Art, Food, and Life in Delhi.

Driving down the streets of Delhi on the last night of my trip, I commented: You know Meeta aunty, there’s something about the smell of India that just makes me feel at home.

Are you referring to the smell of toilets?

Umm, no…not quite. It’s not that…I can’t describe it. The words that surfaced in my mind were dharthi, soil…nature…a sense of reality, of energy, of the daily colorful hustle and bustle and roadside idiosyncracies and sticks and spit and stones that just make cities like Mumbai and Delhi burst at their seams with life and talent. Dubai with all its fancy glass buildings and bling and luxuries – which I happily succumb to and would probably miss dearly if snatched away from me – doesn’t throb with life that same way. The sticks and spit and stones which keep things real get somewhat lost amidst the taller-than-thou concrete structures that have punched their foundations into the desert.

This place just makes me feel alive. energized. Even if it’s just dust and pollution in the air that I smell…and a hint of stanky toilet. yeeah. that too. but hey, it keeps things real. And that’s the trick of a city you can connect with. Just gotta keep things real.

This post isn’t one of my usual obsessive food monologues. Food is featured course – there’s no way that I could make a trip to India, whether for a day, or on business, or anything, without a plate of traditional snacky chaat. But there was so much more to take in at the places I visited – Dilli Haat, Bengali Market, and a number of political monuments, that for once, my eyes and ears had as much of a feast as my tum.

But all that said – I think it would be a terrible omen for this blog if I closed out a post without a substantial mention of something food-related. So here goes…a very special thanks to Pramod uncle, who not only undertook the treacherous task of accompanying two aunties (Meeta & Homi) + one wannabe-photographer (aka me) on our shopping spree, but who also insisted that we visit Bengali market for their famous chaat. Despite the fact that both he and Homi aunty were fasting. That couple is something else I tell you. It takes real courage to watch someone eat a plate of chaat and not twitch a muscle. I’d be a raging jaw-snapping monster if put in that situation. Or, more likely, I’d just cave in pathetically and break my fast.

Bengali Market is basically the city’s famous chaat institution, spooning out Indian chaat, deep-fried savories and sweets at a pace so maddening that I was nearly knocked over a couple of times by frenzied cooks and servers elbowing past my interfering camera lens.

Line cooks at Bengali Sweet House, Bengali Market
Fresh poofy bhaturas...basically super thin, deep-fried crispy shells puffed up with warm air inside. Traditionally paired up with channa (chickpeas) gravy.
Salty savory snacks...not sure what this was, but it looks like Kachori, hardish crunchy shell with some sort of spicy veggie mixture stuffed inside. Can rock your world when dipped in green and tamarind chutneys.
Sweet laddos with gram flour and TONS of sugar and ghee. Just the way Indians like 'em.

…and here’s my plate of Papdi Chaat – my favorite Indian snack in IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD.

I’ve described Papdi Chaat a ton of times on my blog [or maybe a grand total of 2 times] but here it is again: the base is deep fried crunchy discs made of flour…

…and spoonfuls of liquidy yoghurt and sweet tamarind chutney all over, and a quick sprinkle of chilli pepper and coriander powder for that dangerously spicy punch. Bengali Sweet House added an extra pungent kick with thin shreds of garlic – brilliant idea that ought to become tradition at every chaat place.


Dahi Balla is another famous snack – soft puffy balls made out of lentils and deep-fried, and then plopped into a pool of yoghurt, with a drizzle of tamarind chutney. Methinks that deep-fried anything + yogurt + tamarind chutney = Taste Bud Explosion. T’is as simple as that.

Other fabulous eats that I enjoyed in Delhi were courtesy Meeta aunty, whose homemade daal, channa (chickpeas), fried parwal (type of gourd) stuffed with spiced shrimp and onions, fish in an out-of-this-world mustard sauce, and veggies with intensely buttery and rich cubes of paneer require an extreme form of special magic that I sincerely hope comes with motherhood…or age. or something. Anything, so that I don’t have to confine my family to a lifelong diet of bland turkey and cheese sandwiches.

Ah crap, maybe this turned out to be a food monologue after all. Anyhoo, no more food babble – here are a few of my other photos [complete album can be found here] from Dilli Haat, a fair with handicrafts and textiles and jewellery and shoes and all sort of knick knacks (and food from practically every state of India) to prove that I ventured out beyond food and behaved like a well-rounded tourist. Ok maybe one last bit of babble from me, stolen from a jewellery ad that preceded my inflight movie – only because it said something that perfectly described why places in India never fail to fascinate me.

You don’t need to teach India about craftsmanship…

Because here, Life imitates Art.

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

16 thoughts on “Art, Food, and Life in Delhi.

  1. Marta´s Kitchen says:

    What a beautiful post!Love the pictures!
    I only started experimenting with photography when i started my blog, so i have a loooottt to learn!

    We visited Delhi and aggra our first year in Dubai and absolutely loved it!

  2. Rajani@eatwritethink says:

    love love it arva i miss delhi so much you have no idea!!! your photos have captured the colourful essence of indian streets, markets and foods. so happy you had a great time…

  3. Radhika Gupta says:

    So you discovered incredible Delhi food… Bengali market and their chaat/chole bhature are an institution…. unmatched :) Although I prefer Nathu’s to Bengali Sweet House (they are right opposite each other and fierce chaat rivals)… I insisted my wedding food was catered from here, and it was such an awesome idea :)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Sarah – Thanks – yep, Delhi is definitely worth a trip!

      @Marta’s Kitchen – Thanks Marta, I’m still learning too, I don’t think that’ll ever change :) Hope you had a chance to tuck into some of the traditional Delhi eats while you were there.

      @Rajani – that means so much coming from a local Delhi-ite! You were the one who inspired this trip by suggesting all the local treats and places to visit, so I owe you a big THANK YOU :D oh and guess what, I will be back there this weekend…hoping to get my share of parathas this time. Wish our trips to Delhi could coincide at least once, then I would get the real masalaydaar deals from you ;)

      @DevinaDivecha – I feel exposed and vulnerable now :o

  4. Sukaina says:

    I have never been to Dehli but girl you did a lot of stuff for one day…..and the street food looks mouthwatering. i’m currently working on an article for street foods from around the world so this has been quite helpful!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Radhika Gupta – Dang, I knew I would regret missing your wedding :( What a brilliant idea, only you Rads, only you. ah well, at least I can simulate your wedding dinner experience at Nathu’s on my next trip down.

      @Sukaina – Can’t wait for your article to come out. I am such a sucker for street food…the hustle-bustle of it all, down to earth, with people elbowing you and all the dirt and grime and whoever knows what the goes into it. Love it ALL.

      @Sally – I know right! I need to get me one of them turbans…fashion statement.

  5. saleem says:

    Well written and always enjoy my visits to Delhi – unfortunately Pushpak uncle and family don’t think I am good enough to eat out what you had the chance to explore.

  6. shafeena says:

    This is absolutely beautiful !! i love it !! and i love delhi just like you do !! it does make life seem very real suddenly !! Glad you had a fun trip !! Beautiful Pictures !!

  7. Najla says:

    Lovely snaps, Arva.. so vibrant and colourful… and all those snacks is making me hungry :)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @saleem – ah dad, you have but to ask…there are always people to take you around! Just step away from the work screen… ;)

      @shafeena – thank you! so great to see there are others out here who’ve had a chance to enjoy the city and have had similar, fun experiences!

      @Najla – thanks! that’s just how most Indian cities are…color and dust, life that’s captivating in many ways, and harsh in others. But one thing is pretty consistent, the street snacks are TO DIE FOR no matter where you go in India!

  8. sssourabh says:

    So much saliva on my keyboard right now from salivating over the chaat and pani puri! So well captured too, I can feel the crunch in my mouth. I love the shot with tamarind sauce peeking out, captures the essence so well! [no food porn, hehe!)
    And of course I like the ambiance pics, a favorite!

  9. Swati says:

    God I went to Bikanerwala this morning in Dubai to buy ladoos for a friend and I was just thinking about Delhi and chaat and I come home and read this! Dont think my stomach has rumbled so much in a long long time. Next time you are in Delhi you so need to try Chhola Bhaturas from Sita Ram in Pahar Ganj- they are outstanding !


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