Cuisines Of Delhi

Delhi offers a sumptuous banquet of food- luscious flavours, flamboyant colours, heavenly aromas and fantastical textures. From southern vegetarian recipes to the meaty fare of the Mughals and the Euro-Indian fusions of erstwhile colonies, there is something from almost every pocket of the subcontinent here. Delhi's diverse cuisine is partly a reflection of its assorted ethnic population, the result of the constant stream of people from around the country coming to seek success in the big city. It is also, however, a result of the locals' growing desire to dabble with something different- indeed, in Delhi's society circles, it's all about being seen eating something that screams international gourmet.

The array of gastronomic offerings includes to-die-for Punjabi curries and melt-in-the-mouth tandoori tikkas, marvelous Mediterranean fare, crispy wood-fires pizzas and a host of work-tossed Chinese favourites.

Although Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism- Delhi's dominant faiths- may tread different spiritual paths, they all attract pan-social-strata devotion, which means you will find dhobi-wallahs and business tycoons side by side at any of the city's temples, gurudwaras or mosques.

The city also gets a resounding round of applause for its gamut of eateries, which range from the ultra-elegant to the utterly ramshackle. But regardless of their outward appearance, all take great pride in their food, whether it's a simple chickpea curry at a roadside dhaba (snack bar), or velvety caramel custard in a hotel restaurant.

You can kick off the day with a breakfast of South Indian idlis, North Indian parathas or American-style buttermilk pancakes, followed by a lunch of Mughlai curry, Tibetan thupka or Northwest Frontier-style kebabs. For afternoon tea, possibilities include Austrian-style apple strudel, authentic Bengali mithai (sweets) or French-inspired creme caramel. Then for dinner there is everything from Punjabi butter chicken to Thai green curry to parmesan-sprinkled mushroom risotto- all beautifully washed down with a glass of Belgian beer, Indian rum or Australian chardonnay.

Back in the home kitchen, daily staples include rice, chapati and dal, usually accompanied by a selection of sabzi (vegetable) dishes that are either cooked sukhi (dry) or tari (suace - based).

And of course there are the mouth watering mithai, divinely wicked goodies that can make an appearance at almost any time of the day. A must for any auspicious occasion is a sweet like the golden-yellow motichoor laddoo, a delicacy of sugar, cardamom and pistachio. During Diwali countless boxes of mithai are distributed.

Between meals, a favourite practice is the chewing of paan (amixture of betel nut and leaves) for its stimulant effects, to satisfy hunger and also to freshen the breath. Paan comes in different varieties, including a number containing tobacco.

Street Eats:-

Morning, noon and night you will find roadside vendors frying, boiling, roasting or simmering things to lure peckish passers-by. Popular eats include bhajia, chaat and aloo tikka, but king of all street snacks would have to be the samosa, a delicious vegetable-stuffed deep-fried pastry triangle.

Then there are Delhi's indefatigable omelette- wallahs, precariously pushing egg-laden carts through the crush of mechanical and human trffic, ever ready to whisk, fry and flip.

Islamic-influenced Old Delhi has a particularly enticing street - food scene, with specialities including fried masala fish and kebabs, the latter often doused in curd wrapped in warm paratha (layered bread). In Old Delhi there is even a special lane dedicated purely to paratha, Paratha Wali Gali; the bread comes either stuffed with spiced fillings or simply smothered with ghee.

Paan - wallahs do a roaring trade. These traders deftly mix the sweet, spicy and fragrant concoction of betel nut, lime paste and assorted condiments into a silky paan leaf.

Legend says that Buddha once cut his eyelids off in an act of penance for falling asleep during meditation. The lids grew into tea plants which, when brewed, banished sleep. Today chai (tea) is as revered as ever, with Delhiites drinking an average of 1680 cups each per year.

Lying in the heartland of North India, it's really no surprise that Delhi shines when it comes to regional northern specialities like lip-smacking Punjabi curries and Mughlai dishes. Peek into a Delhi home and you are likely to see a pot of 'daal' bubbling on the stove, alongwith a bevy of North-Indian-style curried vegetables such as aloo gobhi, saag and baigan. The carnivorous family may also have meat-based curries.

Delhites have more of a penchant for bread than rice, although both are often offered, with the rice and 'daal' usually eaten together at the conclusion of the meal. However, when it comes to mpping up every last drop of curry sauce, nothing matches a piping hot chapati freshly flipped off the tawa. Flaky paratha and deep -fried, puffed-up poori are usually eaten on special occasions or when guests are invited to dinner.

South Indian Dishes: -

The capital's fetish for regionally diverse cuisine has drawn South Indian chefs to the city to woo hungry Delhiites with the iconic savoury pancake, the mighty dosa, as well as other southern specialities. Not so long ago, Delhi's South Indian options were largely confined to the ubiquitous masala dosa (filled with potato), but now-a-days more and more menus are flaunting lesser-known varieties such as rava dosa (made with semolina batter) and paneer dosa (stuffed with cheese). Idlis, vadas and uttapams are also being gobbled up in record numbers.

Fed up with their inability to match the prowess of their South Indian brothers, a handful of disgruntled North Indian chefs have defied tradition and brazenly ventured into uncharted dosa territory. The chocolate banana dosa offered by one Delhi eatery is, however, is nothing short of a travesty, according to dosa traditionalists- tantamount to making a chocolate banana omelette.

Spice It Up:-

Delhiites feast on some of the world's finest curries, thanks to the tremendoud variety of freshly ground spices and masala blends available. A curry is usully born with the crackle of cumin seeds in sizzling hot oil; subsequent flavour-boosters include cardamom, coriender seeds, turmeric and cloves. Other ingredients used are garlic, ginger and onion; chilli- slivered or powdered- is added in varying quantities depending on how much 'fire' the chef desires.

Saffron is less commonly used, not only because of its high price, but also due to the risk of unknowingly buying the adulterated variety, aptly nicknamed 'bastard saffron' (usually diluted with safflower). The authentic saffron- the dry stigmas of crocus flowers grown in Kashmir- is so light that it takes more than 1500 hand-plucked flowers to yield just one gram.

Sweets For The Sweet:-

Delhi is hopelessly addicted to sweets. Not only do the locals love the taste, they love the look- so much so that each year three tonnes of pure silver are converted into edible foil to decorate the city's sweets. Take the Lahori burfi: fat squares of thickened milk with pistachios, cardamom and rich flavourings. It's covered with real silver. The taste will bowl you over, but the look makes it the perfect gift. Then there is a cashew star cake, a round flat mix of dry fruits and nuts, laced with honey and decorated with marzipan stars- covered in silver.

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