An Italian in India
An Italian in India – Part 6: Food in Delhi
Spicy, too spicy! That’s the adjective I heard the most during those weeks.
But the further north you go in India, the less spicy the food tastes. The spiciest food I tried in Delhi was at Kharim’s, a Muslim restaurant in Old Delhi close to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. Kharim’s is a chaotic place, not a classic restaurant, but characteristically Indian. The kitchens are outside in the courtyard of the building, so that on entering the restaurant the client can admire the meat’s preparation. Inside, the poor furniture (plastic chairs, tables and benches) add to its character. I saw hundreds of restaurants like Kharim’s in the following weeks.
All the other places where I went to eat in Delhi were characteristically occidental, usually with Indian influences on the design. The meal at the hotel was the same as in any Indian restaurant in Europe. The food was prepared according to European tastes, including almost no spices, and wasn’t impressive at all.
The southern Indian restaurant I tried in the city centre served masala of any kind. They had a menu with hundreds of possible variables to compose a dish in which vegetables and potatoes played a predominant role, since it is a vegan restaurant. But these were outclassed by the masala I ate in the following weeks.
In Delhi I had the possibility to have dinner in a middle-class house. A friend invited us to Noida to spend a night with the family hosting him in the suburbs of Delhi. We arrived there at tea time, and, sitting in a circle in the living room, we tasted some Indian sweets prepared by their chef, with the two householders, our friend, and the drivers. The man, in his late 80s, is a bank director and speaks very little English. But being still very lucid, he started a long conversation with his guests. His wife, slightly younger, taught Civics and English at Delhi’s university, speaks fluent British English and supported her husband in the conversation, translating some of his incomprehensible sentences.
When dinner was ready they invited all of us – the chef, the drivers, our friend and even the two householders – to sit around the table, and started serving us the food. Meanwhile, the householder’s daughter’s family joined us, and after we had finished eating they then had their dinner while we waited in the living room. This was a surreal scene which contrasted noticeably with our occidental concept of a meal as a moment of reunion. Over there they preferred to split the two moments, leaving some more privacy to the meal while enjoying the guests’ company, chatting for hours both before and after dinner. The food we had that night was amazing, with several dishes and many sauces to combine them. Lentils, chicken, rice, vegetables, some incredibly strange roots resembling a carrot in shape, and more, created a perfect mix of sweet and spicy tastes.