India: A Delhi Food Tour
Our favorite activity while in Delhi was our Old Delhi Food Tour with India Food Tours. This husband and wife duo knows how to get down with the street food in Delhi. Raj (said husband) guided us through some of the best and longest standing street food stops in the Old Delhi neighborhood. While on this tour we had to break all of our India food rules, but it was totally worth it and we are still Delhi Belly free! According to Raj, the food culture in India changes every ~200km, so we still have plenty of food to discover during our time here, but this was a great introduction into the everyday staples of a Delhi local.
Stop 1: A Lesson in Curry Tasting
Our first stop took us to Shyam Sweets, a street food vendor since 1910. Here we tasted potato curry and two types of kachori, fresh and crunchy fried breads that were flavored with different spices. While indulging in our curry and bread, we learned that a good curry should taste salty on the tip of your tongue, tangy on the sides of your tongue, and finally, spicy in your throat. We also learned that when trying curries (or any new food) you should taste it at least 3 times before making any judgments because the flavor profile changes each time you taste the food.
This curry was very flavorful with a big time spicy kick. It was the spiciest food we tasted all day. We counteracted the spice with some lassi, a yogurt based drink that is similar to a thin smoothie.
Fun Fact: Shyam Sweets is said to have catered food to the last emperor of the Red Fort!
Stop 2: A Fruit Sandwich Hole in the Wall
Our second stop took us winding down the narrow alleys of Old Delhi and into a teeny tiny shop, Jain Brothers, where Raj proposed to his wife (now, that’s a REAL foodie!). Jain Brothers has been chopping up fruit sandwiches since 1948. These fruit sandwiches have mango, paneer, butter, and Jain Brothers special spread that came out of an unmarked while pail and tasted like a tangy jam. This yummy sandwich came from the British, but is a huge part of daily life in India. It is a favorite lunch or snack of many locals. Jain Brothers’ fruit sandwich was just the right amount of fresh, fruity, and tangy, and a great break from spicy curry! This delicious sandwich was also Kyle’s favorite stop all day!
Stop 3: Rocket Ship Spicy Curry
Our third stop was Raj’s way of testing our tolerance for spicy food. We stopped at a street food cart for what he called “rocket ship spicy chickpea curry”. We knew it was a good stop when locals downing bowls of the curry surrounded it. Johnny and I both felt like this curry wasn’t as spicy as our first, but Raj explained that, like all the locals, that after your first curry your palette is prepped for more spice, spice, spice.
Stop 4: Refreshing Fruit Ice Cream
Stop 4 was at Kuremal Mohan Lal for their famous kulei, or ice cream. This tiny shop was down a residential street with gorgeous architecture – we especially loved the ornate entrances to each building (see below). We caught the owner mopping down his shop and had to wait until he finished to try his “world famous” ice cream. My favorite part about this shop was the bubblegum pink walls.
Here we got to try his saffron and pistachio ice cream and pomegranate ice cream. All of the ice creams from this shop are all natural and made by hand by the owner. Boy, were they delicious. The saffron and pistachio was extremely creamy with a heavy hand on the saffron giving it a very herbal and unique taste. The pomegranate ice cream was just what we needed on a hot day. It was very icy and gave you a burst of fresh pomegranate with every bite.
Fun Fact: These ice creams are said to be served by Royal Caribbean on their themed menus.
Stop 5: Yo Mama’s Rice Pudding
After our refreshing ice cream stop, we took an exciting rickshaw ride over to Kheer, opposite the Police Station Hauz Qazi for some heart-warming rice pudding. As Raj explained, the people in India love their desserts and rice pudding is one of their favorites. We learned that people eat their rice pudding hot, cold, or room temperature and you know it’s a going to be a killer rice pudding when it starts to take on a reddish color. The rice pudding at Kheer is cooked since 4am and is the real deal. It was some real soul food, but if you ask any local, their own mama’s rice pudding is the best in town.
Stop 6: Spice Shop Stop
After filling our bellies with yummy rice pudding, we hopped back into our rickshaws and headed to the spice market. Here, the streets are lined with vendors selling an array of spices out of baskets and barrels and the scent of spices fill the air. We stopped in Mehar Chand and Sons for a lesson about spices. This family spice shop has been shelling out spices since 1917, it’s their 99th year! We got to taste deliciously sweet cinnamon bark and soapy, bitter kabab chini. Then, the resident Mehar Chand Son talked to us about the changing culture of spices in Delhi. The traditional locals still buy raw spices to use when cooking, which requires a lengthy cooking process while younger Delhi-ites are opting for packaged powder spices that make cooking dishes like curry a lot faster. Turns out it’s not just in the U.S. that the younger generation is having trouble finding time for old traditions.
Stops 7 and 8: A Curry Competition
Our last two stops were reserved for an all out duel between chickpea curries. In the left corner, we had old-school curry and bread from Gole-De-Hatti. This curry is cooked for 8-9 hours using raw spices. In the right corner, we had new-school curry and bread from Gyani Faluda. This curry is made using a pressure cooker and the bread is hand fried. The old school curry had an extremely flavorful broth while the new school curry was full of chickpeas. Both shops had quite a loyal following and we had to wait for a table at both places. So, which will prevail old or new?
Best Curry: Gole-De-Hatti’s Chickpea Curry
Best Bread: Gyani Faluda’s Fried Bread
Fun Fact: You can tell if a chickpea has been slow cooked for several hours by pushing a chickpea to the top of your mouth. If the chickpea smashes easily and smoothly, you’ve got a chickpea cooked the old-school way. If the chickpea is tough to smash and grainy, you’ve got chickpea cooked the new-school way.