New in Delhi

New in Delhi

New in Delhi A month ago I was in New Delhi. I hopped on and off rickshaws and took hour-long, distant taxi rides to my hotel alone at midnight, all in search of unveiling the food of Delhi. I did not, for one single moment, think about any risks of wandering around late at night. Thanks to my knowledgeable friends in Delhi, I discovered the most amazing tastes and was intrigued to find astonishing similarities with Turkish cuisine.

A big smile, a big hug!

I meet my friend Bikram in the hotel lobby. It was my first time in India, and I was soon about to immerse myself in the food scene of New Delhi. I met Bikramjit Ray, a food critic and TV presenter, in Istanbul when he flew all the way from India for a U2 concert. We were introduced online through our mutual friend Caroline Rowe, whom I met at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery.

The small world of food writers and researchers is sort of funny; they seem to develop the most instant friendships just by sharing an overly excited moment when they discover a new taste or find about the origin of a food’s name. Captivated by a talk she gave on black peppers, I became an instant fan of Caroline at Oxford. When she told me her friend Bikram was about to visit Istanbul, I was more than happy to show him around but slightly intimidated to visit the Egyptian Bazaar. How can one not feel shy guiding a food expert coming from India, the heaven of spices! Bikram, on the contrary, enjoyed everything he tasted in Istanbul. Now, it was my turn in Delhi.

We dove into the city, starting from Chandni Chowk, the old market area. Bikram almost jumped on a street vendor, as if not to miss him, and ordered two little plates of a snow-like substance. He said we were very lucky to find this ultimate specialty, just coming into season now. Daulat ki chaat, a true must-try Delhi delicacy, is the froth of barely sweetened milk whipped to form a huge mound of foam.
The delicate mass of froth is lavishly laced with silver foil and saffron paint. Only available on winter mornings, this elusive sweet is as light as a whisper. I felt baffled to find such a highly sophisticated taste amidst such chaos, and this was the moment when I started to think how unfair the culinary world was. Foams and froths have been a recent innovation of modernist cuisine, and here in the tray of a humble street vendor was a hidden gem, a cloud of happiness. This was new to me in New Delhi; with sprinkled dried milk reduction particles, it was a taste of a lifetime.

Now it was time to find out about chefs in Delhi. Our lunch was at the Fire restaurant in The Park Hotel. The sleek, modern decoration of Fire does not give the slightest clue about the food served here. Chef Anurudh Khanna is very good at offering a refined presentation of authentic tastes with a twist of innovation here and there. He also showed us around in the kitchen. Astonished to see the traditional tandoori ovens and all other means of traditional cooking in such a modern restaurant, I felt respect for their faith in keeping the original food ways alive. His dishes are very tasty; thoughtfully organized while remaining faithful to the origins. Bikram cannot hide his joy when he finds another seasonal specialty on his dessert, a drizzle of date molasses, only available for a few months in winter.

My first day in India ended with a dinner that culminated all the flavors of Delhi into a summit. Chef Manish Mehrotra at Indian Accent elevated the street food of Chandni Chowk into a mind-blowing experience. Kashmiri morells stuffed with more morells; the melt-in-your-mouth galawat almost buttery with foie gras; the phenomenal tamarind-glazed spare ribs; and the john dory moilee, the most sublime fish dish ever. There was also humor in Manish’s menu; the palette cleanser was a kulfi sorbet on a stick, playfully served in a toy-size pressure cooker. Stuffed kulchas with wild mushrooms, duck or applewood smoked bacon were all brilliant creations. Manish is a true genius and a genuinely nice person. Naturally, a few of the Turkish ingredients, like the pomegranate molasses and sumac I brought for Bikram, ended up in Manish’s kitchen.

On the plane back to Turkey, reading my newspaper, I saw that Chef Manish was awarded Vir Sanghvi Chef of the Year in 2012. I smile happily, feeling so privileged to taste the new Indian cuisine in New Delhi.

Bite of the week

Cork of the Week: Strong, spicy flavors of Indian food are best supported by a demi-sec, fruity white. The same bottle of Gewürtztraminer managed to navigate us through the whole tasting menu at Indian Accent with great ease. A nice equivalent in Turkey would be from Urla Winery, Symposium 2011, a demi-sec from local Bornova Muscat grapes will delicately balance any spicy food.

Fork of the Week:
Carrying loads of spices from India is almost obligatory for a food writer but one would never imagine doing the reverse. Bikram was so excited by the spice mixes at Ucuzcular No:51 in the Spice Market that I had to carry literally a suitcaseful of ingredients to him. Find Bilge Kadıoğlu at Ucuzcular and discover Bikram’s favorites.