Another Postcard from India

Another postcard from India…

1.5 billion people live in India, a country of extremes which is truly intriguing to visit.

Delhi is now one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world with a kilometre long mall, a burgeoning restaurant scene, glitzy designer shops, art galleries pop up supper clubs…

Much of New Delhi was designed by Lutyens, a thoroughly modern metropolis where one encounters the 21st century and the medieval side by side. Cows still nonchalantly roam the streets, bicycles, rickshaws and tuc tucs weave in and out of the crazy traffic in a noisy melee of beeping horns.

Old Delhi, is a city within a city, covering 1,500 acres and home to approximately 22 million people.  It includes the biggest wholesale spice market in Asia established in 1850. We met our guide beside the Metro station at the Chawri Bazaar  It was literally like being dropped into a time warp of India in the 1800s but with mobile phones and of course electricity which is transmitted through a  crazy mass of tangled overhead wires, it all seems to work but is enough to render a Health and Safety inspector apoplectic! Ancient haveli with exquisite plaster work and carvings stand side by side with soulless new flat concrete structures emblazoned with signs.

Everywhere there are eye catching ads, mostly in Hindi but a few also in English, and a particularly prominent one for the rather grand sounding Oriental Bank of Commerce on the front of a totally crumbling old Haveli. There is a frenzy of activity, the noise level is deafening, porters pulling trolleys, bearers with huge loads perched precariously on their heads, motor bikes and tuc tuc’s crammed with more people and /or produce than you could possibly imagine, cycle rickshaws groaning under the weight of  passengers of every age and size or a load of assorted merchandise , could be loos, cooking pots, newspapers, spices…

To an outsider there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the traffic, Indians tell you over and over, to survive you need “good brake, good horn, good luck”

I’m particularly interested in the street food, the myriad of little chaat shops and street stalls and occasional restaurants that feed the 22 million people estimated to live in Old Delhi.

Much of the food is deep fried in large iron woks called karhi, It is cooked in front of you so I reckon it’s perfectly safe to eat, little vegetables and occasionally meat filled pastries, mutton katchori, samosas, pakoras, bahji,  lots of little fritters, sometimes made with gram (chickpea) flour, spices, fresh coriander and turmeric. Occasionally fresh corn is added, it’s such a pity to miss out on these quintessential flavours of India.

Flat breads like roti and naan are cooked in deep clay tandoor ovens, others like poori and bhatura are deep fried in oil.  Rumali roti or handkerchief bread and flaky paratha are cooked on an upturned wok shaped iron karhi over the open fire.

There are lots of peanut roasters, the whole nuts are roasted in sand and the shelled peanuts in salt once again in the multipurpose karhi.

They are sold for a couple of rupees in recycled newspaper bags with a little portion of salt.

Further down the street I had one of the most delicious confections I’ve ever tasted, Daulat ki Chaat, made from the lathered up froth of boiling milk which is left outside overnight in a wide pan – the next day blobs of a saffron flavoured fluff are laid on top. The dish is lightly covered with muslin and kept over ice on the little street stalls It is served in little dried leaf bowls with grated jaggery (cane sugar) and chopped pistachios on top, exquisitely light and delicious, only available for 3 or 4 months in the year.

Naan – Kharai are yet another speciality of Old Delhi – these sweet crumbly cookies are cooked ingeniously in a khari with another khari with hot embers on top.

I am endlessly in awe of the resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian people.  Another vendor was cooking diced chilli potatoes on a huge heavy concave griddle pan; they had been baked in sand for two hours first and then served with various chutneys, again completely delicious.

Every couple of hundred yards there were chai wallahs boiling up milky tea or chai masala flavoured with spices and served in glasses or earthenware pots. Kulfi and the chilled sweet lassi (yoghurt drink flavoured with rosewater) was also served in earthenware beakers that were thrown into a bin and returned to the earth after use.

We also visited Standard Sweets whose specialities apart from a selection of Indian sweets all made from milk was Bhatura, a puffy deep fried bread with chole and aloo (potato) curry, served in a little stainless steel plates on chipped Formica tables.

It was sooo good, I followed this with another of their specialities carrot halva garnished with almonds and cashew nuts. In India, it is the custom to eat with the fingers of your right hand although of course cutlery is provided in more up market restaurants. We also ferreted out a famous Kheer (rice pudding) maker whose family have made Bade Miyan ki Kheer for the last 135 years in the same spot in Old Delhi. It’s sold warm, once again in little dry leaf bowls and is usually sold out by 2pm.

Karin’s established in 1913 is  famous for its Moghul food, it’s actually a little collection of tiny restaurants, the mutton biryani and the  mutton stew are not to be missed eaten with the paper thin rumali roti, the seekh kebabs were also super delicious.

I could go on and on, of course food is just one tiny aspect of Old Delhi, there’s alley after alley of different products, utensils, sanitary ware, textiles, diamonds, shoes, saris – there are 1,500 wedding card shops alone…

Every possible service is also provided, tailoring, ironing, mending, deed reading – a lucrative business seeing as most Havali are owned by 10 – 12 families and even a man who cleans wax from people’s ears.

We saw skilled labourers, carpenters and plumbers, queuing up to be hired and labourers fighting to be given one more heavy load of bricks to carry on their heads, most work 8 – 10 hours a day and earn maybe 600-800 rupees, 1,000 if they are really lucky

We were taken up onto the roof tops to see the frenzy of old Delhi from above, and to see the pet pigeons and kites flying in the breeze favourite recreational activities for many.

Everyone also seemed incredibly devout and there are little shrines and temples at frequent intervals where people stop to pray and worship regularly.

There’s so much more – Old Delhi is a powerful experience, an assault on the senses – a humbling and in many ways inspirational experience.

To be continued…

 

Onion Bhajis with Tomato and Chilli Sauce

 

There are so many interpretations of onion bhajis, they are usually served hot, straight from the karhi as street food in little newspaper bags or dried leaf bowls both of which can be recycled. We serve them as a starter with the spicy tomato and chilli sauce.

Onions are a powerful source of quercetin, a plant compound that reduces inflammation. They also have powerful antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

 

Serves 4 as a starter

 

4 onions, thinly sliced in rings

4 ozs (110g) plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder

2 eggs, beaten

5fl oz (150ml) water

2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

oil, for deep frying

 

Tomato and Chilli Sauce

 

1oz (25g) green chillies, deseeded and chopped, or 2-3 depending on size

1 red pepper, deseeded and cut in 1/4 inch (5mm) dice.

1/2 x 14oz (400g) tin of chopped tomatoes

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

1 dessertspoon soft brown sugar

1 tablespoons white wine vinegar

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons water

 

First make the sauce.  Put the chillies, pepper, tomatoes and garlic into a stainless steel saucepan with the sugar, vinegar and water.  Season and simmer for 10 minutes until reduced by half.

 

Sieve the flour, baking powder and chilli powder into a bowl. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs, gradually add in the water, mix to make a smooth batter.  Stir in the thinly sliced onions and chives.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

 

Just before serving heat the oil to 170°C/325°F approx.  Fry dessertspoons of the batter for 5 minutes approx. on each side until crisp and golden, drain on kitchen paper.  Serve hot or cold with the tomato and chilli sauce.

 

Madhur Jaffrey’s Carrot Halva – Gajar ka halva

Serves 4

 

1lb (450g) carrots

1 ¼ pints (700ml) milk

8 whole cardamom pods

5 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee

5 tablespoons castor sugar

1 – 2 tablespoons sultanas

1 tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios, lightly crushed

10 fl oz (275ml) clotted or double cream, optional

 

Peel the carrots and grate them either by hand or in a food processor. Put the grated carrots, milk and cardamom pods in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat to meadium and cook, stirring now and then, until there is no liquid left. Adjust the heat, if you need to. The boiling down of the milk will take you at least half an hour or longer, depending upon the width of your pot.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium low flame. When hot, put in the carrot mixture. Stir and fry until the carrots no longer have a rich reddish colour. This can take 10 – 15 minutes.

Add the sugar, sultanas, and pistachios. Stir and fry another 2 minutes.

This halva may be served warm or at room temperature. Serve the cream on the side, for those who want it.

 

Kheer Marwadi – Indian Rice Pudding

 

Serves 4

 

Rosewater varies in strength so be careful to add gradually and taste. This dessert can be made ahead and may be served warm or cold.

 

50g (2 ozs) Basmati rice, soaked for an hour and drained

1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) milk

3 tablespoons whole almonds, peeled and ground to a paste

2 tablespoons water

100g (3 1/2ozs) sugar

50g (2ozs) fresh coconut, grated

25g (1oz) raisins

50g (2ozs) pistachio nuts, cut into slivers

50g (2ozs) blanched almonds, cut in to slivers

1/2 teaspoon ground green cardamom seeds

2 teaspoons Kewra essence (screw pine essence which keeps indefinitely) or use Rosewater instead but be careful – add 1/2 teaspoon first and then taste.

 

Heat the ghee in a pan.  Add the soaked rice, stir for 2 or 3 minutes then add the milk and cook over a low heat for an hour until the rice absorbs the milk and the pudding thickens.

 

Stir in the almond paste, sugar, coconut, raisins, pistachios and almond slivers.  Cook for a final couple of minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the ground cardamom and kewra or rosewater.  Cool and chill.

Serve in individual dishes.

 

Indian Baked Yoghurt

 

This is often cooked and served in unglazed earthenware bowls which are broken and returned to the land later. A few drops of vanilla extract may also be added.

 

Serves 8

 

400g (14oz) thick natural yoghurt,

400ml (14fl oz) cream

400ml (14fl oz) condensed milk,

 

8 x 225ml (8fl oz) dishes

 

Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F/Gas Mark 3

 

Whisk all the ingredients together, strain if necessary. Divide the mixture evenly between the bowls.  Arrange in a bain-marie. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the top seems firm to the touch.  Cool, cover, refrigerate and serve chilled with a compote of fruit or fresh berries.

 

Hot Tips

Date for the Diary

West Waterford Festival of Food Dungarvan – Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th April 2014.

http://www.waterfordfestivaloffood.com/

Galway Food Festival – 17th – 21st April – Easter Weekend. http://www.galwayfoodfestival.com/

The Business of Food with Blathnaid Bergin – The vital information needed to set up a viable, enjoyable Food Service Business on this intensive 10 day course from 9.00am-5.00pm, Monday 31st to Friday 11th April at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. The course format will be workshop, discussion, case studies, practical sessions and presentations. Up to 25% funding may be available for this course for Irish Residents.  If you would like to avail of this funding, see www.cookingisfun.ie for further details.