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a indian culture/cuisine neophyte


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  • 3 weeks later...

I have a huge thank you to give out to everyone who posted on this thread and helped me to have an incredible trip to Delhi/Agra/Jaiphur, especially to Monica, Mongo, and Episure, thank you for lending me your knowledge.

India is a trip that I'd highly recommend to everyone, not just because of the food but because it is so different from anything you'll find outside of it. It's been a long time since I went on a trip where I felt as if my perspective of the world became quite so much broader. It really is a place of contrasts. I'll look forward to seeing more of it in the future.

But, on to the food!

The Imperial Hotel

We stayed at the Imperial which I'd recommend to everyone who stays in Delhi. The rooms are a good size, the staff are very helpful, and the location is very central - you are close to the Tibetan market, Connaught Place, Cottage Industries, State Emporiums, and not too far from the Bengali Market or Chandi Chowk/Red Fort/Jama Masjid. I wouldn't recommend eating there though, the one meal we had was nondescript (it was breakfast though). What with so much to eat in Delhi, you don't want to waste a meal. Spice Route (the main restaurant in the Imperial) does have some absolutely amazing artwork inside of it but you are no longer allowed to just have a drink. If you have the time, it might be worth having a meal here simply for the space you'll be in.

Bukhara

Was simply incredible food.

I had a few culinary revelations in India one had to do with yoghurt (which I'll get into later) and the other concerned dahl. I don't like beans or pulses of any kind. I think they are almost flavorless and usually have a mushy texture that I am not fond of. Whether its white Italian beans, or baked beans, or chickpeas (unless ground into hummus), or lentils, or kidneys - the whole category is terribly unexciting to me. But wow, I have changed my mind about dahl. I had several incredible bowls of dahl in Delhi/Agra but Bukhara's dahl is out of this world. Creamy, buttery, with just a hint of bitterness from the lentils... I could have had just this with a naan and been perfectly content. In fact, even after I was completely stuffed I couldn't leave the dahl bowl alone and spooned the contents into my mouth.

Bukhara has capitalized on their famous dahl, they happen to sell it in cans. I bought one of these, I haven't tried it yet and will save it for a special occasion but I wonder if it could possibly be as good.

Mongo, they have changed the cauliflower on the menu, it is now a battered version of the cauliflower that you described. The cauliflower itself was still incredible, but I would have preferred it without the batter. In fact, I peeled the batter off and ate the lovely grilled cauliflower by itself.

We also had one of their tandoori chickens, lovely, I had the idea that this is what everyone else aspires to when they serve tandoori chicken.

And the breads were excellent, we had two types of paratha (I preferred the plain, the other was just too salty) and a butter naan.

My husband went back a second time for a work lunch and he raved about the tandoori lamb as well as a naan that they do for larger parties, it supposedly ran the length of the table!

Chinese

I had two chinese meals in Delhi. The first was at a party given at my husband's client's house. They had hired a Chinese Chef (I got the idea that he comes to cook for that family regularly) for the event and it was very good. Veg platters on one side, non veg on the other, there were several seitan/tofu dishes that were amongst the best I've ever had. They also served a dish where the main ingredient was huge slices of ginger. I love ginger so this dish was pleasing to me but I couldn't imagine serving it to anyone in the western half of the world.

And the second was at Chopsticks. Mongo! If you ever crave that food in LA, I'd bet you could come close to satisfying it. Indian/Chinese is a lot like Korean/Chinese. I had the shredded lamb and the honeyed chicken dish and enjoyed them. I don't know where you can get good korean/chinese in LA but in Chicago there is a place called Great Seas. Korean/Chinese cuisine has developed a dish called Gampoongi, deep fried, heavily sauced, frenched chicken wings, if you haven't tried it, I think you'll love it. They do a few other dishes that are also unique - zha zhan miang, which is a noodle dish with black sauce, and a cold noodle dish with a hot mustard sauce with fresh julienned vegetables and seafood that are worth trying.

Saravana Bhavan

Mongo, thank you, this was also one of my favorite meals in Delhi, definitely a place not to be missed. It was heaving and I went upstairs to have a thali. For less than £5 they brought me a lovely fish soup, an incredible assorted thali, chapati and two giant poori breads.

The fish based soup had spinach in it and was very peppery and also creamy, almost buttery. It was lovely.

The thali itself had so many little cups of things I it, I've lost count. And if they saw that I had eaten all of what was in any given cup a server would come offer to ladle me some more out of a pot. When I declined on seconds he tried to encourage me to have some more and sternly tried again to get me to accept it! It made me laugh, but I couldn't eat more of one and think that I'd still finish everything else on the tray!

The individual cups held something like the following in it - a broth with intense tomato flavor, yellow curry that was wonderfully sour (I loved this, do you know what it is?), a fresh coconut vegetable curry, chickpeas, "special rice", yellow curry, mutton curry, onion chutney, yoghurt, chiles, lemon juice, jagghery, a mint almost curd like thing that was so lovely I just ate it as it was (I think it was meant to be a condiment, does anyone know what this is?).

The people sitting across from me also ordered another dish of idli. This looked so good, I was tempted to order one myself but after eating all of that AND loving the two giant poori's, I was stuffed. I had previously thought that poori was small and crispy... these were giant puffs that actually were very tender bread once I tore it apart, are these two different things and I'm just calling them both poori?

Dum Pukht

Was another highlight, I'd have to say my three favorite meals were Bukhara, Saravan Bhavan, and Dum Pukht. I'm not sure how you choose between them. After poring over the menu and trying to figure out how many dishes a lone diner can order by herself, I tried to order to which the waiter said, "No, no ma'am. You are ordering much too much food. If I can suggest to you, we can put together a meal for you of small portions and you will be able to try many dishes. Our chef will choose what is special for you." To which I thought, "oh! Omakase, why didn't you just say so?" I am hugely grateful to the server who recommended this, it was incredible and at 950 rupees, how do you beat this? I actually tipped them again what I paid for the meal because I enjoyed it so much I didn't think I could leave without doing so.

I started with the Kakori Kebab. This was AMAZING. It comes with two tiny parathas that were a little sweet and deliciously crisp and tender. On the table they also give you bowls of lime pickle and thinly sliced red onions with some kind of tan colored powdery thing on it. What is that tan powdery stuff? I have to admit, I normally do not like lime pickle, there is something in it that is too perfumey for my palate to like. Is it asafoetida? However, with this dish it was the perfect accompaniment. I ate several pieces of lime pickle with the kebab.

They then brought the main meal of

3 curry type things - chicken, mutton, burnt garlic dahl

butter naan

mutton biryani in a claypot

garlic raita

Again that burnt garlic dahl was phenomenal and the garlic raita could have been a dish all on its own. It is meant to be spooned over the biryani but I was also dipping my naan into it and putting a little on the mutton. And this is where I get to the yoghurt. I've never really been a huge fan of yoghurt either... until now. The yoghurt you get in India can be INTENSELY sour, thick or thin, but above all the flavour that comes through. I just have never had yoghurt that can compare. Why is this? How is raita and or the thick yoghurt that is served on the side made that gives it that sour tang?

Really an incredible dinner that was finished off with just as incredible dessert. And I don't usually like sweet things but the dishes they served a Dum Pukht were excellent. Sweetened saffron milk with a "cereal" like thing in it, honeyed cake that was a texture it would have as if it were steamed - this sat in lovely cream with cinnamon nuances and pistachio crumbled on top.

If anyone tries to take you to the Japanese restaurant in the Hyatt run kicking and screaming away. My husband's colleagues wanted to go for a light meal and this was not only some of the worst Japanese food I've ever had but it also gave me food poisoning. I had a smoked salmon starter that gave me the beginning of a stomach bug that has yet to completely go away. If not for this, I may have braved Karim's but alas, it was not to be. (by the way, for anyone going to do the Golden Triangle, Agra also has an outpost of Karim's but I don't know what it is like)

We left for Agra and Jaipur after that meal and stayed at Amar Villas and Raj Villas. I have newfound respect for the Oberoi hotel group, and if it were up to me, I'd never stay anywhere else. The hotels are beautiful and the staff absolutely wonderful. We had two meals at Amar Villas, the second was at their "Indian Cuisine" restaurant. It was another great meal, the highlight of which was the black dahl. Wonderful... almost chocolatey.

On our final night before we came back to London, we stayed at the Trident in Gurgaon (Joint venture between Hilton and Oberoi, beautiiful new hotel) and ate at Masala Art. The meal was good if a notch below Bukhara and Dum Pukht, it is definitely something you should do if you are new to Indian cuisine. Watching dishes prepared in front of you on huge flat steel plate/wok type things was fun. And the variety of things they bring you is also excellent, the chefs are more than happy to answer all your questions and there is also a "roving bread maker" that has a little cart and will fry your bread at request. We also had lovely pistachio cream "popsicles" to finish our meal here.

Bhelpuri, I read the Dalrymple which was fascinating, and I did a lot of shopping! Exquisitely colored and embroidered silk saris on one of the back streets of Chandi Chowk, I also bought a few at one of the state emporiums but the ones on chandi Chowk were of better quality, if a bit more expensive. I also went to Hauz Khas where I did more shopping. I still cannot get over the prices... silk shirts were less than £18 and some other embroidered shirts for less than 10 dollars! The embroidery on the quilts and quality of material they use for sweaters, pashminas, shirts is astonishing... I actually came home and wished I had bought more presents... as it was, we came back with a suitcase more than we left. I also shopped at Santushti, I'd say those are places you shouldn't miss in Delhi.

I visited surana's, exquisite stuff, but unfortunately, I'd have no occasion to wear the elaborate, ornate jewel studded necklaces! I did buy some beautiful things at Gem Palace. The things they had there were a little more "subdued" and weareable for us commoners :raz: , but still exquisite - chandelier earrings, diamond hoops, aquamarine drop necklaces.

It was an incredible trip. Thank you again for being my guides

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Akiko,

Thanks, but the others deserve the credit . I am glad you had a good time without glitches, your vivid report takes me on a flashback of Delhi.

I'll be impolite and not wait for mongo_jones to respond to this:

  For less than £5 they brought me a lovely fish soup, an incredible assorted thali, chapati and two giant poori breads.

The fish based soup had spinach in it and was very peppery and also creamy, almost buttery.  It was lovely.

Not possible, this is a pure vegetarian restaurant

The founder/owner Mr. P. Rajagopal would probably ask his staff to commit seppuku if they served you that. :rolleyes:

You probably had a spinach and a white pumpkin/gourd vegetable preparation and must have liked it so much that you imagined that the gourd pieces were fish.

You missed out on mongo_jones suggestion on Nathu's sweets for the Pani Puri which every person on this planet must experience once at least. The Pani Puri i.e., not necessarily at Nathus.

No harm done, you just had an overload of palate tickling experiences.

Next time ask your husband to find clients in Bangalore and let me be the host. :smile:

Edited by Episure (log)

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

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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Not possible, this is a pure vegetarian restaurant

The founder/owner Mr. P. Rajagopal would probably ask his staff to commit seppuku if they served you that. 

You probably had a spinach and a white pumpkin/gourd vegetable preparation and must have liked it so much that you imagined that the gourd pieces were fish.

Episure, I had no idea! All I know is that everything was delicious. The soup base, I assumed was a fish broth because there was that savory taste of boulliabase underneath it all.... amazing.

I did go to Nathu's! And took pictures of the food but it was so hot that I didn't get anything to eat! I was trying to work up an appetite for lunch. There was a lot I wish I could have gotten to eat, I definitely was not there long enough!

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aikiko,

glad you had such a good time. i was beginning to worry that we hadn't heard from you yet: that maybe you'd taken my advice and gone to old delhi and had never emerged (bhelpuri and monica would have never let me live that down). looks like you tried out a little of everyone's recommendations; and what you didn't get to this time you will next time, right?

i am so glad you went to bukhara/dum pukht and saravana bhavan--gives you experiences at opposite ends of the spectrum (in pretty much every way). and yes, everything at saravana bhavan is vegetarian--even the servers. and bukhara, i maintain, is one of the greatest restaurants in the world--even if most american food snobs (including many on egullet) won't recognize it as "fine dining" for a number of reasons, and even if they've ruined their tandoori gobi. and yes, it is what every "mughlai" restaurant in the western world aspires to be.

also, good point about korean chinese: my wife is korean and we've eaten a good amount of korean-chinese food in l.a, and in terms of a flavor profile it is quite similar. however, the lamb and veg dishes that you get in indian-chinese restaurants are not available anywhere else. (and zha zhang mian in korean chinese places is somewhat different but not entirely so from the version you get in shanghainese restaurants--is it a korean original? it is one of the dishes my wife craves in colorado.)

and man, the giant pooris at saravana bhavan: you could go through a stack of paper towels trying to get all the ghee off them, but they are SO good. my stomach is rumbling now thinking about them--one of those thalis would hit the spot right about now: almost noon here.

and really one of us should have warned you about japanese food in india, especially in delhi.

so, when are you going back? you need one more trip to get through the top delhi eateries, and only then can you think about going to the second tier cities like bangalore, calcutta and hyderabad. there's another city down there on the coast whose name escapes me for the moment...right, madras! good food there too.

regards,

mongo

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so, when are you going back? you need one more trip to get through the top delhi eateries, and only then can you think about going to the second tier cities like bangalore, calcutta and hyderabad. there's another city down there on the coast whose name escapes me for the moment...right, madras! good food there too.

For that Mongo I am going to start a whole thread devoted just to mangos! And post pictures too!

Vikram

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Saravana Bhavan

Mongo, thank you, this was also one of my favorite meals in Delhi, definitely a place not to be missed. It was heaving and I went upstairs to have a thali. For less than £5 they brought me a lovely fish soup, an incredible assorted thali, chapati and two giant poori breads.

The fish based soup had spinach in it and was very peppery and also creamy, almost buttery. It was lovely.

The thali itself had so many little cups of things I it, I've lost count. And if they saw that I had eaten all of what was in any given cup a server would come offer to ladle me some more out of a pot. When I declined on seconds he tried to encourage me to have some more and sternly tried again to get me to accept it! It made me laugh, but I couldn't eat more of one and think that I'd still finish everything else on the tray!

The individual cups held something like the following in it - a broth with intense tomato flavor, yellow curry that was wonderfully sour (I loved this, do you know what it is?), a fresh coconut vegetable curry, chickpeas, "special rice", yellow curry, mutton curry, onion chutney, yoghurt, chiles, lemon juice, jagghery, a mint almost curd like thing that was so lovely I just ate it as it was (I think it was meant to be a condiment, does anyone know what this is?).

The people sitting across from me also ordered another dish of idli. This looked so good, I was tempted to order one myself but after eating all of that AND loving the two giant poori's, I was stuffed. I had previously thought that poori was small and crispy... these were giant puffs that actually were very tender bread once I tore it apart, are these two different things and I'm just calling them both poori?

and

Akiko

  For less than £5 they brought me a lovely fish soup, an incredible assorted thali, chapati and two giant poori breads.

The fish based soup had spinach in it and was very peppery and also creamy, almost buttery.  It was lovely.

QUOTE  Episure

Not possible, this is a pure vegetarian restaurant

The founder/owner Mr. P. Rajagopal would probably ask his staff to commit seppuku if they served you that. 

You probably had a spinach and a white pumpkin/gourd vegetable preparation and must have liked it so much that you imagined that the gourd pieces were fish.

Well, well, what do you all know, the honorable sounding upright Tamil Brahmin Mr. P. Rajagopal, owner of Saravana Bhavan has been up to no good. This restaurant has been visited by our egulleteers recently and was discussed on this forum as quoted above.

According to news on Television and Print media yesterday, he has been jailed for 10 years for kidnapping the husband of a woman he was in love with but has been acquitted of the charge of murdering him.

Rajagopal owns the Saravana Bhavan chain of south Indian restaurants in India as well as abroad, including in the USA and the Middle East.

He was said to be in love with Jeevajothi, whose father was employed at one of the restaurants. Rajagopal and his men began threatening the couple and Jeevajothi lodged a complaint with police in 2001. On October 18 that year, according to the prosecution, Rajagopal and his goons kidnapped Shanthakumar and Jeevajothi and took them to Tirunelveli, where they were kept captive for weeks.

Shanthakumar then went missing. Jeevajothi, who managed to escape, complained to the police that her husband was missing. Weeks later, Shanthakumar's decomposed body was found near the hill resort of Kodaikanal.

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

http://www.gourmetindia.com

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