Delhi assaults your senses. The people, the pollution, the pace - it all gets in your face, and almost dares you to look away. The city can challenge your determination, but if you were to buckle under the pressure, you'd miss out on the rich history, complex culture and amazing cuisine. Old exists alongside the new like many places in transition, and I was eager to experience it all.
I switched gears in a big way going from the unloved, uncared-for ashrams in Rishikesh to 5-star warmth and luxury beginning in Delhi. The main reason for this abrupt change is that I was now traveling with the wonderful and worldly Peggy Markel. I had the amazing opportunity to take a culinary tour with Peggy through Morocco a few years ago while living in Paris. Peggy doesn't read from a guidebook and point out the window, detached from the scene. She immerses herself in a country and its people for a tour that's like experiencing a place with a native and friend. My tour of India was a 360 panorama, thanks to Peggy.
This full perspective view began with our tour of Old Delhi. We were guided by Seema Srivastava, professor of Art History at the College of Art, and very knowledgeable food expert. Seema led us through the maze of tight, wandering streets in the Meena Bazaar and Chandni Chowk as we took in the myriad of open-air shops, many having been in place for 100 years.
Sadly, the garbage collectors were on strike making for a 40,000 ton trash pile up around town. We navigated our way around, watching popcorn being popped in the middle of the street in a giant wok filled with sand. I'm not sure you should try this at home, but it was fun to watch, and even better to eat.
Yogurt and paneer came to life in front of our eyes, along with handmade batches of Chai tea that was freshly brewed, poured and simply tabulated used a tried and true method that involved pen and paper.
Most of Northern India's favorite bread products were on display and being eaten for breakfast with curries or dal. Poori, parantha and chapati are 3 of the main bread staples and consist of different formations of flour, salt and ghee. Poorri might be the most fun to watch since it's deep fried. The moisture in the dough causes it to puff up and hollow out, making for a crunchy, addicting snack.
Khari Baoli is Asia's largest wholesale spice market and a place to be on alert since there's many moving deals transpiring and being transported. While we couldn't buy from the wholesalers, we could buy vacuum packed spices and teas from the 100 year old Mehar Chand & Sons (6535, Khari Baoli, New Delhi, 110006, near Fatehpuri Mosque). You can bet that I left with a big scented bag and look forward to sharing some recipes with you soon.
Indian Accent Restaurant
The best meal of the trip was served in New Delhi's Indian Accent Restaurant. Last year it was named best restaurant in India by S. Pellegrino's annual Asia's 50 Best Restaurant awards. It was a tasting menu of old and new Indian traditions with the chef's own global twist.
An almond cake included boiled banana and spices for a savory and sweet bite like no other. John Dory was served crisp in a "moily sauce," a well balanced mixture of mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger, chili and turmeric. This was the only place I had quinoa during my trip and Indian Accent's interpretation included local spices like chat masala, turmeric, coriander, graham masala and munakka, a dried grape that's good for the stomach.
Many Indian spices and ingredients offer both taste and medicinal properties. The dishes were all perfectly balanced in terms of heat, weight, spice, sweet and savory. We were all ready to grab the final sweets and put them in our pockets. We had no luck finding them later for purchase so they will have to live on in our memory and stomachs. Unless you can get to the just opened Indian Accent in NY. If you're anywhere near NYC, you're going to want to pay them a visit...and bring me back some dessert!
Delhi Hotel Luxury Accommodations
Where my Rishikesh ashrams wouldn't even rank on a hotel rating system, The Imperial in New Delhi stands at the top of the list. It's a 5-star luxury resort complete with shining marble floors, spotless teak furniture and a spa that you need to make time for, especially the Ayurvedic treatments like the Potli massage with the warm, herb infused oils. As I stepped into the bathroom of The Imperial, I couldn't believe just hours before, I was staring at a mass of insects crawling along the shower wall about to infest my bag. That sums up the contrasts made visible throughout India. There are many with little, but also others with access to large riches from years of conquering. I'd see some of each throughout my travels in Royal Rajasthan.
If you need something just a notch above The Imperial, to impress the most jaded of royalty, then you'll want to stay at The Oberoi Hotel. It has hotels in both New Delhi, as well as Gurgaon, a spot just 20 minutes from the airport, making for a nice final night like I did before leaving India. Everything is well-appointed including a TV with remote above your bathtub to a butler button in your room to attend to your every need. The restaurants also cater to an international crowd so there's truly something for everyone. Don't miss the elaborate morning breakfast buffet either. It takes up several rooms and includes Northern and Southern Indian dishes, along with fresh made juices, yogurts and granola.
My journey continues through Northern India as I next board a train to Jaipur, India's first planned city, also known as the "pink city." Continue reading here.