Dave here. So, I was in India for a couple of weeks. My first time. And I did get Delhi Belly. But not in Delhi, on the way back home to KL, I'm pretty sure, from the vegetarian meal I ate on the plane.
Delhi. It's your classic visual assault. There's stuff flying everywhere - it's a crowded, busy place. People are coming and going, they're selling stuff, they're riding rickshaws and bicycles, they're honking non-stop. Cows are lumbering, you see the occasional goat.
It's a big-ass crush of humanity.
Pomegranates were in season. I hadn't seen any my entire trip, and then suddenly they were everywhere I looked.
I didn't come across that many huge food markets like you find in SE Asia. I probably wasn't wandering in the right place.
But, there are little markets everywhere - like this one, an afternoon market in an alley.
I saw this turquoise wall, and the religious pictures, and the light, and the vendor, and just thought, 'Yeah.'
So I stopped and squatted about 7 feet away from him and just stayed there a while, taking photos. He was friendly, and we chatted a bit. The other vendors were hooting at him the whole time.
Of course I ate.
I ate this dish -- raj kachori -- at Bangla Sweets, on Baird Road, something like a sweets superstore. It's kind of a treat within a treat. You've got a crispy puffed shell, and then inside a soft chickpea ball sitting on a bed of boiled potatoes. On top is cilantro, thin crispy 'noodles' called semia (?), strips of preserved, sweetened beets and ginger, pomegranate seeds, and then a drizzle of what is probably melted jaggery. It's all in a pool of sweet yogurt.
It was pretty wild, with all kinds of stuff going on in my mouth - crispy stuff, soft stuff, liquidy things. As you bite into the pomegranate seeds they burst between your teeth, and the cilantro gives off its flavor.
And it's cool -- I was eating standing up, and it felt like it was about 105 degrees out. It felt good on my tongue, and in my throat.
The next day I went back to Bangla, and ordered four more sweets: millet sweet (behind - yep, that's really what it's called), and (plate, clockwise from top) milk sweet, kalakand (a slightly grainy floury thing topped with pistachios and cardamom), and malai roll (a sort of sweet, spongy cheese).
I really like Indian milk-based desserts but my favorite among these was the millet sweet (front, below) because,
like the raj thing, it had alot of stuff happening at once: the sourness of the yogurt, sweet and chewy dried fruits, crunchy nuts, some of that spongy cheese, and those pomegranate seeds again. And it was cool.
Those sweets were shop food, but there's lots of street food in Delhi too. Alot of vendors work from cool old two-wheeled carts like this one, above. Some cook over charcoal, some over gas. Seems like most of Delhi's street foods are variations on fried breads, fried sweets, dals, juices (didn't go there - fear of water and ice).
I joined a group of guys standing around a cart (you mostly eat standing up, on the street) and had this for breakfast -- crisp-fried puri (a type of hollow bread) accompanied by yellow lentil and tiny chickpea dal, topped with yogurt and mint-cilantro chutney. The puri were surprisingly un-greasy. (I ate alot of fried breads on this trip and there never was that taste of funky, too-old oil.)
Breakfast Number Two - soft-fried puri (they're puffy like a hollow ball, then deflate, and they're chewy) with a chickpea dal topped with a slice of paneer, pickled chili with fresh red onions, and cilantro-cumin-limey chutney. This I really enjoyed, both for the flavor of the chickpeas (they seem more bean-y than Western chickpeas) and for the way, when you assemble a bite -- piece of bread, grab chickpeas, onion, chutney -- it makes the perfect little Bean-Bread Popper.
I didn't try this, and now I don't know why (too full, maybe). This guy's making and selling mashed potatoes formed into a ball and deep-fried. I'm a potato lover from way back. (Note - he's not sitting at a table but at a gigantic oiled griddle.)
Here you've got crispy deep-fried chickpea 'crackers' (invisible, buried) underneath turmeric-colored rice and, on top of that, yellow lentil dal and then a bit more rice. I call this Indian Nachos, because you've got that whole crispy cracker-bean thing going.
It was dished up from the bicycle cart below, dal from the pot on the back and bread-crackers from the tin up front. This was very tasty, though I might have added a bit of yogurt or even a squeeze of lime if I'd been given a choice. Sometimes I like a little sourness.
I was in Delhi for only about 36 hours, not nearly enough time to do it justice. In my mind I thought it was going to be One Big Hassle. It's certainly dusty, dirty, poor. All the stereotypes are there if that's what you want to see.
But I found people to be quite cool- very honest, helpful to the extent that language allowed, extremely welcoming. A couple of folks even invited me into their homes.
I'd go back.
Update from Robyn, Aug 6 - Dave's posted photos from a project he did on Old Manali over at his photo blog. I'm biased of course, but I quite like them.