(Some pics by Pamela Timms and the rest by C)
We meet at the steps of the Chawri Bazaar metro station, that spot where the enormity of Old Delhi- its tangled wires and rickshaw jams threatens to spill over and roll down the steps to meet the zipping silver of the metro. On the agenda today is an Old Delhi food tour and a look into food writer, blogger and the host of Uparwali Chai, Pamela Timms' own food secrets. She's had a hectic week, she says, and the best way to unwind Pamela style is to devour the culinary treats on offer in the old city. (Although, by her own admission, she over does it.)"I wasn't watching Social Networking with the kids last night because I was right here eating Nihari." She has made a "reckless promise to make at home everything (she) eats on the streets." And so whether it's milk cake with chai( which involves stirring 12 litres of milk with one kilo of sugar for almost two hours), or making Shahi Tukda at home, street version, she's up for the grind.
Our street food-hobbyist's rickshawwallah friend- Rahul is already waiting for us at the Metro station. He takes us through the noisy certainty of the rickshaw jam straight from the metro station into the gully near. Here, in a grain store called Jain Coffee Shop is a little known Old Delhi food secret- Fruit Sandwiches. (Sounds so Scottish high tea, right?) Pamela, her husband Dean, his father and I sit in the bare blue walled backroom while watching them slap on some marmalade on the soft white bread. They place sheets of paneer, butter, pomegranate and apple (it is seasonal, ask for mangoes in summer) and it's done. An unlikely but excellent and fresh start to a day of eating. "By the way I try to recreate this for Uparwali chai but it didn't work out so well - the bread didn't hold together. It just is this way sometimes with street food."
Uparwali chai. Duh! It is tea- the high kind. Pamela always loved afternoon tea even as a child. "I even used to make afternoon tea for friends at university. Then with a Dutch friend, Laura, we decided to create a pop-up tea party event for Delhi" Inevitably or Indian-ly, it was nicknamed Uparwali chai by a friend. "And, just as I expected, Indians love tea and cakes just as much as the British. We love doing the events - we've done them everywhere from my roof to Sanskriti Kendra, to Yum Yum Tree and Gunpowder - each one slightly different" They innovate according to venue. Mini Utthapams in Gunpowder, goodies going around on the sushi belt in Yum Yum Tree etc. "The range of people that come to the events is huge - young, old, Indian, expat - all united in a love of home baking."
Pamela seems to have learnt to get unused to the super market shopping experience. "In the UK, a Tesco pops up everywhere and it is impossible for a small butcher, baker or fisherman to survive. I enjoy going around to different store picking up things and trying out new ingredients although there is the occasional day when I crave for convenience."
By now, we are full with chikoo milk shake that her husband Dean (who self admittedly is prone to exaggeration) declared rightly that the shake was the best shake he had ever had. We head out towards Church Mission Road to Kake Di Hatti but obviously tuck into every culinary distraction on the way. First, A-Matchless (9311150022), a tiny little corner store that has all sorts of baking equipment (mango shaped cookie moulds at `20 a piece), cutters etc.
Improvising Scottish baking with Delhi ingredients isn't just a matter of compromise for Pamela, but a creative exercise that has formed much of the muscle of her blog (rated as India's top five food sites by Good Housekeeping). Cheese Cake has been given an old Delhi make over by using naan khatai as a base, malai for cream and phalsa berry as garnishing. She has even convinced restaurant owners in the Kullu Valley to fry up Bar-one Pakodas. "My starting point for developing recipes is to find delicious combinations rather than creating a novelty item for the sake of it. I've been baking all my life and it feels natural to start incorporating some local ingredients into some of my recipes. I'm loving what jaggery, malai, spices, whey are doing to my repertoire!" We know that the traditional Scottish Haggis ( sheep's heart, liver and lungs with oatmeal etc) isn't an invitation to Indians but Scottish shortbread is immensely Indianise-able to Pamela. "I decided to transform the shortie's natural homeliness into go-get-'em brazenness with the addition of cumin and jaggery." And she served it with Mango Shrikhand as a dip.
We walk less than a few metres when Pamela insists we try the Daulat Ki Chaat, the gift of winter, an airy soufflé flying playfully with a saffron- pistachio breeze. The legend, according to Pamela is that it is set with early morning dew.
Dessert in our bellies, we head for lunch as following order in eating would murder the beautiful haphazardness of Old Delhi. The rickshaw plods through narrow streets. "Oh, wow, the first batch of strawberries", gushes Pamela as we pass a fruit store, imagining all the baked goodies she can conjure up. "The star fruit, you must must have with Shakhar-khandi- sweet potato", another winter blessing on the streets. After much chaos we reached the packed Kake-di-hatti. Not for the faint hearted or the obsessive compulsive, as plates lie on the wet brown road in the entrance, piles of curries are kept in huge open aluminium vessels but the smell draws you in, pushes you through the crowds and upstairs into the gaily painted family section. Multicoloured tables that we wait at for about ten minutes, unattended. "I almost feel like they are intimidated by me because they can't understand my Hindi and I can't theirs", laughs Pamela. We order Aloo Naans to go with a deep, flavourful Aloo Palak and Lauki ki Raita. Pamela says that she has never fallen sick eating street food. "I realise I'm tempting fate by saying this .I have been sick after eating in some posher restaurants though." (She insists she won't name names.)
My father-in-law thinks I am crazy. He's always telling people 'Oh, dear, the kind of places Pam goes to eat.' He's watching over her, sipping his Miranda and smiling even as his daughter-in-law affectionately slanders him. He's careful not to eat even a morsel. She continues explaining all the food to him. Why the spinach in the Aloo Palak is good for his health, just like some, if not most of street food.