If you happen to be a veggie food buff, you’ll inevitably encounter plenty to feast on in Delhi! Do arrive armed with a plethora of tummy-armor type of drugs from your GP, just in case, so you can soldier on despite the possibility of catching a bug or two. The Indian people do their best, but poor hygiene, as well as water and soil pollution, are common problems, especially in a large metropolis like Delhi. That said, here’s just a sampling of the local delicacies to tantalize your taste buds with (and it’s so worth the risk!)…
Please do yourself a favor and stay far away from Western restaurant chains dotting the city. Delhi is home to people from all over the Indian subcontinent which has translated into every regional flavor imaginable, readily available on street food stands and in a veritable plethora of restaurants. Old Delhi is especially famous for its street food, converging around the Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar areas, which offer various kinds of chaat or spicy snacks. To help you figure out the maze of Deli street food, there are special walking tours around this district, which explain it all and let you try a variety of dishes: that way you’ll find out what you really like and how hot you can go! As a result, you’ll likely bring some new flavors into your own kitchen, I bet. One of my favorites are the humble paneer (Indian version of hard cottage cheese) and spinach parathas, or Indian flat breads.
Curry and Vegan Conundrums
Delhi is the “curry” (a British umbrella term for subtle dish varieties they couldn’t grasp) lover’s paradise due to the variety of regional Indian and Asian cuisines available locally. It is impossible to go over any decent number of dishes, but to make it easier to choose what to try, there are two basic kinds: the heavier, creamy ones, usually full of oil and coconut milk like South Indian Kerala dishes, and lighter varieties, vegetable or dahl based. The best guide here is your own very nose! If you don’t like it too hot, try the milder Kashmiri cuisine. Vegans will unfortunately have to avoid anything with paneer (widely used in Punjabi dishes), and the many dairy based sweets, as well as mango lassis and the famous local ice-cream, kulfi. Lots of fried snacks are made using ghee or clarified butter, which can also feature in sweet syrups, on which more below. There are however several vegan restaurants around the city, but street snacks could be a little tricky to navigate.
Admittedly, one of my favorite deserts of all time, the irrepressible Gulab jamun, deserve their own paragraph. You’ll find them at any halwais or sweet-merchants stall. Someone incredibly naughty and a little ruthless must have first come up with these mouth-watering temptations, the history of which apparently has mysterious roots somewhere in the Ottoman Empire: round balls made out of dough with a high content of condensed milk, deep fried until golden and then submerged in sweet syrup with a dash of rosewater and cardamom. Served hot or cold, they are unbelievably delicious and highly addictive, either way. Try not to have too many, or you’ll be stuck wearing spacious saris till the end of time!
So make your way to Delhi and experience a food lovers paradise
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Patricia Bieszk+ is a freelance writer who tries (usually in vain) to stop at two gulab jamuns at a time.