Every first time traveller to India would no doubt be warned about the dangers of bacteria and intestinal parasites which result in "Delhi belly" - a nasty set of symptoms that has ruined many a holiday. Much of the apprehension is focussed on street foods, which while providing an authentic culinary experience on the one hand, also serves as a possible vehicle for contamination. As I arrived in New Delhi, I too weighed the risks of eating street food but decided to take the plunge anyway - with a proper tour guide - Surekha Narain of Delhi Metro Walks. Boy am I glad I did!
It's possible to enjoy the street delights of Delhi as long as one takes some precautions such as:
- refraining from eating fresh, uncooked food (e.g. juices, salads, cut fruits & vegetables)
- buying cooked food from stalls with high customer turnover, where the wares haven't been left sitting out for too long
- bringing your own hand sanitizers & disposable spoons, and remembering to use them before every meal or snack stop
- not judging a stall too quickly by western standards of hygiene, maintaining a high level of tolerance and healthy sense of humour :)
Aunty Jo Jo enjoying breakfast puri (deep fried bread) and potato curry at Chandni Chowk
As we traversed the ancient alleys of Old Delhi, I discovered some truly unique and delicious foods. Here are a some of my favourites, in order of preference.
Daulat Ki Chaat is a dessert of milk mousse topped with saffron and sugar. It's a winter specialty in Old Delhi. What a delightful plate of playfulness! I only caught a brief taste of sugary milkiness before the pillow of mousse dissolved in my mouth. This dessert requires a lot of preparation, often beginning with the churning of milk at 2am before setting it in the wake of morning dew.
Next up we have Til Papri - a confectionary made of sesame which reminded me of some Chinese sweets which were a childhood favourite. Since it can keep for several months, I bought some to take home.
Khurchan (meaning "leftover scrapes" in Hindi) is a gooey milk candy that is ultra sweet. It is made by boiling milk, scraping the leftovers from the bottom of the pan and leaving it to evaporate. It's then packed into trays, cut into rectangles and topped with more sugar and julienned pistachios.
Finally we have dahi balla - spicy lentil balls topped with sweet yogurt and tamarind sauce. The power-packed combination of sweet, savoury, sour and spicy flavours were a little too overwhelming for my palate. Although I'm told it is the firm favourite of many Delhi-ites.
We tried a few savoury samosas as well - one fried in pure ghee which was quite decadent and a Jain samosa filled with moong dhal (yellow peas).
I am so happy to have experienced the street foods of Old Delhi and lived to tell the tale!