On the Road in India Part Four: Old Delhi
The end of our rickshaw journey took us to the North of India: Jaisalmer, close to the Pakistan border. We said a final farewell to Bruce, got embarrassingly drunk at the finish line party and, just like that, became regular travellers around the tourist icons of the North.
In tourist-filled towns we had to adjust quickly to a different style of travel. We had a few sub-par meals at restaurants designed to be palatable to the least adventurous tourist. No more truck stop marvels and street food revelations; we were just another group of money wielding travellers to be squeezed for all we were worth- or at least thats what it felt like some days.
Our last stop before we flew out was the capital of Delhi. Kat (previously name-checked for her sweet & snack expertise) wanted to show us her favourite place from her previous trips to the city: a famous restaurant called Karim's. We realised there was a newer branch close to our hotel, although we didn't know if it could live up to the memory of the original. But it was pouring rain and we were feeling travel weary, so for lack of any better option figured it was worth a try.
HOLY SHIT IT WAS AMAZING.
The family who run Karim's were once the cooks of the Mughal Empire, and their recipes remain true to history (or so we are told). After the fall of the empire Karim opened the first shop near the Jami Masjid- main mosque- of the Old City. It's been open for over a hundred years and various family members have opened branches all over the city, one of which we were sitting in.
Most of the meals we'd had so far in India were more closely linked to the Hindu tradition, and therefore the majority were vegetarian, and definitely no beef. Karim's, however, serves a traditionally Muslim cuisine so there was plenty of meat to be had: spiced kebabs wrapped around long metal skewers cooked over flames, spicy and vibrant slow cooked goat and beef, a whole different style than what we'd been eating. Even our vegetarian travelling buddy was impressed with their dish of paneer cheese on skewers with vegetables, grilled over hot coals and brushed with a spice paste.
When I think back to those meals I think it's the bread that stands out the most in my mind. Fluffy and sweet, the naan was unlike any other I've had. It reminded me of the Challah bread I ate on the sabbath in Israel; I guess it's not impossible to find some common ancestor far back into history. The Mughal empire spread through Northern India from it's base in modern day Afghanistan so it makes sense that there's commonalities across the Middle East, Central Asia and Persia. I am neither historian nor geographer though, so take all that as curiosity rather than hard fact.
The end of a big holiday is always hard. Part of you is looking forward to getting home to see loved ones and share stories. Part of you wants to tear up your return ticket and stay on the road forever. I was nervously anticipating a romantic reunion, while also browsing gumtree ads for a new car to replace the one I’d written off only weeks before leaving. To say I had mixed feelings about going home would be an astonishing understatement. All this was compounded by the fact that Delhi is a difficult city to love. It’s dirty and big and crowded. We had a terrible experience with a taxi driver, we frequently got lost, we missed our rickshaw.
It wasn’t all bad though, we also had some really fun experiences: wearing garishly printed robes to tour the Jami Masjid, walking through the maze of streets in the Old City, experiencing sensory overload at the spice market.
Karim's became our constant over those tumultuous days. We ate there to celebrate a morning well-spent and to commiserate an afternoon spoiled by nasty taxi guy. The dishes were always rich and comforting, and so incredibly full of flavour. Our meals at Karim’s rounded out a thoroughly amazing holiday; from top to toe India has incredible food. And while Delhi is not my favourite place in the world, I would go back in a heartbeat for one more meal at Karim's.
This is the last instalment of my On the Road series. I hope you've enjoyed them!
More recipes, reviews, stories and ideas coming your way soon.