I was in Delhi recently, when I was invited to take a walking tour in the Chandni Chowk area, known as the street food hub of Delhi. It really is the place to go, teeming with life from morning till night, a hive of activity and a snapshot of life in Old Delhi. When our guide mentioned trying 'street food' my immediate thought was 'No way – I am here for 3 weeks and the last thing I need is 'Delhi Belly'.
However our small group included 3 Iraqi Jews who had been brought up in India, could speak Hindi and moreover could recognize what street food was safe to sample. This knowledge together with the fact that our guide also lived and worked in the area, and knew where to take us convinced me that I should go ahead and follow the leader! Our tour included sampling a variety of the most amazing street food I've ever tasted; all recommended by Dhruv, our excellent guide and approved by our Jewish friends.
If you prefer to take a chance, I would highly recommend you look out for stalls where there's a queue or take advice from a guide or travel book, or play it safe and take a walking tour as we did. Also it's advisable to select a stall where you can watch the food being cooked in front of you.
For me and my companions, as we walked through the crowded maze of streets, the aroma of freshly cooked delicacies filled the air. The taste buds most definitely came alive. There are cafes, restaurants and street carts everywhere, and it's literally as cheap as it gets. No wonder the locals flock here, it's where they are assured of freshly cooked food that is both cheap and nutritious.
My favourite bites of the walk were:
- Aloo Chaat – similar to saute potatoes but the herbs and garnishes make these sautes way ahead in terms of flavour, I kept thinking of the amazing taste for some time after.
- Panipuri or Gol Gappa – a very popular street food, it's deep fried bread that looks like a hollow ball, which is broken and filled with a variety of different ingredients such as chutneys, potatoes, onions, chickpeas and so on – mouth sized bites to die for!
- Daulat ki Chat – the most addictive desert I've come across – I was told this melt in the mouth experience is made from buffalo milk and cream, whisked to perfection and flavoured with saffron, pistachio and dusted with sugar and roasted condensed milk. It is protected from the flies and dust of the streets by a muslin covering.
- Samosas – piping hot and easy on the taste buds. Served with or without green chutney, they are far superior to the samosas we eat in the UK. I wanted to taste the vegetarian samosas as I had been advised they were safer than meat and also, I could see the turnaround was much faster, so I chose a filling of masala, potatoes, peas and coriander – delicious.
I was delighted to learn when I was in Delhi that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India is working with the National Association of Street Vendors in India (NASVI), to train pavement chefs in hygiene, and create eight safe street food zones in the capital and beyond. This is great news for tourists as we will know where to go to enjoy irresistible local and regional delicacies, without risk to our stomachs.