschew exciting foods, such as spices and condiments. Meat, liquor, tobacco…..are excluded from the Ashram. This principle requires abstinence from feasts or dinners which have pleasure as their object’.
He’s definitely lost me as a convert now I’m afraid.
Manjeet my driver and I meet Abnuhav outside KFC (so weird to see it here) and he takes me on an early evening tour of Nizamuddin in the west of Delhi, frequented by many Muslim vendors. Everyone is setting up for an evening of trade, and around us as we walk are the now familiar sights of pots of slowly cooking stews, marinated chicken pieces hanging on hooks ready for the grill and fires being stoked. A small boy who tells me proudly he is 10 years old waits patiently to sell his beautifully presented milk puddings and the toothbrush stick sellers sit on the ground ready to sell their chewable wares.
There is one more stop before we head back that Abnuhav is keen to show me. There is a stall that sells a very popular dish of Fruit Chaat; a spiced fruit salad. Fresh fruit in bite sized pieces often papaya, banana, oranges, pomegranate, grapes, apple and pineapple sometimes mixed with cooked potato is then mixed with chaat masala, roasted cumin powder and red chilli and served on little sticks.
It’s time for Manjeet and I to leave Abnughav, the glorious Imperial Hotel and Delhi behind for the long drive to Agra. I am very excited, I am finally going to see the Taj Mahal.