Paan and kulfi in New Delhi

In March 2017 my dear friend Kate and I fulfilled a lifelong dream of traveling to India. We spent 18 days exploring the north of India and had a range of experiences from spiritual to cultural and we learnt a lot about the history of the Mughal empire. Food wise, we ate endless thalis and drank many cups of masala chai. This blog is part of a series on our trip to India.

It was our last night in India. After more than two weeks of traveling around the north of the country and experiencing traditional and rural life we were excited to try something new and more modern.

Delhi is home to 18.6 million people. Before our trip I read about the history of the city in William Dalrymple’s book, City of Djinns. We had explored some of Old Delhi the week before so it was great to venture out and experience a different side of the city.

We left our hotel in Paharganj and hopped on a tuk-tuk to Hauz Khas Village, a trendy neighbourhood in New Delhi. The main road is full of cute design stores and a few contemporary art galleries. It felt a bit like the Delhi version of the main strips in Greenside, Melville and Parkhurst in Johannesburg. We walked around the park and watched a couple having their wedding photographs taken.

The area is full of bars and cafés all competing for customers by advertising their drinks specials on boards outside. We chose a bar with a rooftop view of the park and watched the sun go down over a smoggy sky. I tried a Kingfisher beer for the first time.

Watching the sun set over New Delhi

It was the perfect place to reflect on our time in India. I love sunsets and sunrises but this one was extra special. Thinking about how long I had wanted to go to India, to finally be there with my dearest friend, it’s hard to explain but I felt a sense of conviction in myself, a sense of confidence in my identity as a person with an adventurous spirit, curious about the rest of the world.

Sunset in our eyes

After sundowners we took a tuk-tuk again to the Panschila Club, a members-only club in Panschila Park in New Delhi. We were invited to dinner by Kate’s friend Kummy and her husband Rakesh.

The treated us to drinks and some tandoori snacks (paneer*, mushroom, fish and chicken tikka).

After drinks we had a tasty dinner of butter chicken, paneer kofta and dhal with naan and chapatis. It was also the first time I ate meat the entire time I was in India. It was delicious and I’m glad I tried butter chicken in Delhi. I also tried paneer kofta for the first time, delicious paneer and vegetable dumplings in a creamy, spicy gravy.

Kate, Kummy and Rakesh – dinner at Panshcila Club

It was a great evening and I got to ask so many questions about politics in India, the impact of the 2016 demonetisation, the legacy of partition and the state of the media in the country.

Chatting to Kummy and Rakesh about the state of affairs in India I learnt from them that people from India, like South Africans, are obsessed with politics. I guess this is a the characteristic of young democracies – we’re very engaged in the issues and affairs of our countries.

A highlight for me was the nimbu pani** we drank with our meal – a kind of sweet and sour spicy lemonade.

After dinner we went around to some of the suburbs of New Delhi. Our first stop was Greater Kailash where we visited the stand of one of the best paan wallahs in Delhi.

I first read about paan in Aravind Adiga’s controversial award-winning debut novel The White Tiger. The novel tells the story of life in India through a driver, Balram Halwai – who chews paan. He eventually stops this practice as part of his transformation from a working class driver to business owner.

Paan is a betel leaf wrapped around a filling usually consumed after a meal. Not all paan has tobacco and the paan wallah in Greater Kailash had a great variety of flavours.

Different flavours to choose from
Choosing a filling

We chose the plain option, which had a bit of rose jam (not sure if was jam but it was a kind of rose petal jelly) and coconut. I would say it tasted a bit like herbal Turkish delight – refreshing and not too sweet.

Ready to try

Our final stop was at a kulfi wallah in the Defence colony. We were lucky to order just before they closed.

Kulfi stand in the Defence Colony, New Delhi

I’ve had kulfi (a kind of Indian ice cream) before but this was awesome because we got to have it with falooda sev – a kind of vermicelli rice noodle,

The kulfi we ate had a mango flavour, you could taste the nuts, sweet condensed milk and elachi (cardamom).

I loved this experience of New Delhi on Friday night, just when we thought we had a good sense of the experience of north India, we were treated to something new. I’m glad I got to visit some local hangouts in this great city.

Thank you to Kummy and Rakesh for showing us around your city.

Kulfi selfie with Kummy

*Side note: I have since come home to Joburg and tried to make paneer tikka myself, I got the mint chutney right but the paneer was completely dried out – will have to practice some more.

**The Spice Company at Carreira Centre on Republic road in Randburg sells black salt and chaat masala, two of the ingredients for nimbu pani.

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