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a indian culture/cuisine neophyte


Akiko
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Given the level of expertise available on these boards, the advice given to Akiko is surprisingly threadbare.

1) The best, most accessible, book on Delhi is by a very fine Brit/Scot travel writer, William Dalrymple. The title - CITY OF DJINNS: A YEAR IN DELHI. I'd read it before going, but if you cannot - don't worry - you can easily buy it in Delhi. Another fine book, with more of a novelistic historical bent, is written by India's cranky old man of letters, Khushwant Singh. It's simply called Delhi.

2) It's actually great that you're staying at the Imperial, I congratulate you. Most salarymen from multinationals stay at the giant, self-contained, Hyatts, Oberois and Taj's of Delhi. The Imperial, despite a brainless renovation, has character and a location where you can simply wander out and into the heart of the city. There was a time, not long ago, where the Imperial's verandah bar still gave you a wonderful Raj-era experience of open green lawns and comfortable cane furniture. It's (ugh) five-star, now, but you can idle away an afternoon tea in the same space where Jawaharlal Nehru and Galbraith did exactly the same thing, so why not.

3) Delhi has a couple of excellent bookstores. Even though you're there for such a short period of time I recommend you go to one on your first morning (after breakfast on the renovated verandah, naturally), the one at Khan market is good, but your hotel may have a better one in mind. Get the Dalrymple book if you haven't already, and sift through the rest of the Delhi selection carefully. This city, more than the others in India, has had a significant expat population from the beginning (and is home to most of India's publishing world) and thus there are lots of interesting, detailed, things written about it.

4) You will have a car (and driver) most of the time, I'm assuming. Use it, diligently. Your hotel will direct you to Cottage Industries, and other places. Your hotel is well situated for Connaught Place and also for Chandni Chowk. From your comments, this last place may be to your liking since it has a whole area (Dariba) specializing in silver jewellery, there is also a colorful spice market nearby. I would probably recommend that you ask your driver to go with you when you're wandering - ask for an English speaking one and tip him the equivalent of 5 pounds at the end of the day.

I direct all of my friends to Santushti Complex, and urge you to go there on your first day itself. It's a completely unintimidating way to check out a range of boutiques selling much of the best stuff India produces in the fashion/design/fabric/"ethnic" general range. I find that most people like Shyam Ahuja (for excellent, "modern", stylish, "dhurrie" rugs) and Anokhi. This last is a stop for high-quality handmade fabric, housewares and clothes, I think the 'Monsoon' stores in the UK used to carry their stuff (if that helps you peg it), I just bought several short kurtas (kurtis) there as gifts and they are swooned over here .

I also recommend a couple of hours spent at Hauz Khas "village", it's another foreigner-friendly shopping/eating area, though perhaps more interesting at night.

5) Delhi has some can't-miss/don't miss architectural sites. I will leave you to Dalrymple to make your choices. But, if you were one of my friends, I would recommend going to Lodi Gardens at 6 AM or so one morning to witness some of Delhi at its core - middle-class and elite aunties and uncles dressed in salwar-kameez and shorts and sneakers, charging around a truly ancient garden area with some lovely structures strewn around. You saw Monsoon Wedding, right (great contemporary Delhi Punjabi movie), this is what those people do for exercise.

6) I highly recommend at least one Indian-Chinese meal, the food is quite interesting and when made well can be really very good. Your hotel is not a bad place to enquire about the current popular favorite, but I do know that 'Lotus Pond' and 'Near East' are very popular with locals. In this area, I disagree with one of the previous posters, the Five-star hotel Chinese restos may be the way to go. For instance, The Tea House of the August Moon happens to be super, and it is not "authentic" Chinese at all.

7) Your sari question is hard to answer from a distance, because Delhi is the epicenter of a mind-bogglingly varied and giant fabric/textile/exports world. For one thing, you can't buy sari fabric (in general) you can only buy saris. For another, the list of stores, and entire areas, where you can get the stuff is endless (and includes the Chandni Chowk area). Here are my brief pointers.

- buy this stuff in Delhi, not Jaipur

- Visit the Khazana boutique at the Taj Mansingh and get an idea of what you want, then ask the salesperson where else you can get this stuff.

- Feel free to accost well-dressed Indian women, compliment them on their saris and ask where you can see good quality/reasonably-priced fabric of the same kind.

8) Finally (I have more, but I'm getting tired from the typing), do buy jewellery in Jaipur. Some of the finest craftsmen in the entire world operate from there. If you're in the mood for a bit of an adventure, ask the hotel to send you to the modest-looking shop run by the Surana family (in the old city). These fellows have been in the business of adorning royalty for at least 250 years, and why not add yourself to the list? Leave your husband behind, and be sure to take wodges of cash because credit cards carry a smallish premium which add up to largeish if you're buying diamonds (as I hope you will). Actually, the Suranas will be happy to collect the cash from your hotel, if your husband objects to youy decamping into old Jaipur with three months of his salary in rupee bundles...

Have fun, it's a very hard trip to do in such a short time, but if you take care of yourself and maintain a manageable pace - it can be memorable.

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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nd we will be going to Parthewale Gali, I love Paratha. Are there hundreds of varieties here? Any I should be looking out for?

Do not go to Parathewali Gully, unless you get your kicks from playing culinary Russian roulette.

You have one week in India, you get no traveller brownie points for spending six of those days circulating no more than 30 feet from a toilet. It's not tough or cool to get dysentery.

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What? Have I killed this thread (and Akiko) with my voluminous recommendations?

And where is my welcome, desi brethren?

--

I forgot to mention The Dhaba, quite a charming restaurant in the Claridge's Hotel.

The property itself is a bit like the Imperial, a throw-back to "old" New Delhi before the five-star monoliths went up. And the restaurant is rather interesting, with half a lorry up on its walls and pretty careful clean-and-upmarket renditions of the food from classic North Indian roadside stalls.

See, Akiko, you really don't want to actually eat from the roadside. Definitely not on your first trip, when each day is going to be valuable. There are some really bad bugs out there, 'Delhi Belly' is not necessarily a two-day bout with something relatively innocuous. Google Delhi and Dysentery if you want ample corroboration of this.

So, The Dhaba is one of those places where you can get a very good idea of what Indian street-food lovers are talking about - but at minimum risk.

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What? Have I killed this thread (and Akiko) with my voluminous recommendations?

And where is my welcome, desi brethren?

Your plaint is justified but au contraire mon ami, your post is so comprehensive that we have no more to add.

There is however one difference- when I go to Delhi, my immune systems are already in place, what with Bhendi bazaar, Karims and the other dives of this huge land of cuisines.Therefore I (subjectively speaking) will dig out places that an alien would be rightfully advised not to unless they have made their pact with friends like E.Coli., Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter et al.

Your advise is correct though I suspect Akiko is a fairly adventurous person and may actually enjoy the real stuff if the hygiene is in place. My suggestion to her is start of with the "safe" ( read expensive and 5 star) places and gradually work downwards where the locals go. The concierge should be able to help too.

In jaipur you might want to try Niros which will satisfy your appetite for indian cuisine safely, try the few Rajasthani recipes there. I would rather eat at a camel drivers home, but then that's me!

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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Thanks for responding, Episure.

I must tell you that I have really enjoyed going back in this folder, your posts have been excellent, colorful and highly informative reading. Many favorites, but one that stands out is the Ramzan thread (could have used some of the Info on M. Ali road last month). Great, great, job (and to Vikram too), a real pleasure to find on the Internet.

--

Karim's is one of those restaurants that ride on the cusp of suitability, no?

I'd recommend that all visitors to Delhi take a couple of hours to wander in the amazing congestion around Jama Masjid, including a visit to Karim's to see the giant biriyanis being made.

But I'm not sure it's advisable to actually eat there for a first-time/short-term visitor. My instinct would be to say no, maybe - if you're really intent on it - the Nizammudin cousin (which always seems to have Westerners present).

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Karim's is one of those restaurants that ride on the cusp of suitability, no?

I'd recommend that all visitors to Delhi take a couple of hours to wander in the amazing congestion around Jama Masjid, including a visit to Karim's to see the giant biriyanis being made.

But I'm not sure it's advisable to actually eat there for a first-time/short-term visitor. My instinct would be to say no, maybe - if you're really intent on it - the Nizammudin cousin (which always seems to have Westerners present).

Spot on!

Bhelpuri, where are you based now? Introduce yourself, please.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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why would the nizamuddin karim's be okay but not the jama masjid? (i just realized i typed "nizam's" instead of "karim's" in an earlier post.) are you suggesting one is dirtier or less safe for foreigners? if you go during the day there's no question of danger for foreigners at either and as for the issue of cleanliness, well all i can say is that my wife, who is american, and who took not one shot before her first visit to india ate biryani and korma from the matka pir folks, who all but cook in a drain near pragati maidan, and she didn't have one contrary digestive episode. the key is to avoid raw things--especially fruits and salads--in uncontrolled environments. other than that don't assume that places that don't look like western restaurants are crawling with disease.

being cautious is probably better than being reckless, but if you take your shots you have little to fear in terms of disease. as for getting a tummy upset--it will be hard to avoid this in the first few days even if you eat only at the 5-stars. my advice would be to take it easy the first few days--let your stomach adjust to the local bugs and then go for it. don't do what i do, which is go kabab-crazy upon arrival and then regret it for a week (not that these regrets ever extend to not eating more).

I forgot to mention The Dhaba, quite a charming restaurant in the Claridge's Hotel.

The property itself is a bit like the Imperial, a throw-back to "old" New Delhi before the five-star monoliths went up. And the restaurant is rather interesting, with half a lorry up on its walls and pretty careful clean-and-upmarket renditions of the food from classic North Indian roadside stalls.

So, The Dhaba is one of those places where you can get a very good idea of what Indian street-food lovers are talking about - but at minimum risk.

but please if you want to get a very safe, representative taste of indian street food DO NOT go to the dhaba at claridge's; in fact don't go to claridge's at all. (claridge's itself, and all its restaurants, is a good example of a particular type of delhi classism at work, as is the imperial--but this may not be the place to get into it). instead, have the concierge put you in a cab to bengali market, there to eat at nathu's. you will not get sick there--guaranteed. also, get out of the hotel, turn left and walk down to the first major light; then cross the street towards cottage industries, and cross left again at the intersecting street. walk about 40 meters and look to your right--you'll see a restaurant called "saravana bhavan". go in, ask for a thali (bewarned, it will be crammed--when the food arrives you'll know why).

I highly recommend at least one Indian-Chinese meal, the food is quite interesting and when made well can be really very good. Your hotel is not a bad place to enquire about the current popular favorite, but I do know that 'Lotus Pond' and 'Near East' are very popular with locals. In this area, I disagree with one of the previous posters, the Five-star hotel Chinese restos may be the way to go. For instance, The Tea House of the August Moon happens to be super, and it is not "authentic" Chinese at all.

i believe bhelpuri was referring to one of my posts here--if you re-read it you'll see that i was suggesting not that tea house or the other 5-star chineses actually offer "authentic" chinese food (whatever that is), but that they think they do. tell a chef there that you think their food is of the same genre (even if superior) as the average indian-chinese restaurant and he'll be outraged--i should know, a close friend of mine was a chef there in the early 90s. there is a significant menu difference between a tea house or house of ming and a place like chopsticks--the classic indian chinese menu of the 60s, 70s and 80s is on the way out as globalized yuppies invoke their own snobbish rhetoric of authenticity (see the overly hyped mainland china in calcutta). of course, what results from this rhetoric is also a variant of indian chinese, but it is a bit of a dhobi ka kutta ("a washerman's dog--neither of the home nor of the ghat"--a hindi idiom that doesn't really translate). by all means try both--you'll enjoy them. but do eat a few meals among regular delhi-ites (not just the ones who can afford 5-star restaurants).

as for bookstores: the bookshop (that's its name) in khan market has gone downhill. it is not much more than a outlet for penguin india these days (not surprising given certain managerial connections). e.d galgotia's and the bookworm--both in connaught place--are what i'd recommend. i bought about 110 books on my trip this winter (an occupational hazard)--the owners (especially at the bookworm) are erudite, friendly and can locate any book they don't have in stock within 24 hours.

as for specific books: i'd mentioned dalrymple earlier; he is good but if you buy only one i would still recommend the penguin book of writing on delhi (i forget the exact title now)--it is edited by khushwant singh and contains an excerpt from "city of djinns". however, it also contains a lot of other writing from excellent indian writers and not just with dalrymple's particular focus and may be interesting as such. if you want to get a flavor of what the delhi university scene used to be like (at least in the 70s and 80s) pick up a copy of arundhati roy's screenplay for "in which annie gives it those ones".

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Episure,

In rough shorthand, I'm a transplanted Bombayite who has lived in the West (mostly around NY, some years in France and England) from my teens (over 20 years). I've been posting about my current locality in the New Jersey folder, here.

Foodwise, no special or professional qualifications, just a gaping maw which I stuff endlessly with whatever looks interesting. And, a long-time interest in History which includes a lot that has to do with food.

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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And Mongo, I want to go to Chopsticks. Can you tell me the location for this? Or is it better for me to ask the concierge at the Imperial (we're staying there now).

chopsticks is in the siri fort complex--the concierge can place you in a car that will go there; giving directions to places in delhi is a completely pointless exercise: if you don't know where you're going you won't get there.

i should say that "chopsticks" is a place that i am nostalgic about from my college and post-college days. though given the crowd that was present when were there this december it probably is still a favored place on its own terms.

i think bhelpuri also recommended going to the hauz khas village--go there but only for anthropological reasons (if you want to observe what happens when rich delhi socialites decide to exoticize other indians--during the day--or if you want to see rich delhi-ites at play--at night); do not eat there or shop there.

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[..] if you want to get a flavor of what the delhi university scene used to be like (at least in the 70s and 80s) pick up a copy of arundhati roy's screenplay for "in which annie gives it those ones".

Thanks for posting this, I like her stuff. Read one book (Power Politics) and a few of her essays and had been puzzling what to get next. Sounds like this will be it.

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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are you suggesting one is dirtier or less safe for foreigners?

Pretty much, yes. The Nizammudin offshoot is visibly cleaner, and the kitchen isn't open to visits from 60 billion flies recently seated on the open-air butchers and goat markets around Jama Masjid.

my wife, who is american, and who took not one shot before her first visit to india ate biryani and korma from the matka pir folks, who all but cook in a drain near pragati maidan, and she didn't have one contrary digestive episode

She was lucky, and obviously furnished with a strong stomach. Plus, she had the added bonus of a personal guide who could point out what to eat and what to avoid. People do get dysentery, and many kinds of ugly bacillae, in Delhi. My presumption is that first-time visitors want to avoid them, even while sampling some of the breathtaking range of food available.

as for getting a tummy upset--it will be hard to avoid this in the first few days even if you eat only at the 5-stars. my advice would be to take it easy the first few days--let your stomach adjust to the local bugs and then go for it

On the contrary, it is eminently possible to spend the seven days that Akiko has in India without a tummy upset, and sample some of the range we all know exists in Delhi. You just have to be pretty hard-core about avoiding foolhardiness. It is for these reasons that I recommend (highly) eating at places like Teahouse and Dhaba, you get a better-than-average sample and you are pretty much guaranteed not to be wedded ( short-term if you're lucky) to the porcelain goddess.

the classic indian chinese menu of the 60s, 70s and 80s is on the way out as globalized yuppies invoke their own snobbish rhetoric of authenticity

Nice flourish, but I'm afraid I don't buy it at all. For anyone who is used to eating at decent Chinese Chinese, American Chinese or even British Chinese restaurants, there is nothing "classic' about the usual Indian Chinese chili-laden, lumpy, floury dishes. People bred on it may hanker for it, but it is only in a handful of actually Chinese-run Indian-Chinese restaurants that the food ever distinguished itself - and became something new and wonderful. There are still a few of those, but in Delhi I think the most palatable approximation is available in the Five Star hotels where you can order those "classic" I-C dishes and get a very good sense of what they can be like.

(claridge's itself, and all its restaurants, is a good example of a particular type of delhi classism at work, as is the imperial--but this may not be the place to get into it

No, please get into it.

Where should they stay as an alternative to the very decent, somewhat atmospheric, Raj-era-nostalgic, Imperial? Not authentic enough? The Hyatt is better? The exposure to malarial anopheles mosquitoes is inadequate? Running water is plutocratic and a yuppie abomination?

My enquiring, idle, mind wants to know.

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No, please get into it.

Where should they stay as an alternative to the very decent, somewhat atmospheric, Raj-era-nostalgic, Imperial? Not authentic enough? The Hyatt is better? The exposure to malarial anopheles mosquitoes is inadequate? Running water is plutocratic and a yuppie abomination?

My enquiring, idle, mind wants to know.

bhelpuri,

get over it. i'm not quite the caricature you want me to be. and don't take things so personally. it is possible for us to disagree. if you read my post carefully you'll see i don't say that they shouldn't stay at the imperial--my scepticism is reserved more for a particular kind of fetishizing of the imperial and claridge's by a certain kind of delhi-ite. going to the dhaba to see a simulacrum of a dhaba when you can drive by lots of actual dhabas seems to me to be akin to going to las vegas to get a sense of what venice is like. it is a nice buzz for people who wouldn't actually ever eat at a real dhaba but like to get some of its flavor second-hand (and at claridge's re-filtered through a peculiar kind of raj nostalgia--peculiar not because it is raj nostalgia, but because it is manifested by indians). there's also a old-money/new-money dynamic at work.

Nice flourish, but I'm afraid I don't buy it at all. For anyone who is used to eating at decent Chinese Chinese, American Chinese or even British Chinese restaurants, there is nothing "classic' about the usual Indian Chinese chili-laden, lumpy, floury dishes. People bred on it may hanker for it, but it is only in a handful of actually Chinese-run Indian-Chinese restaurants that the food ever distinguished itself - and became something new and wonderful. There are still a few of those, but in Delhi I think the most palatable approximation is available in the Five Star hotels where you can order those "classic" I-C dishes and get a very good sense of what they can be like.

and this right here is a place we can agree to disagree. i have a different take on the mainstream indian-chinese you decry. perhaps because i was "bred" on it i haven't lost my taste for it despite having eaten more "authentically" chinese food in hong kong, singapore and the san gabriel valley near los angeles. can i ask which delhi chinese restaurants you've eaten at (outside the 5-stars) to arrive at this conclusion?

and sleepydragon, "in which annie gives it those ones" is available on indiaclub.com; i should warn you that much of it may be incomprehensible to people who didn't have the westernized indian university experience--it mixes languages without any crutches for the non-enabled reader--but it is still a good read. the movie itself i remember through a nostalgic haze--it aired but once and doordarshan (the indian govt. broadcaster) lost/destroyed the original film.

regards,

mongo

(edited a second time to merge two responses instead of creating a new one)

Edited by mongo_jones (log)
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hi guys,

Thank you, from your posts Delhi becomes more real to me and I get more excited with each post added. Rich, diverse, opinionated, and sometimes aggressive! I expect Delhi to be a lot like your posts!

Okay, I've heard you, I tend to be more adventurous than I ought to. Parawathegali is now a no no, as is Karims... I had read about Karims in my guidebook and thought that if it was in there, it must be safe. Now I don't trust that thought anymore. I didn't realize quite how careful I was going to have to be. I am a miserable sick person... and I do not relish the thought of being sick and trekking through delhi, hot and annoyed all by myself (my husband is working on Thursday and Friday, I will be a lone woman tourist). I'd much rather lean on the careful side. This may be the most important advice you've given me yet!

but if no parathas in the stands... then where?

The best, most accessible, book on Delhi is by a very fine Brit/Scot travel writer, William Dalrymple. The title - CITY OF DJINNS: A YEAR IN DELHI

Bhelpuri, I am going to pick this up over the weekend, I'm sure it will keep me occupied on our Air India flight!

You will have a car (and driver) most of the time, I'm assuming. Use it, diligently.

I wasn't going to do this, I love walking cities and seeing everything possible, but you and Mongo have convinced me otherwise. What I haven't understood correctly is what the driver does when I get out? If I ask him to drop me at one end of Chadni Chowk and pick me up at the other end... do I specify a time or do I call his cell phone when I'm done? I have this hilarious vision of a driver trying to follow behind me as I progress my walk....

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Thank you, from your posts Delhi becomes more real to me and I get more excited with each post added. Rich, diverse, opinionated, and sometimes aggressive!

"sometimes" aggressive? Huh!

and sleepydragon, "in which annie gives it those ones" is available on indiaclub.com; i should warn you that much of it may be incomprehensible to people who didn't have the westernized indian university experience--it mixes languages without any crutches for the non-enabled reader--but it is still a good read. the movie itself i remember through a nostalgic haze--it aired but once and doordarshan (the indian govt. broadcaster) lost/destroyed the original film.

I think the film is available, I've certainly seen it in some much adored bootleg videos. (Beware of asking for it in video shops though - its title invariably leads the guy to think you're asking for a porn film). Unlike Pan I think this is pretty much the only good thing La Roy has ever done. In particular, reading her hysterical, paranoid, America-hating and self-aggrandising essays, its only the memory of this genuinely funny and zeitgeist capturing film that persuades me to give her any credit.

While I'm tempted to dismiss this whole thread as a pointless exercise in trying to find virtues in a place that doesn't have any, I think Mongo and Bhelpuri have raised two interesting issues that perhaps might deserve threads of their own - the value, if any, of Indian Chinese food and the value, if any, of upmarket recreations of downmarket dining experiences. Anyone want to start these?

Vikram

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aikiko,

Okay, I've heard you, I tend to be more adventurous than I ought to. Parawathegali is now a no no, as is Karims... I had read about Karims in my guidebook and thought that if it was in there, it must be safe. Now I don't trust that thought anymore. I didn't realize quite how careful I was going to have to be. I am a miserable sick person... and I do not relish the thought of being sick and trekking through delhi, hot and annoyed all by myself (my husband is working on Thursday and Friday, I will be a lone woman tourist). I'd much rather lean on the careful side. This may be the most important advice you've given me yet!
I wasn't going to do this, I love walking cities and seeing everything possible, but you and Mongo have convinced me otherwise. What I haven't understood correctly is what the driver does when I get out? If I ask him to drop me at one end of Chadni Chowk and pick me up at the other end... do I specify a time or do I call his cell phone when I'm done? I have this hilarious vision of a driver trying to follow behind me as I progress my walk....

you're probably being wise. however, i'd hate to think that i convinced you not to walk delhi--at least it was not my intention to. i know lots of foreigners who walk delhi--especially parts of delhi the average south-delhi-ite wouldn't go to out of unfounded fear. this is all during the day, of course. trust me, if you go to chandni chowk during the day you'll be fine. but if you can get the driver to walk with you your peace of mind may increase. i wouldn't try to set up any pick-up/drop-off rendezvous in old delhi though. as monica noted, the crowds are amazing and it isn't always easy to find each other. you can't do delhi without a car though--it is too spread out, and not all parts of it have anything to see on foot.

alas parathas should only be eaten at people's homes or at places like parathewali gali--5 star coffee-shops don't do a very good job with them (here finally bhelpuri and i may agree).

and you won't find the penguin collection ("improbable city" or "city improbable" till you get to india).

finally, here's my recommendation for 7 days (i'd somehow missed where you said it was a 7 day trip and that you'd mostly be alone) worth of (safe, healthy) eating in delhi. i make that 14 meals (breakfasts will be unexciting affairs):

1. bukhara (north-west cuisine)--maurya sheraton

2. dum pukht (awadhi cuisine)--maurya sheraton

3. masala art--taj palace (haven't been here myself but monica and bhasin recommend it

4. swaagath (multi-cuisine)--defence colony but order off the south indian non-veg menu

5. saravana bhavan (janpath off connaught place)--south-indian vegetarian, tamil-brahmin specifically

6. chopsticks (indian-chinese)-- asiad village complex

7. kandahar (also north-west cuisine)--at the oberoi (dinner only); not quite at bukhara level but they have some great stuff--especially their breads

8. the coconut grove (south indian non-veg)--hotel janpath; this is right next to your hotel; the hotel is a pretty seedy operation, go only at lunch-time.

9. bukhara again--to get things you couldn't the first time

10. ditto for dum pukht

11. and saravana bhavan

12. nathu's sweets (sweets, snacks and off-street street food)--bengali market;completely safe (even the gol-guppas are made with mineral water and dispensed by a man wearing a white glove); whatever the merits of the dhaba at claridge's may really be, serving street food is not one of them (in fact i'm surprised to hear it described as a place that serves street food--maybe their menu has changed drastically since my last visit many years ago). nathu's (or the more recent haldiram's) on the other hand...

13. dilli haat (the concierge will direct you): for food from all the states.

as for woodlands, if this is an outpost of the chain from the south, go for it.

that leaves 1 meal that you should ask locals about; ask the young post-college kids at the reception desk or the slightly older models in the imperial bar--make sure to tell them not to recommend only 5-star places. there was a time when the only decent places to eat in delhi (for the unadventurous) were in the 5-stars but this is no longer true. my friends (mostly the rich yuppies bhelpuri seems to think i invariably hate) now almost look down on the knee-jerk "let's go to a 5-star" attitude we had in college when we couldn't really afford to go to them. one of the places they might recommend might be chor bizarre--when i lived full-time in delhi it was a bit of a novelty, the food may finally have caught up (i haven't been there on my recent trips).

of course, the food plan above makes no allowance for day-trips away to agra etc.

for shopping, santushti is good and upmarket; don't fail also to spend a day walking through the state emporia on baba kharak singh marg (not far from the imperial)--in particular go to the rajasthan (rajasthali), gujarat (gurjari) and orissa (forget this one's name--utkalika?) emporia. also, take a look at the incredible patchwork wall-hangings etc. the gujjar (tribal) women sell on the streets near your hotel. much better and cheaper than the analogues in emporia--but i fear as a foreigner you won't get anything close to the price an indian might. re haggling: in general, in non-fixed price places--the emporia are all fixed-price-- figure out what you'd be happy to pay for things and try to get close to it; don't fret too much about being ripped off because you can't do anything about it. things will still seem very cheap to you. also fun is to have the driver take you for a jaunt to the furniture markets on panch-kuian marg. you won't buy anything but it will be a nice experience for you.

have fun--when exactly do you leave?

mongo

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I think the film is available, I've certainly seen it in some much adored bootleg videos. (Beware of asking for it in video shops though - its title invariably leads the guy to think you're asking for a porn film). Unlike Pan I think this is pretty much the only good thing La Roy has ever done. In particular, reading her hysterical, paranoid, America-hating and self-aggrandising essays, its only the memory of this genuinely funny and zeitgeist capturing film that persuades me to give her any credit.

While I'm tempted to dismiss this whole thread as a pointless exercise in trying to find virtues in a place that doesn't have any, I think Mongo and Bhelpuri have raised two interesting issues that perhaps might deserve threads of their own - the value, if any, of Indian Chinese food and the value, if any, of upmarket recreations of downmarket dining experiences. Anyone want to start these?

Vikram

i'm glad to hear it. one of my closest friends is the senior fiction editor at penguin and he worked with roy on the publication of the screenplay--he's the one who told me it was hard to find; roy and krishen have their own copy, of course, and he was trying to source it for me so i could copy it, but we ran out of time.

did you ever see the duo's next film "electric moon"? that one may not have been available off the festival circuit. with the english sub-genres that are suddenly growing (another schoolmate who i haven't seen in years, kaizad gustad, is partly responsible) you'd think some of the pioneering 80s/early 90s efforts ('in which annie..." etc.) would enjoy a revival.

and i agree in general with your evaluation of the comparative worth of her output. though her recent polemics don't put me off as much as they do some others, i do think "in which annie..." was her high-point.

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Do not go to Parathewali Gully, unless you get your kicks from playing culinary Russian roulette.

and then

alas parathas should only be eaten at people's homes or at places like parathewali gali--5 star coffee-shops don't do a very good job with them (here finally bhelpuri and i may agree).

So, can I eat safely at Parthewali gali or no?

And Mongo, it looks like the two of you disagree on this too :raz::biggrin:

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i would say yes--and susruta*, who safely did on her recent trip to delhi, would probably agree however, the cautious are never proved wrong--if you don't eat there you won't know that you wouldn't have gotten sick; on the other hand if you do, you well might. if you want to go for it maybe do it on the last day (though if you have a bad experience it'll make for a fun flight home).

*no, indians who now live abroad aren't any more immune to bugs than are foreigners visiting for the first time--i used to know a doctor in los angeles who said the most people he knew who got sick in india were expatriates who thought they had a lifetime pass against stomach problems, while foreigners were usually more restrained in their eating and did fine; this was proved correct on our trip this december when i spent more time in the toilet than did my wife.

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get over it. i'm not quite the caricature you want me to be. and don't take things so personally. it is possible for us to disagree.

But of course, and please don't take my comments too personally either.

I'm rather busy today, and won't have time until much later for detailed comments. However, let me respond to some of Akiko's questions. I feel quite involved with her trip now...

.....a very honest looking British husband

Yes, well, they said the same thing about Clive, didn't they.

Anyway, you shouldn't worry too much about being ripped off. This is partly why I highly recommend buying stuff at places like Santushti and Khazana and Cottage Industries in Delhi - everything is fixed price. You might be paying a small premium, but that is pretty immaterial in the larger scheme of things.

It is also why I recommend the Surana's jewellery in Jaipur. The quality and workmanship is spectacular, and they are very reliable. You might get 2-3% off their prices (at the most) by bargaining and paying cash, but that's it. There is also Tanishq, a chain of jewellery stores run by multinational Tata/Titan (with several luxe branches in Delhi) which goes a step further and issues unimpeachable authentication certificates for the gold, platinum and diamond jewellery on sale. No bargaining, you pay the day's prices as set by the world marketplace, and by Western reckoning the goods are still very reasonable. Remember that India is by the far the world's largest consumer of gold, and even illiterate-looking salesmen know to the penny what the exact international cost of the materials are that have gone into your purchases. What's cheap, and delightful, in India is the work, the craftsmanship.

Finally, Delhi is a drive-around city, as Mongo confirms. You don't need a driver to wander around Chandni Chowk because you're very close to it (at the Imperial) and thus can make this a trip on foot. But in any case, the convention with a driver is to ask him to wait in a particular spot - you then walk around wherever it is you want to go and return. Alternately, you may want to get a driver who speaks decent English (by requesting one at your hotel) and ask him to walk around with you, this precaution is recommended in certain areas (if you're otherwise alone) like the very interesting but unbelievably congested Jama Masjid locality.

By the way, you may want to take a trip to Sarojini Nagar - if it's bargains you're after - where all the surplus (and slightly flawed rejects) from the export clothing houses are sold, pretty much all the brand names you're familiar with, at a tenth of the High Street prices.

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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Also, since I just remembered it, the last couple of people I directed to the outlets run by this designer really went ga-ga over the unique, hand-embroidered, silks. There are a bunch of Delhi outlets, though the only one I can recommend is at the Hauz Khas "village" (but don't tell Mongo when you go, and love it).

You can get clothes, like this for example-

faizabad_4_01.jpg

and accessories like this -

accessories31_01.jpg

and so on (including a few home furnishings).

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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what's your opinion of the restaurants there though?

They're completely unremarkable.

However, two foreign visitors to the city could do considerably worse than spend a few late evening hours sitting in that rooftop restaurant, over beers and kebebs (and parathas), contemplating the crumbling-but-impressive lit-up tomb in the distance, and experiencing that particular Delhi open-air pleasure of feeling the day's lingering heat dissipate in the face of cool night breezes.

---

On edit, here's what a random Internet travel guide has to say about the place I'm talking about.

12 Haus Khaz Village, New Delhi

Tel: (011) 685 3857. Fax: (011) 652 2226.

Price: Rs650. Beer: Rs175.

Top of the Village

A rooftop restaurant open to the skies in Haus Khaz Village, Top of the Village commands a magnificent view over the remains of Shah Feroz’s tomb and madrasa. At night, the ruins are floodlit and make a memorable backdrop to dinner. It is worth going there for the view alone, although the food – Mughal specialities, including particularly good paneer dishes – is more than acceptable.

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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bhelpuri,

you and i have very different takes on delhi, but as the kids in my classes say, it's all good. mine is conditioned largely by my years there and modulated ever so often on trips home.

in your shorthand biography you noted that you're a transplated mumbaikar living in jersey via europe--were you also in delhi for a while or do you go there often on business? while i don't agree with all your recommendations (i don't think for instance that foreigners should be sent principally to places that target foreigners) i have to admit you have a fairly decent knowledge of the city. our other bombayites here (vikram, to a lesser extent episure) have little time for delhi.

if you liked "city of djinns" i'd also recommend dalrymple's more recent "the white mughals"--fascinating, provocative stuff about early english residents of india (before the arrival of robert clive). i can also recommend other fiction set in/about delhi if anyone's interested.

mongo

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you noted that you're a transplated mumbaikar

Persih the thought!

I'm a Bombayite, and will brook no contradictions.

Anyway, don't get me wrong, I dont actually like Delhi. Or at least I really didn't on my annual trips to stay with relatives all through the 70's and 80's. It's only when I took my then-girlfriend there around 10 years ago that I woke up to the fact that it is a kind of real shopping wonderland (for certain things, of course). And since then, though my trips have slowed to roughly one every two years, I've kind of sussed out how to make the most of my time in the city.

It does have a couple or three really outstanding restaurants, but food-wise (and everything-else-wise) I frankly can't get terribly excited about Delhi. It will give Akiko a fine seven days, and can be a very good introduction to what India has to offer, but given the choice I'd happily never go there again.

--

on edit - Oh yes, I love White Mughals. Dalrymple consistently provides all us with really valuable, pretty unique, writing. Have you read this superb recent piece chiding Sir Naipaul?

Edited by bhelpuri (log)
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you noted that you're a transplated mumbaikar

Persih the thought!

I'm a Bombayite, and will brook no contradictions.

Anyway, don't get me wrong, I dont actually like Delhi. Or at least I really didn't on my annual trips to stay with relatives all through the 70's and 80's. It's only when I took my then-girlfriend there around 10 years ago that I woke up to the fact that it is a kind of real shopping wonderland (for certain things, of course). And since then, though my trips have slowed to roughly one every two years, I've kind of sussed out how to make the most of my time in the city.

It does have a couple or three really outstanding restaurants, but food-wise (and everything-else-wise) I frankly can't get terribly excited about Delhi. It will give Akiko a fine seven days, and can be a very good introduction to what India has to offer, but given the choice I'd happily never go there again.

--

on edit - Oh yes, I love White Mughals. Dalrymple consistently provides all us with really valuable, pretty unique, writing. Have you read this superb recent piece chiding Sir Naipaul?

yes, i've read his piece on naipaul--if it is the one on outlook you're referring to. for a brilliant man naipaul is really an idiot.

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