Friday, September 18, 2009

Dilli Meri Jaan- The spirit of Delhi

The spirit of Delhi

Well, if you know what Delhi food is all about, then you should know this place. Well, I spent 20 years if my life in Delhi but I didn’t realize what was the essence of Delhi food. This was till the time I was at school. But the moment I stepped out of Delhi, I knew what I missed. For the next 8 years, travelling from the dusty streets of Alwar and Jaipur in Rajasthan, to the crowded areas of Charminar and the elite Banjara Hills in Hyderabad, from the canals in Netherlands to the beaches in Sydney, I set across this voyage of gastronomical delight. A voyage of culinary introspection. While I savored the tastes of different cuisines, I discovered the delicate intricacies of taste and the mesh of Indian spices coupled with culture.

Well coming back, as I started of saying, sometime you never know what is so special about something that you have been with, till the time you are no longer. Now, I know that you know that I have just disclosed the biggest secret of the Hindi film industry, aka Bollywood. Haven’t you seen, girl and boy are together, but don’t realize that they are in love, until, either of them go away, or perhaps one of them is getting married or maybe the villain is about to do those dirty things with the damsel in distress. While the permutation of how they relies may extend till infinity depending upon the imagination of the writer, director, drawing a similar corollary to my life, I never realized what Delhi was all about till I left it. And when I say what Delhi is all about, it definitely includes the food.

Well Delhi is that vibrant city which is an intoxicating cocktail of power, politics, aggression and jugaad. From the power center streets of Vijay Path, to the suave and posh south Delhi, from the crowded Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk to the trading community of Punjabi Bagh, the taste that binds the palates of this diverse crowd is something that you’d not get anywhere else in the country. I am sure you must have realized how touching a topic this is for me to write as I have digressed so many times, but coming back for the one last time to the point that I wanted to mention.

While every region has its own taste, Delhi is this sizzling potpourri where you have the tastes of the country being amalgamated into one pot and being served piping hot. Take for instance south Indian food. In every corner of Delhi, you would get a range of south Indian cuisine being served, which predominantly includes dosa’s, idli’s and vada’s which is served along with coconut chutney and sambar. But if you have sampled the cuisine in Delhi and that served in south India, you would realize the difference. One of the distinct differences any one would be able to recognize is that the sambhar in south is all watery and liquid, where as the north Indian variant is thick and viscous, along with vegetables. Similarly, the dosas down south are thick whereas up north, you find them thin and crunchy, the paper crunch variant. The gol gappas served in Delhi are different from the gol gappas served in Hyderabad. While in Delhi you would have a golgappa’s filled with boiled potatoes and chickpeas, but down south you would have them served with boiled chickpeas, which is similar to the matar ki chaat that you get across in Uttar Pradesh.

I realized that Delhi food is all about sizzling chicken tikkas, tandoori chicken, which you find across every galli nukkad in Delhi. It’s all about street food in Delhi. The chole batures, the tikkis and the chaat or the so called fast food at every corner. The fast food that serves chowmein and dosa on the same tawa, but invariably has different and distinct taste.

The perfect meal would be the roasted variant of starters, be it a chicken tikka during the summers or perhaps the fish tikkas during the winters. Tandoori chicken, followed by butter chicken coupled with the awesome daal makhani served with piping hot butter naan. Not to forget the sirke waala pyaaz and the hari chutney, some thing that alone you get in Delhi and no where else. Let me tell you that for a long time, I was like the lost traveler in the desert looking for water. I was literally quenched to have the sirke waali pyaaz and the hari chutney. As I stayed across the country and abroad in fact, I have always looked forward to coming back to Delhi, for the spicy tikka’s, the succulent kebabs, the juicy tangri’s and the hot curries that you get no where else in the world.

The busy narrow lanes of Jama Masjid, where you have Kareems and Al-Jjwar, Khurana’s at Karol Bagh, Rajinder da dhabha at Safdarjung, Galina at Gole Market, Gullu’s meat wala at Rajpura Road, paranthe waali gali at chandnichowk. It’s all abuzz with action and that is fresh food.

For Delhites, it’s not about ambience but all about taste. Perhaps for this taste, you would find the swankiest of Mercedes lined up along a road side dhabha, where you find no social hang ups, only good food and taste. In places of truly delicious food, you would find the real Delhi, be it a rickshaw walla or a businessman, an IT professional and a media person, all lined up together. This is perhaps what I term as the spirit of Delhi.

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