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Behind closed doors

May 13, 2012 1 comment

Now that I’ve experienced my first closed door restaurant in the UK, I am surprised it has taken this long to repeat this delightful activity.

There is something slightly mischievous about going to eat at a closed door restaurant – a sense of adventure. Thrill-seeking. It’s because you aren’t really visiting a restaurant, you are being invited into someone’s living room. That you don’t choose the menu, it’s put together for you. And that you don’t ask for the bill at the end, you leave a ‘donation’ in a little envelope on the desk by the front door.

My first experience of a closed door restaurant or supper club as many prefer to call it (though I think that sounds more smutty!) was in Buenos Aires where a large number of  friends and I took over a couple’s little flat in Palermo. Since then, as I travelled through Asia, the excitement of trying another supper club waned as I didn’t come across any suggestions for similar experiences.Ben Thanh Market in Saigon

So when recently a colleague recommended a supper club in East London, I jumped at the chance to try it. The fact that it was Vietnamese in cuisine only heightened the anticipation. When recently people have asked which part of the world was my favourite to visit in the last year of travel, the answer has always been Vietnam. Other than the long, stunning coastline, the food in Vietnam really captivated my tastebuds. And besides, it’s the lengthy coastline in Vietnam which provides the copious quantities of seafood, which I totally fell in love with.

In the top three of all experiences in my life, is sitting on little plastic stools at the food section of Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi MInh city, surrounded by colourful vats of food and slithering fish being sold for wholesale. At this little stall, we’d point at this shellfish or that and wash it down with a glass of fragrant Dalat blanco.

Fernandez & Leluu live in London Fields and organise suppers a couple of times a fortnight. The house is narrow and when you enter it, you would be forgiven for thinking that there might only be a small gathering for the supper club. In fact, Leluu manages to fit 26 people in her narrow sitting room. Mind you, the crowdedness adds to the titillation of sitting next to strangers. You are invited to bring your own wine and Leluu points you to the seats she’d like you to take. There is a hint of seating arrangements as though you were at a wedding.

A couple of minutes after taking our seats and popping open the first bottle of the ‘Fat Bastard’ Pinot Noir (if you book to go here, I recommend you buy wine elsewhere as there is limited choice close to the supper club), a couple came and joined us at our table. Whether this really was deliberate on Leluu’s part or not, we were delighted to have the company of an energy trader and his Vietnamese girlfriend. It turned out that the Vietnamese girlfriend was in fact Danish-born and a budding shoe designer. The conversation flowed easily and the first course arrived.

Fish cakes with radish leavesBy far my favourite course of the eight served this evening was this simple appetiser of fish cakes. These were served with radish leaves and a sweet chilli sauce to dip into. These delicious little morsels of food gave way to starters. First a puff pastry with creamed chicken, mushrooms and sweet peas – the French influence taken care of.

Then slices of barbecued pork with spiced vermicelli which we agreed lacked heat. Then other bits and pieces, which if I am honest, I am struggling to remember. As we went through the courses, we found they were tasty but sanitised for a Western palate. The flavours that stand out in Vietnamese cooking for me are lime, coriander and chilli – fresh and bursting on your tongue. Though I could tell that the food was prepared with care, it just didn’t have the zinginess I associate with Vietnamese cuisine.

In the middle of the courses, the Pho arrived. At our table, we had speculated whether this elephant would make an appearance. With a mixture of anxiety and trepidation I took the large bowl of soup from Leluu. The broth tasted like homemade chicken consomme and there Pho as it should be (in Hanoi)was a large portion of noodles sitting in it with slices of cooked beef. The broth was tasty but lacked depth. A plateful of mixed leaves and herbs and more wedges of lime to add to the soup would have improved the dish greatly.

At this point, the sequence of courses took an interesting turn when we received a large bowlful of prawn crackers at the table with a salad of grated chicken, carrot and banana blossom. The crackers were crisp and spicy and really rather good. The salad I found to be really rather offensive to my palate – the texture of banana and chicken with grated carrot was vile.

We were feeling very full at this stage but managed to taste mouthfuls of the next couple of courses including goujons of steak wrapped in betel leaves and breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the last course arrive at the table.

A scoop of avocado and coconut ice cream served with a couple of cubes of melon. This dessert sounds a lot more exotic than it tastes. Perhaps it was the blandness of the dishes it followed which left me impartial to this last course. Perhaps I came with too high expectations. Given this was my first Vietnamese meal after visiting the country last year, it was most likely the latter.

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Popham in your mouth – the black puddings!

March 5, 2012 2 comments

A few of us were on the road from London to Torquay for a birthday party and realised that we drive right past Popham. There is very little of note in this sleepy little village not far from Stonehenge. There is a small service station with Little Chef. Having always found Little Chef’s dark, gloomy, overpriced with the worst food ever, what made us stop here and wait half an hour to get a table?

A couple of years ago, that nerdy chef who spends more time in a lab than in a kitchen – Heston Blumenthal – took a challenge with Little Chef to convert one of their service station restaurants’ food to something a little more inviting and edible. As it was 11am and as we were exactly half way between London and Torquay, it seemed like a good place to check out.

The first thing you notice is the absence of old dark wood and dirty curtains. The sun was shining and the place was bathed in a beautiful light, showing off the bright colours of a long bar around which tall stools stood, right next to the open kitchen. This was very inviting but also full of people so after a short wait, we were seated at a booth and handed menus by a surprisingly cheerful waitress. She took our drinks order and left us to devour the lengthy menu.

Heston’s specials stand out in red letters and a different font on the menu so its easy to choose if that’s what you’ve come here to try. We all went for the  breakfast menu and I chose the Olympics Breakfast. Our hot drinks arrived and again, it was a pleasant surprise to get a decent cappuccino and filter coffee.

My breakfast was a handmade all pork sausage with bacon, chips, beans, a field mushroom, two free range eggs and the best black pudding I’ve ever tasted! In fact it was so good that I decided to write this post just to mention the black pudding!

Before leaving, I went to use the facilities and was taken aback when someone shouted out an order from behind me in the cubicle. It turned out that there are individual speakers in the toilets which play peculiar sounds and music! Slightly unnerving! But on the whole a good experience all round!

Why can’t all other Little Chef’s be transformed into the same style and food as Popham? Beats me!

Tayyabs – a London institution!

February 26, 2012 3 comments

Tayyabs in Whitechapel, London has a similar reputation to Chacha’s Kebabs in Khan Market, Delhi (see last post). Unlike Chacha’s though, Tayyabs has consistently churned out the best kebabs in London and I’d rank them in the Top 5 in the world of the places I’ve been to specifically for kebabs. Note, here I’m only talking about Indian/Pakistani style kebabs and not the doners and shawarmas of the middle east.

Having had mixed success in Delhi last week, I decided to suggest a Sunday lunch trip to Tayyabs to compare whilst the memory of the kebabs in Delhi was still fresh in my mind. So this lunch time we headed off to East London.

Tayyabs occupies two adjacent plots in a side street not far from Whitechapel station. You would never just walk past it as it’s in a predominantly residential street. However once you do reach it, and especially in the evenings, you will know you’ve reached the best kebab place because there will be a queue of people waiting for tables just outside the restaurant and on Friday and Saturday nights, halfway down the street. Tayyabs don’t take reservations. They don’t need to. People come from far and wide to dine here.

Today, having arrived for an early lunch, there was no queue and we were seated quickly. This is not to say that the place was empty. There were only 2-3 tables vacant and we occupied one gratefully. Original Tayyabs started out as a smaller restaurant but the phenominal success of the food encouraged the owner to extend to the next plot which at one point must have been a pub, judging from the Saloon Bar door inside and Truman Breweries sign outside. Although you can’t get a pint at Tayyabs, it’s a ‘Bring Your Own Bottle’ restaurant.

Today I noticed a new menu. Well, it looked new but thankfully the contents were the same. The only thing that had changed was the prices. To be honest I’m not surprised they’ve put their prices up. Tayyabs is incredibly popular and successful and was always known for being tremendously cheap and cheerful. Not serving alcohol, I often wondered how they made any money!

Today, we ordered exactly the same as we always have. A portion of tandoori lamb chops, a pair of seekh kebabs and half a tandoori chicken along with a garlic naan. My only small gripe with Tayyabs menu is the absence of Roomali Roti (see last post on Delhi Kebabs) which would be a perfect accompaniment to the seekh kebabs.

The perfect lamb chops

The portion of lamb chops arrives on a sizzling hot plate. You can hear the order coming your way even before it leaves the kitchen. Often, however, I am disappointed as the waiter walks straight past my table to serve it to another table. That’s because the lamb chops is the most popular order at Tayyabs. There is no point in dining at this restaurant if you don’t intend to order this dish. The chops are thinner than the ones you would get at Sainsburys, but my god are they long. The bone is left on long and has plenty of meat on it to chew before you’re finished. The meat is sparingly spiced and the chop is cooked for a very short time in the tandoor so it’s nicely charred from the outside and very slightly pink near the bone.

The Tandoori Chicken is also on the bone and is perhaps the best anywhere in the world. The meat is beautifully marinaded in cardamom and other spices and cooked to perfection. The flesh falls off the bone and melts in the mouth.

The chutneys – yoghurt and mint, mango and spicy tomato – perfectly balance each morsel of food. All in all, I am happy to report that nothing has changed at Tayyabs and it remains, in my humble opinion, the best kebab house in the country!

Kebabs of Delhi

February 23, 2012 2 comments

On arrival in Delhi, and finding time around the hectic schedule of my cousin’s wedding, I asked friends in Delhi and on the medium of Facebook – where to find good kebabs.

In London, kebabs are usually found in Turkish take aways, resemble an elephant’s foot and are consumed at the end of a heavy night of drinking and forgotten about the next morning (or sometimes remains of it are found at the bottom of the toilet bowl after a regurgitation session in the middle of the night). That’s not to say that all Turkish kebabs are bad. Just most.

In many Asian areas, particularly around East London, you can come across a good Pakistani kebab house where you can taste the best tikkas and kebabs in the country.

But there is nothing quite like a morsel of a good kebab in Delhi. The wedding turned out to mostly have vegetarian food and it gave me a good excuse to step out with a friend and try some of the kebab places recommended by friends in Delhi.

We arrived in Khan Market for the famous Khan Chacha’s. This place started out as a street stall around 40 years ago. It soon became a sensation and would see queues of people waiting patiently for a plate of Seekh kebabs. Today there is a two floor fast food style restaurant at the same place. Though my friend ordered chicken kebabs, I wanted to try what the place is famous for – Seekh Kebab. These are hollow sausages made of minced mutton and a large number of spices, shaped around a barbecue skewer and cooked in a hot tandoor. Along with it I ordered a Roomali Roti, a soft and wafer thin bread which is as large as a big scarf (hence the name which translates as handkerchief roti). Traditionally, you would roll the kebab along with some pickled sliced red onion and green chutney into the roti and eat it like a roll. I wanted to try the kebab on it’s own first and was dismayed by how it looked – bright red (obviously colour was used) and dry. It was also cold to the touch and when I tasted some, I was very disappointed. The roomily roti on the other hand was soft, warm and lovely and with the help of large spoonfuls of chutney I managed to disguise the taste of the kebab. My friend’s chicken kebab was much better.

Later that day, my friend invited me back to her house where her husband had cooked a meal of mutton curry and ordered seekh kebabs from a local tandoor in Jungpura. The curry was sensational as only a home cooked curry made by a true Delhite can be – soft boneless pieces of mutton cooked slowly for hours in a thick spicy hot gravy made with lots of minced ginger and garlic. The seekh kebabs were ten times better than at Chacha’s so the day was saved by a local unassuming tandoor.

On our last day in Delhi, my cousin (who was also returning to the US the next day) and I decided to go to Noida Sector 18 for a round of gol gappe. These are puffed balls made out of flour which are filled with boiled potato, chick peas and a spiced water and eaten whole. On our way to our favourite gol gappe stall, we passed a restaurant called the Kebab Factory. I looked at my cousin, she cocked an eye brow and without a word, we walked into the place. We ordered, seekh kebab and tandoori chicken. Both were freshly prepared in the tandoor and went down a treat!

However before all of this, and on just day two of my arrival in Delhi, my friend and I found ourselves in Defence Colony market and seeing there was a tandoor set up outside the bar called Moet’s, we decided to order a Malai Tikka. This is a chicken kebab that’s marinated in delicate spices like cardamom and nutmeg and laced with cream, butter and yoghurt. The result is a tender mouth-watering piece of meat which melts in the mouth. The green chilli and garlic notes come at the end of the mouthful like fireworks. The plate of this Malai Tikka arrived on a styrofoam plate accompanied with a mint and coriander chutney and wedges of lemon. This was placed on the bonnet of the car and we devoured the lot within a minute. It was quite possibly the best kebab I’ve ever tasted!

Categories: Food, India Tags: , , ,

Cooking in Naxos

September 21, 2011 5 comments

Milos was nice but just didn’t keep our attention and staying as we were, right by the port, the allure of jumping on a boat to visit yet another island

View of Santorini from our ferry

seemed irresistible. So we booked the longest ferry from Milos to Naxos which took four hours but stopped off at Folegandros, Santorini and Ios amongst a few others islands. Though we didn’t visit these places, we did admire them from the port and with the exception of Folegandros and Santorini, didn’t feel like we were missing anything much!

Arriving into Naxos, as was the case at all other islands, we walked off the boat and only outside the port and across the street behind a traffic police woman was a line of people advertising rooms and studios. Greece has recently passed a law for pedlars to stay out of the port because the local hotels complained they were losing customers. I can’t understand why the local hotels also couldn’t send in a peddler but I guess it wouldn’t pass as a done thing for 4* and above hotels. But customers looking for that will have either pre-booked or won’t be swayed by the pedlars pushing studios and apartments. Yet another Greek mystery.

Sunset from our terrace

A particularly pushy male peddler of middle age and sagging middle wouldn’t let us go and at one point elbowed a young lady who was trying to attract our attention. Though we had a couple of hotels in mind, this made us circumnavigate the girth of the big guy to ask the lady what her rooms were like. She was pleasant and had an honest style about her and before long we were in her car being driven to the old town just up from the port. In the end we settled for a room above where her mum lived and it was a little attic conversion but very light and airy with a huge terrace overlooking the sea.

Renting a scooter we had a great couple of days in Naxos and decided to extend our stay

Landlady in her kitchen

for another two days at the end of which we really liked it and ended up staying a week altogether. In that time we saw the island, visited beaches, ate at lovely little tavernas and were looked after by the Mama downstairs. She sent us dome lovely food in a dish and we instantly saw what was so great about Greek home cooking! Tomatoes, peppers and aubergines hollowed out and fled with a scrumptious mixture of fried veal, rice and thyme and cooked slowly in the oven till the juices start to run. She gave us a plate straight out of the oven and we had some and left half for later in the fridge. Cold (and hungry from a night out) we found the dish even more delicious.

In fact it is at this studio with a little kitchenette that we did the more cooking than in the previous six months. We cooked napolitana sauce with the fresh and juicy tomatoes available here. We sprinkled our food with the variety of herbs which just seems to grow everywhere in Naxos. You never need to buy fresh herbs here, just take a large branch off, go home and dry it as was demonstrated by Mama.

Waking early one morning we visited the port. There is a massive gateway standing right up on a hillock which seems like it’s framing the town and is in fact the remains of a site which pre-dates Acropolis. Having taken

Adonis impressing old ladies

photos we climbed down to find a bit of the shore where a number of older women were getting out of their clothes to go for a swim on the rocks. There were no younger people or indeed any men around the bay. Next thing I knew, Craig was getting out of his t-shirt and jumping into the water. The ladies looked up with a start. Craig swam out to the sea and emerged out of the water a few metres out and the ladies gasped with pleasure. From there Craig returned by wading into the water with the ladies admiring him like he was an Adonis come out of the sea.

At this point thoughts of the end of the year and what we’ll do when we reach home started to occupy my mind and though it hasn’t been quite as long as a year yet, I manged to convince Craig to start thinking about our return.

We started to apply for jobs and decided we needed to head home. That meant we needed to reach Athens for a flight. Between Athens and us stood one great big barrier however – not just the desire to stay away but also the island of Paros. The second largest (after Naxos) of the Cyclades group and invitingly close!

Categories: Food, Greece Tags: , , , , ,

Tourism – the salvation for Greece?

September 11, 2011 4 comments

For months, news of the slowly degenerating economy of Greece has been absorbing headlines around the world. The same disease which struck otherwise stable economies in last few years gripped Greece in 2009. Like lemmings following each other over the edge, the Greek bankers lent more money than they saved and fell into the dark pit of recession.

Great food and views but at what price?

The government responded by introducing austerity cuts which angered the public workers and sent them striking all over the place. Around the world, perhaps for the first time, Greece was in the news every day. Riots in Athens. Then there was the sympathy vote from the western world. Let’s go to Greece on holiday to save their poor souls.

Last week, whilst in India, we decided that Greece was a convenient midway point between Delhi and London where we could drop anchor for a while to check out the employment situation before heading home. Not too close but still on the same continent. With the stunning islands of Cyclades on the doorstep, we spent less than 12 hours in Athens before boarding a ferry out to Sifnos. We nearly didn’t make the ferry because we woke up to find that no one had bothered telling us there was going to be a strike by taxi workers and metro workers. More about it here – http://tinyurl.com/ferry-to-sifnos

We had found Athens expensive, as we had expected to. Having spent the past ten months in S America and Asia, we were always going to be shelling out more in Europe. What we didn’t expect was prices similar or more to London. A cup of tea at a stall was €3. Compare this to Rs.5 of India (around $0.05) and the difference is you can get 60 cups of tea for the same price in India as for one in Greece! A new measure has been invented -the Chai Wallah Index!

Having paid the $50 per person fare to get on the Speedrunner 4 hydrofoil, we sat back and enjoyed the view from the ferry of the many islands we passed before disembarking at the stunning bay of Kamares in Sifnos. We found a room to stay and hired a scooter to visit the other parts of the island. When seeing the room, and still in the mood for haggling from Asia, I was quickly and without much effort able to negotiate 50% off on our room. It was odd because though not high season, the island wasn’t empty. I guess they try their luck on anyone who wont haggle.

Jumping on the scooter, we headed out to see some of the other beaches of the island and stopped for lunch. The beach was lovely with loads of fish swimming in it. We sat down outside a beach shack and looked at the fish menu and our jaws dropped. Most fish were at around €60 per kilo. The cheapest  was mackerel at €35 per kilo. Mackerel is a plentiful fish aching to jump into fishing nets. You’ll get a kilo for maximum £7 in England.

That night, we decided for the length of our stay on the island to make our own breakfast of fruits and yoghurt so went to a mini supermarket to buy a few things. We picked up a carton of Greek Yoghurt, one peach, two bananas and eight figs. The bill came to €20. The figs themselves were about €8. Next day on our outing on the scooter, we saw hundreds of fig trees on the side of the roads with figs just hanging on the branches over-ripe and rotting away.

Another morning we decided to go to the sea front to have a cup of tea and use wi-fi. A cup of tea was €3.50 or you could have English Breakfast (cup of tea, fresh orange juice, basket of breads with butter and jam, two eggs and four slices of bacon) for €7! So for €2.50 you can have an entire breakfast added to the cup of tea. Makes sense!

A greek salad is €6, a plate of lamb chops is €8. A bottle of water is €2, half a litre of wine is €2. They are crying out for a pricing consultant or they’ll drive the only thing keeping the economy – the tourist – away.

Moan over.

The best food in the world?

September 6, 2011 6 comments

I admit I am probably a little biased given I was born in the capital, but surely everyone agrees? Delhi features a plethora of cuisines but the one which is true to Delhi is extraordinary. Having travelled in many countries on all the continents, my (very personal) opinion is that it is the best!

As the capital, Delhi has attracted migrants from around the country and the fifth, sixth and older generations have not only brought their own food but influenced the local cuisine. Being a cosmopolitan city, Delhi boasts some of the best restaurants in the country. World cuisines are featured in many hotels and restaurants and are amongst the best you can eat in India.

Chinese is a very popular cuisine, whatever the political relationship between the two countries. On more than half of the menus in Delhi you are likely to encounter Chinese options. This time around I saw even street vendors selling chow mein noodles in Connaught Place. Closely related in terms of taste is the recent entrance of momos -a steamed or fried dim sum filled with meat or vegetables and a Tibetan import – which seems really rather popular amongst the youth. I tried one and though pleasant, it couldn’t beat the delicious dim sum in London’s China Town.

Aloo Tikki - Spicy Potato Cakes

Greater Delhi is roughly the size of South Wales and far more densely populated. It has at least half a dozen different centres of town and everywhere, including in the local neighbourhood market, you will find Punjabi cuisine. Punjab, lying in the North of the country, has a similar flavour in cuisine to Delhi and indeed is often seen by outsiders as the cuisine of Delhi. The chicken or mutton is portioned into large pieces on the bone, then marinated with delicate spices such as cardamom, clove and cinnamon whipped into the local yoghurt called curd before barbecuing in a clay oven – the tandoor. Tandoori food is accompanied with a side of onion and chilli garnish called laccha along with a mint chutney. A popular chain of restaurants called Pind Balluchi (or Park Balluchi in Haus Khas area) has been doing good Punjabi food with a flair for picking reasonably busy shopping areas and decorating the interior of the restaurants in scenes of Punjab village life.

For Vegetarians there are many options within the Punjabi cuisine. Cholle Bhature is a dish of spiced chick pea curry served with a deep fried bread made with self raising flour kneaded with yoghurt. Sarson ka Saag – a puree made with mustard leaves is a typical farmer’s lunch eaten with thick corn bread dripping in purified butter. Punjabi food is traditionally served with a glass of lassi, a sweet yoghurt drink much like Yop. Much of the cuisine tends to be ‘heavy’ in terms of fat and carbohydrates. No wonder then, when you look at the history of work within Punjab – hardworking farmers and soldiers.

South Indian cuisine is another popular food in Delhi. Though Kerala’s cuisine varies from Tamilnadu’s – both are southern Indian states – both are flavoured with a heavy use of coconut, rice and fish. Whilst Delhi is land-locked and several hours by air away from coast; the south with hundreds of miles of coastline is gifted by nature to produce tonnes of rice and fish. Of all the southern food, in Delhi the most popular by far is the mighty Dosa – a large thin and crispy rice flour pancake. Mashed potato delicately spiced with onions, Nigella and mustard seeds is folded inside this giant pancake and it’s served with a delicious bowl of sambhar – a soup of lentils and vegetables – and a small bowl of coconut chutney freshly grated and mixed with chillies.

If you visit Delhi today, you will find many restaurants specialising in Western cuisines. Italian food is very popular here. But you will find British pub style food, French, Greek and Mexican too. Disappointingly though not surprisingly there are a large number of American chains such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC which have shoved their way into the neighbourhood food markets to get in on the increasing size (yes, both population and waist lines) of the middle class of Delhi. But as they say, where there is demand, there is supply. Alarmingly, I read an article in the local newspaper about the decline in exercise, the increase in the purchase of personal laptops and subsequently an increase in the reported cases of obesity amongst the under 18s in Delhi.

Gol Gappe - Edible water bombs!

Some would argue that Mughlai cuisine, the food of the royal Mughal courts is the true cuisine of Delhi and it’s true to the extent that it’s very popular in Delhi; that this city has influenced the cuisine more than any other, and that the best Mughlai restaurants in the world can be found here. The rich butter curries of meat, naan bread, use of nuts and dried fruits shares it’s origins in Afghanistan and Iran.

Moti Mahal is a restaurant featured in Paul Merton’s recent series exploring India. I have known about this restaurant since I was a child. It was heralded as the best Mughlai kitchen and I had been wanting to go back their since I was a child. This time I got the opportunity. Not far from the backpacker’s district of Pahar Gunj, an unassuming little entrance opens onto a courtyard and before you know, you will be invited in and sat at one of the tables, galley style. The open air restaurant features a small stage on which an ensemble of musicians and a singer sit legs folded. A harmonium, a sitar and a tabla play with the ghazal singer. The harmony is matched in the food which is served – finely sliced ginger, grated garlic, fresh coriander and chopped chillies lend flavour as well as mouth-watering aroma to the food.

Kulche - stuffed bread cooked in a tandoor

To start, we ordered a seekh kebab – chopped mutton mixed with spices and shaped lengthways with the skewer in the centre. Seekh Kebabs are traditionally eaten with a Roomali Roti, which requires some skill to prepare and as this was available on the menu, we ordered it. Through the window in the kitchen I spied a chef making it. Roomali Roti is a bread rolled out so thinly by throwing it up in the air that it would make the pizza throwers of Naples blush. The roti is so large that it is cooked on a huge wok which sits on the fire upside down. The thin roti needs less than 10 seconds to cook on each side and is folded like a handkerchief (the Hindi word Roomali) before being served. You tear a piece of this roti, add a seekh kebab, ,mint chutney and freshly chopped onions with a squeeze of lemon and roll the whole thing up like a sausage roll and you’ll have one of the most delectable tasting mouthful of food in the world!

Only one cuisine in my eyes wins the accolade of true Delhi food -the street food. It’s cheap, it’s tasty and it’s what the masses eat everyday. My true purpose of visiting Delhi was the quest of sampling the best of what the street vendors have to offer.

The Delhi Metro now goes to Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar. In between these stations you will find the densest crowds of people going about their daily tasks of lifting heavy boxes, pushing hand-carts, calling out to the crowd to sell their wares, shoving, pushing, walking, running, eating. All in good nature.

The first food vendor I came past, by luck, was the the food I had been dreaming about for a long time! Pateela Matar. These are peas very similar to mushy peas of England and are boiled and kept in a very large pateela, a brass pot sat on a low heat. When he gets an order, the vendor takes a ladleful of

Fresh Lime Soda

the boiled peas onto a leaf (shaped into a bowl), adds fresh ingredients –  lime juice, chopped onion, chopped tomato, grated ginger, sliced green chillies, chaat masala and tosses it all up. This bowl of deliciousness is served up with a dry flat bread called a kulcha. Rickshaw wallahs, hand cart pullers, shop attendants, children after school, and tourists alike crowd around the pateela to get a taste of this incredibly fresh and tasty food. You can eat a bowl of matar and two  kulchas for Rs 10 or 15 pence of the British money.

The best thing about street food in Delhi is that none is so filling that you can’t stop by at the next vendor and drool!

Having licked clean my leaf of all the peas, I walked further along to find a man selling something that is hardly ever seen outside the square kilometre of old Delhi. A true local food – kulle. These are large potatoes boiled and sliced in half lengthways. Some of the flesh is then scooped out to make room for the peas mixed with masala and lime to be filled in. Again, very fresh tasting food which I highly recommend you seek out when in this area.

As I walked further, I saw other childhood favourites. Among them was fruit chaat – freshly cut chopped seasonal mixed fruits tossed with a black chaat masala and lime juice – delicious and healthy; mooli – long white radish split in the middle and sprinkled with lime and black salt; and everyone’s favourite gol gappe, a thin pastry in the shape of a flying saucer which you tap on the top of to make a cavity in which you fill a small spoonful of potatoes, chick peas and spicy sauce and put in your mouth whole – like water bombs – it’s an explosion of flavour!

To the brim, full of food, I made my final stop at the Lime Soda man to help digest the day’s bounty before climbing into an auto rickshaw to be taken home happy and content with life!

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