Christy Varghese recounts his experience of the Old Delhi Food and Photo Walk, highlighting little-known facts that were shared by Chef Rajeev Goyal
No one likes to wake up early on Sunday, and we are no exception. However, we had to reconsider our priorities after being invited to the Old Delhi Food And Photo Walk – Explore the Unexplored, organized by the Ministry of Tourism in association with the Indian Food Tourism Organization. The promise of free food, especially dishes served in Old Delhi, was too tempting. Under usual circumstances, 8 am on a Sunday morning would have been considered too early. But this was one of those times we chose to make an exception, and weren’t we glad we woke up on time to reach Jama Masjid gate number five at 10am.
If, like most of you, we were used to frequenting the alleys of old Delhi at night, it is clear that there is a whole other charm to the place in the light of day; especially since there were not many people. The walk was organized by Chef Rajeev Goyal, who turned out to be quite a noisy storyteller over the following hours. The first stop was Shyam Sweets (estd 1910) where we gorged on Bedmi poori and aloo ki sabzi with Nagori halwa.
While the food was delicious, considering how each item was handpicked by the organizers, as is often the case on most foodwalks, the event was also aimed at ‘exploring the unexplored’ . Goyal guided us to an unconventional approach to food tasting, which involved teasing our palates with flavors to evoke multiple tastes from the same item. While the bedmi poori had earthy flavors, when we first tasted it it tasted different the next time we bit into it, after tasting some of the halwa.
On our way to the next stop, disrupting moderate Sunday traffic, we had the opportunity to catch up with Goyal, who had time to tell us a bit more about him. âIn 2010, I founded foodtourindelhi.com, India’s first food tour company, with the vision to help others explore the flavors and unique corners of this amazing city. Today, as President of the Indian Food Tourism Organization, we seek to strengthen the industry through our sustained efforts. I teach others the tricks of my trade. While it is not good for my business, I am happy to be of service to my country and its people in any way I can, âhe tweeted as we waited for the rest of those around us. catches up, at stop two.
Handing out platters of what looked like dokhlas to our unmitigated eyes, Goyal proclaimed, âAyurveda recommends eating water and drinking food to serve as good fuel for our body’s furnace, our belly. It is khaman, the brother of dhokla, another element originating in Gujarat. In a state that does not have many sources of high-protein food, khaman acts as a high-protein food, made up of fermented chickpeas, which can be eaten as a side dish, as well as a main course.
Once we had our fill we continued to our next destination where we were served traditional kachori and sabzi. Goyal, who could very well pass himself off as an avid storyteller, joked as we munched on the kachori, “Can you spot that distinct flavor of hing?” Let me tell you a little story. When the hing or asafoetida powder arrived in India from Afghanistan, it landed in the markets of Agra in sturdy leather bags, as the leather was the only thing that could contain the pungent smell. You wouldn’t believe the amounts of hing that came in, there was enough leather to start another industry – shoe making. Among many things, Agra is also known for its shoe business, all because of the hing. Even today, one of the city’s main shoe markets is called âHing Ki Mandiâ, with more than 5,000 stores. Food has brought so many symbolic changes to Indian culture in so many more ways than we can imagine.
After filling up on kachoris, we continued on our way. Along the way, Goyal pointed out many details that one would have passed several times without realizing its significance.
We stopped at a curious aquamarine window, with a basin, submerged by the distinct ocher stains of betel saliva, just ahead. At first glance, we assumed this was the workplace of one of the many paan-wallahs based in the city. But, as is often the case, there is always more to things than what we see.
Goyal explained that it was the urban version of a water point, known locally as a piau. âSomeone sitting behind the window was pouring water to thirsty passers-by in a copper container. Copper, due to its antibacterial nature. Back then, water bottles weren’t as readily available. I would say we were ahead of our time; giving water to those in need is a great service and we have done it without the threat of those throw away and use water bottles. I believe that such establishments should be reactivated, not only because of their heritage, but because of their modern and ecological utility. And there would be no wasted water, if that’s what you think. The water that would fall into the basin would be lapped up by thirsty animals such as thirsty horses pulling carriages or street dogs, âhe joked.
The next stop was Kuremal Kulfi Waale (founded 1906). The USP of this kulfi shop is that they serve ice cream made from natural ingredients, without coloring or preservatives. While the establishment was in high demand to serve its products at parties and other gatherings, Goyal revealed that they had started retailing at his request. âI would say entrepreneurship runs in our blood. Witness the innovative ways of our ancestors to use something that would have been considered waste and turn it into another industry with the Hing Ki Mandi. Kuremal has a great product, and they’re eco-friendly; they must have started retailing and I’m glad we met them. But don’t let me convince you. Their Mango kulfi will speak for them, âhe remarked with a smile.
The kulfi came in a hollowed out mango minus the seed. We have learned that this is how they serve all their kulfis. We were able to see how they broke the seal on one of the mangoes (it was sealed with attack paste which was rock hard after being frozen) before peeling it off to reveal the sumptuous brain freeze inducing. the goodness hidden below.
As we asked for our fourth lip-smacking serving of ice cream, Goyal directed our gaze to the seemingly run-down building adjacent to the establishment. From the first floor, the building seemed inhabited but the ground floor had an aspect which reflected the abandonment. Curiously perched on the door above the ground floor was what could best be described as a balcony for a two-year-old. When we expressed our thoughts, Goyal laughed before saying, âBack then, if there was no man in the house, women would use that little window to check who was knocking on the door.
The food walk ended after a courtesy from Chole-bhature Giani, but we weren’t leaving with just our bellies full of sumptuous food. We were wiser after the experience. As only Goyal could say, “Old Delhi’s food isn’t just about food, it’s a surreal experience.”