Do you recall the first time you watched the first “Incredible India” advertisement, broadcasted some time ago in 2006? I certainly do, and I remember thinking that it was possibly the best advertisement I had ever seen for tourism – I really wanted, needed to visit India after watching that. But the opportunity never arose – I always felt like a country as vast as this deserved a decent amount of my time, at least one week, ideally two.
Fast forward 7 years and I was one of the privileged ones invited to the Indian wedding of a lifetime. Congratulations to the gorgeous couple, to my friends S & A – may love, happiness, respect and understanding be yours forever and always! If you have never been to an Indian wedding, let me tell you, it is an assault on the senses! Smells, sights, sounds, and tastes swirl around you in colourful opulence, and never have I heard so many resonating “WOW”s as I did during those 4 days.
My first Indian adventure was to take place in New Delhi, a hectic, dusty and sprawling city, whose tagline should be “organised chaos”. There were a few things that I was a bit wary of prior to the trip, namely the gang rapes that had occurred recently – into my suitcase went all of the long maxi dresses and light cardigans I have, in an effort to keep covered as much as possible.
The other main concern was “Delhi Belly” – I didn’t want at any point have to miss out of any part of the 4 day celebration. Some of my friends brought their own bottled water from Hong Kong, using it to brush their teeth and wash their faces. We wouldn’t eat any peeled fruit (for some reason, all the fruit wallas insisted on peeling everything, from oranges to carrots). Ice was to be avoided at all times. Fortunately, the hotel provided plenty of complimentary bottled water – the TATA brand of Himalayan water was particularly amusing.
We had a wonderful first experience of India, and have come away with lasting memories, new friendships, and a desire to see more of the country. That is not to say that we didn’t have some less-than-savoury or peculiar experiences. Having to pass through a security scanner when we entered the majority of establishments, witnessing a grown adult (even a women in a beautiful sari) squatting and taking a dump by the side of the road. Watching cars reverse back down highway ramps. Dragging along a car with our tour bus as we drove the narrow streets of Old Delhi, watching as 5 men gather to lift the car to the side so that the bus could pass (this is after our bus had chopped off the cars side mirror and dented the rear end of the drivers side). Our tour guide, who said, “Sometimes bad things happen, like rapes and all, but at least there are very few kidnappings!”.
Hey, I guess it is all part of experiencing a new country, and one is always bound to come away with stories, good, bad or peculiar.
♥ (STREET) FOOD ♥
Being cautious about not eating or drinking anything that could have made us sick unfortunately meant not being able to eat the array of street foods that Delhi had to offer. But thankfully the Bride and her mother organised the most AMAZING catered spread of street foods for the Mehindi luncheon! Those who warned me that I’ll be eating a lot at an Indian wedding were 200% correct – there was food, all the time, in substantial amounts, and at this wedding to such a high calibre (if this can be said about food). In fact, all of the food that we were treated to during this 4 day celebration was out of this world – I have never eaten such outstanding Indian food before.
♥ EATING OUT ♥
Zaffran – Authentic North Indian Cuisine
We happened upon this restaurant at the end of an organised shopping trip, and a small group of us split off from the rest to have lunch. None of the food that we ate outside was comparable to that which we ate during the wedding parties, but this was definitely the best of the outside meals. The food was wonderfully spiced, well presented and the service was excellent.
Outstanding dishes included the Bhatti Ka Paneer, with a charred smokey flavour and all of that paneer goodness! The mutton biryani was cooked dum-style, in a clay container with the lid sealed with dough. This way of cooking came to India via Persia by Muslim settlers, this method ensured that the dish remains moist and succulent. The biryani was incredibly full of flavour, and I can’t wait to try this recipe at home with my Mutton Biryani spices that I bought at the spice market (below). The Gobi (cauliflower) dum dar was out of this world – the second best cauliflower dish I have ever tasted after the KFC at Yardbird.
I recommend a visit to this restaurant if you find yourself in New Delhi!
Indian Accent, Manor Hotel
PB and I wanted to go for a romantic dinner, and we chose Indian Accent, located at the Manor House boutique hotel. Listed #41 on the Asia’s Best 50 Best Restaurants 2013 List, and mentioned in the New York Times 46 Places to Go in 2013 at #9, this highly lauded and award-winning restaurant seemed like the best option!
We opted to try one Vegetarian (INR 2475, or HK$ 380) and one Non-Vegetarian (INR 2675, or HK$411) Chef’s Tasting Menu, together with wine pairing (INR 1800, or HK$280 each for 5 half glasses of wine). The VAT (12.5%), additional VAT (20%), liquor VAT (20%), service charge (10%) and service tax (4.94%) system in Delhi is extremely complex, so that the sub-total of INR 5,030 (HK$774) turned into INR 11,843 (HK$ 1822)! Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
The service at Indian accent can’t be faulted, and the decor is modern and clean. The food is very good, with some nice takes on traditional Indian dishes and street food. Presentation is obviously a priority for the chef, and everything looked beautiful on the plate – we were even eating soft shell crab with tweezers at one point! The naans were simply irresistible (we ordered another round of the apple smoked bacon version). For the price (or at least the initial price!), it was a well-valued experience, although I highly recommend that you forgo the wine pairing and order your own bottle from the menu. I am not a connoisseur, but even for me, some of these wines were hard to drink – dare I say I could have picked up some of those bottles at the local supermarket. For a restaurant with so many accolades, the wine pairing was a huge let down!
Hotel Sarabava Bhavan – South Indian Vegetarian Restaurant
This chain of restaurants has more outlets than Elizabeth Taylor had diamonds! We came specifically for the Thali, which literally means ‘plate’. Several dishes are served in small bowls called katori and placed on the thali. It included some curries, dahl, curd, this wonderful green paste of which I have yet to find out the name, pickled beetroot, raita, an a sweet dish (I believe it’s called shirvalya…?).
Sarabava Bhavan is a vegetarian restaurant which serves no alcohol. They had a very tempting array of fresh juices and smoothies, but we were all too cautious to try them.
Stone Grill Bar & Restaurant
This restaurant was a funny one – it is supposed to be where all the cool people go to see and be seen, but there was absolutely no one else there when we visited. It was a Tuesday, but still … the bar downstairs looked quite happenin’, so maybe this is just a case of the food quality being a casualty of trendiness, but for the most part, I found the food to be mediocre at best. There were a few nice things on the menu, the explosive chicken (not the best name choice), the prawn and calamari soup, and surprisingly, the buffalo steak wasn’t bad at all! Apart from that, the dishes were trying to be something (International fusion cuisine) that it was just not. To top it all of, it took us over an hour to sort out our bill for a large group of 20 people. We were annoyed and fed up by the time we left.
♥ SHOPPING ♥
Dilli Haat – this is a fun outdoor market where I found some nice paper mache decorative boxes as gifts. This is a permanent market which sells lots of pashminas, bags, jewellery, crafts and such. Make sure to bargain HARD, these guys start off with some crazy prices. As a rule, we started at 1/3 of their initial price and ended up paying just under half.
Chandhi Chowk – this area is a maze of alley ways selling electronics, jewellery, saris and spices. Our tour guide dropped us off at Mehar Chand and Sons where I bought a huge array of masalas for all sorts of dishes, as well as saffron, fresh nutmeg and 100% pure tea tree oil! I can’t wait to start using it all. In hindsight, I perhaps should have bargained, but I just accepted their initial price.
Kashmir Loom Company – we were recommended to visit this store by another guest at the wedding. Having not received the prices that I wanted for shawls at Dilli Haat, I still wanted to purchase a shawl as a reminder of this amazing wedding!
Here, they have a beautiful selection of cashmere, wool, silk scarves and stoles starting from IND 1500 (HK$ 230) for wool stoles up to 55,000 (HK$8,000+) for fully hand-embroidered cashmere pashminas. Needless to say, it’s a proper shop, and whilst they’ll give you a slightly better price than the tag, you can’t really bargain. I purchased an embroidered pashmina for myself, one of the much less elaborate and considerably less expensive ones!
So, this was my experience of India in a nutshell: overwhelming, brightly coloured, friendly, operating by a different set of rules sometimes, dusty and hot, TASTY!
And Incredible, that it was for sure!
Kasbah Building, GK-1, N Block Market, New Delhi
Tel: +91 11 4163 5000
The Manor, 77 Friends Colony (West), New Delhi
Tel: +91 11 4323 5151
Hotel Sarabava Bhavan (multiple locations!)
P-15, 46, Janpath, Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
Tel: +91 11 2331 6060
Smoke House Grill
2, VIPPS Centre, North Wing, LSC Masjid Moth, Greater Kailash II, New Delhi
Tel: +91 11 4143 5531
Sri Aurobindo Marg, West Kidwai Nagar, Kidwai Nagar, New Delhi
Mehar Chand and Sons (Spices)
6535 Khari Baoli, New Delhi (near Fatehpuri Masjid)
Tel: +91 11 23958801
Kashmir Loom Company
C-65 Nizamuddin East, New Delhi 110013
Tel: +91 11 2435 8683