India is a food Walhalla, at least for me. Having lived there I had the opportunity to try hundreds of dishes and never got bored. Got sick a few times, but luckily never severe. Sometimes I even woke up thinking of what to eat that day. My favorite ones were the ones prepared by Indian friends or their family, homemade, probably recipes handed over from generation to generation. I recently spoke to Anubhav who is living in Delhi and has a passion for Indian food and its history, especially for Old Delhi. This is a place where you can still find vendors selling dishes based on century-old recipes. I talked with him about the places for the best food in Delhi, dishes to try, the eating culture and his food tours.
The food culture of Delhi
Before Anubhav started his food tours he had worked for four years with a non-governmental organization in Delhi that works for street children and homeless people. I asked him where his passion for food came from: “I really got ignited with Indian food when I left home and desperately began to miss my mother’s kitchen wizardry. I started to explore the back-alleys of Delhi to explore its food culture, to try and find an alternative to the traditional Indian meal I had grown up with. I noticed that, as Delhi is a gathering from people from all walks of life, it had been able to preserve its cultural and food history and created a spirit of its own. Old Delhi has street stalls and sweets shops dating back 70, 100, 200 years, making the same popular delicacies now as then: spicy-tangy chaats (snacks), sugary jalebi, and smoky mutton kebabs. Special recipes, have been handed down through generations and community identities are expressed in their food by sourcing ingredients locally. This inspired Anubhav to start food tours through this old part of Delhi.
Delhi’s best food stalls
As a traveler you want to try out the best spots where only locals go, these you normally cannot find on Trip Advisor or any other travel guide. What better person to ask than Anubhav? Luckily he was willing to share some of his favorite spots in Old-Delhi with me. “For breakfast, I love Lotan for its Chole Kulche. They offer chole (chickpeas) mixed with potatoes (aloo) that are boiled in red-hot curry, and topped with green chilies, ginger, coriander and white radish. You can’t reach Lotan by just knowing its address. Go to Barsha Bullah Chowk and ask for Lotan, almost everyone would know about him. More precisely, he is in Chhatta Shah ji. Another nice place I like for breakfast is Shyam Sweets for its Nagori Halwa. Nagori-halwa is a crispy, crumbly puri that is paired with suji halwa, kind of like a sweet, semolina-based porridge with the texture of couscous. You eat it with bedmi poori; deep-fried, crisp and puffy, bread made of wheat flour and ground urad lentil and served with aloo subzi (potato gravy) and a spectacular pumpkin curry. You find Shyam Sweets right at Barshah bullah Chowk (intersection of Chawri Bazaar and Shyam Sweets). For dinner I love Moinuddins kebabs. For just a few rupees you can eat some of the finest kebabs in Delhi. Go to: Lal Kuan, at the corner with Gali Qasimjan, near Chawri Bazaar metro, Old Delhi. Aslam’s butter chicken I also really like, located in Bazaar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid. My favorite dish in general is Rajma Chawal. This is a popular North Indian dish of red kidney beans that are cooked in a delicious tomato-based gravy with mild spices and served with hot steaming rice.
What makes Delhi special
I was very curious what makes Delhi different from other parts of India in terms of eating habits. According to Anubhav Delhi is different due to its large variety of cuisines available; Bengali, South & North Indian, Mughlai and many more. In his opinion you find the best street food of India here. Anubhav explains more: “ As you know we love eating with our hands, no spoons or forks. Experts say that eating with the hands engages all the senses and keeps one present while eating. Using utensils can become more mechanical, done without even thinking, as there is no actual physical contact with the food until it touches the lips. That’s also what I experience. “
Anubhav’s Food tours
Off course I wanted to know what makes his food tours special. “My food walks are focused on understanding the food culture of Delhi. I try to take my guests to secret spots in Old Delhi where locals go, away from the tourist crowd where you can experience the real culture and traditions. They have the opportunity to interact with the owners who have been making these dishes for years. I will explain about the history, ingredients & spices used in cooking and they can experience the food preparation themselves. For example, a shop in Chandni Chowk is named Ghantewala. It is interesting to know that Ghantewala has been selling sweets in Chandni Chowk since 1790 and one of Delhi’s later emperors had the habit of shopping there whenever he passed by on his favorite Elephant. As a reward for faithful service, the elephant was always given a sweet treat on these stops.
Anubhav has the ambition to explore more types of Indian food in different places in India and to conduct food tours in other states of India as well. “My goal is to bring the authentic Indian cuisine closer to the traveler and to let local vendors benefit from it.”