Landing in a new country for the first time and getting to learn a bit about its culture and how things work can be overwhelming. Arriving in New Delhi, India, can be outright overwhelming. Travelling here is an experience for the senses, not least for your taste buds.
One of the things I look forward to most coming to India is the food. But in a city like Delhi (and anywhere new for that matter) working out where the good places to eat – and how to avoid an unwanted case of Delhi belly – can be a slightly daunting task.
As a traveller I also want to eat authentic, local food that tastes good. When we first land in a new city, how do we work out where to find it? In far too many of the more touristic destinations – in India and around the worldwide – we find ourselves confronted with Pizza, Pasta and fast food – as opposed to restaurants serving fresh and authentic cuisine.
Such was the experience of founders of Authenticook Ameya and Priyanka when they travelled to Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas. Instead of being offered Ladakhi food, they were surrounded by fast food options from around the world and everything but the local cuisine. They felt compelled to change this, around India, and Authenticook was born.
Authenticook offers local food, cooked and hosted by local families, in cities across India. A traveller’s dream come true? I thought so.
After travelling around Iran for a fortnight – where vegetarian options consist of eggplant, eggplant and more eggplant – I was beyond excited to arrive in Delhi and go to a lunch in the South of the city. Hosted by Alka, a warm Delhiite with a passion for pottery and cuisine from Uttar Pradesh. I joined Alka, with fellow diners consisting of Authenticook’s two Delhi community managers and two of their family members, and a Mumbaiker who had just relocated to Gurgaon for work.
The meal being served was a traditional vegetarian Thali from western UP (Uttar Pradesh state). Seeing as Delhi is practically a state in its own right (NCR region) as well as a cultural melting pot, its main influences in food come from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan.
We were welcomed with Jaljeera – a refreshing drink containing mint and cumin that serves the dual purpose of helping to cool down on a hot and humid Delhi day – and in stimulating the digestive system for lots of delicious food!
Thalis are a wonderful way to experience Indian food and mealtimes: they are served on one large plate (or a banana leaf in southern India!) and are a wonderful way to try lots of different dishes. They come first with roti (bread), dal, raita/chutney and a number of veg / non veg curries. My favourites were the sweet and sour pumpkin (khatti meethi kaddu ki subzi) and the arhar dal. Once the bread is finished, rice is typically served to accompany the meal. FInishing the bread is no small task! Fresh chapatis are served constantly, and after a few minutes my trousers were already beginning to feel tight.
The best part of the meal? Dessert! In my book at least. Alka cooked a delicious rabri with malpua – a sweet, creamy rice-pudding like dessert with sweet fluffy pancakes to accompany it. Although I was full to bursting after eating the thali, somehow I made some room to savour this. It’s fair to say that after this festival of eating I needed a little nap!
Over lunch I chatted with my co-diners and host about Delhi, what it was like living in south Delhi (the beautiful, leafy part of the city where the lunch was held). I came away not only feeling very full but armed with tips about where to go in Delhi for delicious food.
The experience was a great way not only of tasting delicious home cooked food but also of connecting with locals, seeing a side of Delhi that is as green as it is away from the main sights, and for providing a warm welcome (back) to India.
Authenticook currently offers dining experiences in Delhi, Mumbai, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Bangalore, Goa, Pune, Kochi and Udaipur. Ask your Better Places travel expert about booking a meal during your trip to India.
This post was written by Ellie Cleary of Soul Travel Blog. Check out Ellie’s blog for more tips on responsible travel in Ladakh & the rest of India.