India: Street Foods & Shopping

For me, the pinnacle of my recent business trip to India was the day I spent exploring New Delhi with a few of my colleagues.  Since most of our staff works US hours (the night shift in India), we explored the city for the entire afternoon before working our regular shift.  All together, it was a long day, but one of the best I’ve ever had and I’ll never forget it.

I had 4 colleagues personal tour guides with me which is absolutely THE BEST way to experience any city.  Even better, they really worked hard to tailor the day exactly to my interests.  We saw some important sights (which I’ll share in an upcoming post), but most of all we had So. Much. Fun!

Highlight #1: Fabindia

Since I wanted to do a little shopping, they took me to Delhi’s CityWalk Mall.  It was very posh and had all the upscale stores I usually see on Michigan Avenue in addition to some fantastic stores selling Indian styles, like the amazing Fabindia.  I felt bad having my colleagues wait for me as I tried on clothes so I only bought one tunic, but I know I’m going to get a lot of use out of it.  I love how the style I picked out is classic enough to look right at home both in Delhi and in Chicago.

Fabindia also sells spices, teas, lotions, etc – many of which were also Organic – making it a great one-stop shop for gifts.  

Highlight #2: Food Bazaar

But the truth is, the main reason they took me to CityWalk was for the Food Bazaar, an upscale grocery store in the mall.  They knew I was a foodie and even helped me to curate a list of key spices and their favorite foods prior to heading to the mall.

I have to say, I’ve never had this much fun grocery shopping before.  We exhibited true team work as I’d call out a few items on the list and the group would divide and conquer to find them.  Best of all, if they saw something they thought I might like, they’d toss that into my cart as well.  Before long, my mini-cart was full.  

Somehow, I was able to fit this all into the spare duffle bag I packed with me!  Below are all my foodie finds from both FabIndia and Food Bazaar.

My Inventory:

2 large & 3 small bags of Lay’s Magic Masala chips

6 packs of Quaker Instant Upma (SO GOOD!!!)

12 packs of Quaker Masala Oats (perfect for afternoon snacking)

1 pack of Papadums (also a favorite of mine!)

4 small bags of Indian Chips / Snacks (the packaged Samosas were surprisingly AWESOME!)

A LOT of Tea including Chai, Tulsi-Green, and Tulsi-Chai (Tulsi is Holy Basil, so yep, that’s Basil-Chai!)

2 packs of Palak Paneer mix  (for making this Vegan Aloo Palak recipe, which I love)

1 pack of Pav Bhaji Masala mix (my new favorite Indian dish, which I hadn’t yet tried at this point in the trip)

LOTS OF SPICES including Black Mustard Seeds, Ajwain (Carom Seeds), Asofoetida (stinky but super tasty), Dried Mango Powder, Fenugreek Leaves, and several bottles of Chaat Masala (my coworker’s favorite blend – she puts this on everything!  I think it’s amazing on Fruit Salad and in Lemonade!)

Phew! That’s everything. 

Highlight #3: Bikanervala

I didn’t think my day could possibly get any better, but surprisingly it did.  By this point we were pretty hungry and my coworkers knew exactly where to take me.

I had expressed interest in trying street foods, but knew that with my Western tummy, I shouldn’t take any risks.  Instead of ordering food on the street, Bikanervala, a restaurant specializing in Indian Street Foods was the perfect solution.

The first thing I loved about this place was the atmosphere.  After spending so much time in office and hotel districts, it was so exciting to get a glimpse of this part of the city.  The below scene is right across the street from the restaurant.  The vibrant atmosphere was present inside the restaurant too.  In addition to our happy group, there were at least 3 or 4 “Kitty Parties” going on in the restaurant – social groups of women that meet monthly to play cards, gossip, and eat.

The group that I was with brainstormed on their favorite foods, then ordered a huge spread for the table to share.

One thing I learned right away about India is that everyone shares.  In fact [I know I’m getting off track here…] back at the office, I was lucky enough to be a part of a coworker’s birthday celebration.  Like birthdays back home, there was cake and there was singing.  When they sang “Happy Birthday” in English, exactly like we do here in the US, I confess I was a little bit disappointed – I was expecting a fun and different song (like “Las Mananitas” in Mexico – LOVE that!).  So then what came next completely surprised me.  The birthday-guy cut a piece of cake then picked it up with his HAND and took a bite.  Next thing I knew, his hand and the cake were in my face, waiting for me to take a bite!  He then went around the room with everyone taking a bite out of his hand until the first piece was completely gone, at which point we sliced up the remaining cake and served it like normal.

As messy as it was, I love their tradition.  In the US, the first slice of cake is typically a prized possession eaten by the birthday-person alone.  I think it’s beautiful that in India this special piece is shared with those joining in the celebration.

Back to the restaurant now… the giant bready bowl of yogurt above had one spoon that we all passed around and shared.  I was a little bit out of my comfort zone since I’d never share spoons with coworkers in the US, but I just went with it and enjoyed the environment of camaraderie.

On the upper right is a giant Dosa, probably the size of my torso!

The dish on the upper left was a party in my mouth – Pani Puri.  I’d had Pani Puri before back on Devon Ave in Chicago, but they way my coworkers taught me to eat it, it seemed like the foodie equivalent of Tequila Shots!  

To eat Pani Puri, you poke a hole into the hollow cracker, fill it with a piece of potato, then top it off with as much Cilantro Water and/or Tamarind Water as can fit.  I learned very quickly that once the liquid was poured in, I had to eat these FAST before they leaked all over my hand.  

The two dishes above were my other favorites.  I forgot the name of the dish on the bottom (anyone know it? if so, please tell me! Update: Thanks to Aparna, I now know that it’s called Chole Batura!) but like the Bhel Puri it was super fun to eat.  The group thought it was funny when I pointed out that the breads were literally the size of American Footballs.  They were actually completely hollow though and deflated quickly under gentle pressure.  We then ripped off pieces of the bread and used it to scoop up some of the dal along with a piece of onion.  Like a true party food, every bite of bread & beans was followed by taking a bite directly from the large hot pepper.  And, like a true party food, no forks or knives were involved in the eating of this dish.

Lastly, my favorite dish of all was the Pav Bhaji.  First, the bread was fried in butter, so that was amazing.  Second, bread + saucy mashed veggies is absolutely as amazing as I’d imagine an Indian Sloppy Joe would be.  And best of all, the seasoning is simply magical.  Every single bite of this dish was so good I had to close my eyes.  I made an embarrassing amount of Mmmm sounds so once the bread was gone, the group passed me the plate so that I could scrape up every.last.bite…. this time with a spoon :-)

I was truly in Foodie Heaven.

I’d love to hear from you!

What’s your favorite International grocery item?

How do you feel about sharing spoons?