As I watched the Commonwealth games in India, the reporters weaving in and out of the familiar streets of my hometown, Delhi, had my taste buds reminiscing of the distinct tastes and flavours of this city.
Delhi, the capital city of India, is an epicureans’ paradise. Because the city is formed by a migrant population from many states, Delhi is a melting pot of all the sub-cultures that makes up India. Delhi’s food culture offers a mixture of regional cuisines.
Even with such food diversity, if you were to ask anyone from Delhi about the most memorable Delhi food, with a wistful gleam in their eyes, they will tell you that there’s nothing quite like the “street foods” from this bustling city.
Street food is a grand old tradition in Delhi from the times when vendors would to come to one’s doorstep to sell all kinds of snacks, chaats (spicy salad), ice creams and savouries.
Myself, I cannot help but remember the Kulfi wala (ice cream vendor) outside our house just as everyone was waking up from their afternoon siestas. The Kulfi man with his wooden cart would awaken the neighbourhood by screaming “Kulfi wala”, “Kulfi wala”. A flock of kids (and some parents) would run out and surround the vendor to buy their cold treats.
Among the popular street foods of Delhi include chaat, pani puri, jalebi and kulfi.
Chaats are India’s national snack. The word chaat, is derived from the verb to lick, is appropriately named as the taste makes you literally want to lick the plate clean.
The innumerable chaats and snacks showcase a myriad of flavors and textures — sweet, salty, tangy, spicy, soft and crispy. Chaat is a heady mélange of boiled and diced potatoes mixed with boiled chickpeas, papris (like tortilla chips). This is liberally seasoned with a mouth-watering mix of spices and tamarind chutney. Chaat in this form is a complete meal.
For a lighter more refreshing snack, fruit chaat is also in vogue in Delhi. This involves dicing up fruits like guava, papaya, mango and seasoned with spices.
Close cousin the pani puri. Pani puris are small balls made of flour and semolina, rolled out into very small discs and deep fried to a golden hollow ball (puri). A hole is made on top of the puri to place little bit of diced potatoes, chopped onions and some sweet chutney. This ball is then filled with a chilled tangy flavored water, and eaten, in one mouthful. As you crunch down on the puri, you release an assortment of crisp, tangy, spicy tastes; it is an explosion of flavours in your mouth.
The vendor gives you an empty plate. He fills each puri with stuffing, dips the puri in a pot containing spicy water, and places the pani filled puri on your plate, one after another till you ask him to stop. The experience concludes with the vendor ladling spiced water into your plate to wash down the last one.
Walk down any street in Delhi and there’s no escaping the sweet shops. You can’t help but be mesmerized by the jalebi maker as he effortlessly pipes jalebi spirals into hot oil.
Jalebi, a sweet pretzel, is made with flour, yogurt, baking powder and water. The batter is piped in concentric circles into hot oil to produce a crispy and slightly chewy pretzel. After the pastries have been removed from the oil, they are soaked in rose water flavored sugar syrup. In the early afternoon, it usual to see towers of Jalebi stacked in the sweet shop window.
Finally if you haven’t tried Delhi’s kulfi, you haven’t lived. Though described as an Indian ice cream, kulfi has its own texture and flavour. The creamy milk components are boiled like a custard before freezing or simply frozen solid. Thus it is much more dense than ice-cream.
Hopefully, this will evoke some nostalgia for all who once made Delhi their home and raise some curiosity for those who have never been there. Here are a few recipes that will bring little bit of Delhi’s mouth watering street fares into your kitchen.
Chaat (Spicy Indian Tortilla salad)
4 large tortilla
1 /2 cup plain yogurt
1 can chick peas, drained and washed
2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
cumin, chilli powder, chaat masala(found in Asian aisle)
Tamarind chutney (homemade or store bought
Oil for frying tortilla
Cut tortilla into 1-inch by 2 inch pieces. Deep fry until crispy golden brown. Drain and cool. Layer the tortilla pieces in a plate. Top with chick peas, potato and onion. Spoon yogurt over all. Sprinkle the spices on top of the yogurt. Drizzle with chutney. Chutney and spices are added depending on how spicy you prefer the chaat. When serving, make sure you spoon all layers. Have the spices, yogurt and chutney readily handy if guest want more .
1/2 cup very fine semolina (sooji)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon oil
Oil – for deep frying
In a shallow mixing bowl, add sooji, salt and baking powder. Mix well. Add warm water and soak the sooji. Sprinkle all-purpose flour and knead the sooji for 3-4 minutes until smooth and firm. Drizzle 1 tsp oil and knead again for 3-4 minutes. Wrap dough in a plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes. With 5 minutes left, start to heat oil for deep frying. Divide dough in small bits and roll out each puri or roll a big round and use a cookie cutter or other cutting device to cut round puris. Oiling rolling surface will make rolling easier. Deep fry puris until light golden brown and crisp and remove them onto a paper towel lined baking sheet. Once all puris are fried, remove the paper towel and place baking tray into a preheated (200 degrees F) oven for 25-30 minutes or until all the moisture from the puris is gone. Bring to room temp before storing in an airtight container.
Water for Pani Puri
Indian grocery stores carry the mix for this water, but here is a recipe which uses ingredients which can be obtained locally.
1 bunch ( 8 to 9 leaves) Mint Leaves
7 to 8 cups of Cold Water
3 teaspoons Black pepper powder
3 teaspoons Black Salt
3 teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon clove powder
2 teaspoons Cumin powder
1 inch piece of Fresh Ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons of Lemon juice
Tamarind chutney(add to taste)
Wash the mint leaves . Grind all of the above ingredients in a blender with a little of the cold water. Add the rest of the cold water. Store in an airtight container. Chill in the refrigerator. Make this a day ahead.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon fine grained semolina or rice flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon plain yogurt
2 cups warm water
1/2 tsp saffron threads
3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. cardamom powder
1 1/2 tsp Rose water
Ghee or vegetable oil for frying
Mix the flour, semolina/rice flour, baking powder, curd and 3/4th cup of the water in a bowl (preferably a ceramic bowl). Mix well with a whisk. Gradually add remaining water and 1/8th teaspoon of saffron powder. Whisk until smooth. Set aside for about 2 hours to ferment. Whisk thoroughly before use. Prepare one string syrup by dissolving sugar in the water and boiling. Just before the syrup is ready add saffron and cardamom
Take a Ziploc bag or cloth and cut a tiny hole for the jalebis. Heat oil in a deep wok Pour the batter in a steady stream using the bag to form circular coils. Make a few at a time. Deep fry them until they are golden and crisp all over but not brown. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towel and immerse in the syrup. Leave for at least 4-5 minutes so that they soak the syrup. Take them out of syrup and serve hot.
1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 can Evaporated Milk
2 cups Whipping Cream
1 10 oz Cool Whip Whipped Topping
1 big pinch Saffron (optional)
4 slices white bread, cubed and crust removed
1 teaspoon sugar (if using saffron)
1/2 cup Cashews, Pistachios, Almonds, coarsely ground
With a mortar and pestle, grind together sugar and saffron. In a large mixing bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, heavy whipping cream, cool whip and bread. Using a blender, gently mix all ingredients together. Add in saffron and sugar mixture and nuts. Mix well. Pour mixture into small dixie style plastic cups or covered container. Freeze Kulfi for at least 4 – 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.