Wondering what to eat to avoid sickness in India? Take an expert with you

by Peter Calder / 13 June, 2018
Kebabs on the grill at 104-year-old Karim’s. Photo/Peter Calder

Kebabs on the grill at 104-year-old Karim’s. Photo/Peter Calder

RelatedArticlesModule - What to eat to avoid sickness India

When in India, it pays to have an expert to take the guesswork out of where and what to eat and to avoid sickness.

The real danger of eating out in India is not that you’ll get Delhi belly: it is that you’ll miss out on real local food for fear of getting Delhi belly.

You can avoid illness by following a few simple rules: don’t drink the water, naturally; be fanatical about hand hygiene (wash, rinse with bottled water, and then use hand sanitiser); avoid utensils and eat with your hands, as most of the locals do; and eat little and often, rather than gorging.

The street food is safe, too, if you eat only what you have watched being cooked: ignore the already-cooked delicacies that the flies have started on, and point to the latest to emerge from the ghee or the pot.

But even the canny, hungry visitor can be daunted by the prospect of choosing a place to eat, indoors or out, from the thousands on offer, and may end up settling for bland, tourist-friendly and distinctly Westernised restaurants.

A long queue is a good sign, as it is of anything, anywhere. But in Old Delhi, Anubhav Sapra takes the guesswork out of eating. He developed Delhi Food Walks from a blog he began in 2010 and now takes hundreds of people a year through different city precincts to experience the best of the street-level gastronomic culture. His enterprise is also flourishing in three other cities, Amritsar, Jaipur and Kolkata.

Anubhav Sapra. Photo/Getty Images

Given the price of a square meal in India – $3 meals are easy to find and you get something pretty fancy for $10 – his $80-a-head price tag may seem stiff. But it’s his knowledge you pay for: think of the food as a bonus.

And what food. At the cutely named Aslam Chicken Corner, they rescue the reputation of that Big Mac of Indian food, butter chicken, with juicy and ringingly fiery grilled thighs swimming in butter, which you swamp with cooling yogurt and pick up with paper-thin pieces of rumali (aptly, it means handkerchief) roti. It will ruin your neighbourhood curryhouse’s takeaways for you.

We meet Sapra in Chandni Chowk, Delhi’s busiest market area and a foodie heaven. He has come prepared with sanitiser and bottles of water and he wastes no time leading us into the crowded and labyrinthine alleys.

Most places he takes us serve one or, at most, two items: specialist perfection is rated more highly than breadth of choice. At our first stop, where they offer only dahi bhalla (fried lentil balls) and aloo tikki (deliciously spicy potato fritters with coriander chutney), the milling crowd is 10-deep, but he’s a familiar face to all the proprietors and we’re waved to the head of the line.

The oldest paratha (stuffed bread) shop in town. Photo/Peter Calder

The oldest paratha (stuffed bread) shop in town. Photo/Peter Calder

In a shop that opened in 1872, we are introduced to four varieties of the stuffed bread called paratha, with mint, lemon, cottage cheese and cauliflower; jalebi, a toffee sweet that resembles a spaghetti frittata, comes from a streetside kitchen where they’ve made nothing else since 1884.

Vegetarians are spoilt for choice in India (few Hindus eat meat), but in the Muslim part of Old Delhi, the carnivore’s treat is a selection of kebabs at 104-year-old Karim’s, and the evening ends on a sweet note with phirni, a rice pudding as smooth as crème brûlée, topped with pistachios and served in a clay cup that makes a fine souvenir.

Sapra sees his mission as preserving his country’s cultural history, which is expressed most vibrantly and accessibly through its food. “These places embody the spirit of Delhi and use recipes handed down through generations,” he says. They give you a glimpse of the India that can be hard for the visitor to find.

This article was first published in the June 2, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

How new cafe Generosity Coffee is helping the Birkenhead community
100223 2018-12-10 15:31:37Z Auckland Eats

How new cafe Generosity Coffee is helping the Birk…

by Alex Blackwood

A new cafe and roastery on the North Shore is doing good with its business model.

Read more
New street food-inspired restaurant Gao opens in Albany
100204 2018-12-10 12:49:49Z Auckland Eats

New street food-inspired restaurant Gao opens in A…

by Jean Teng

Auckland's latest Asian fusion restaurant takes cues from street food eateries.

Read more
Westport campers awake to find wads of cash on their cars and tents
100187 2018-12-10 11:38:35Z Life in NZ

Westport campers awake to find wads of cash on the…

by RNZ

Holidaymakers at a remote campground north of Westport awoke to find wads of cash had been left for them yesterday morning.

Read more
Ditch the intergenerational housing blame game, and focus on some home truths
99836 2018-12-10 00:00:00Z Social issues

Ditch the intergenerational housing blame game, an…

by Virginia Larson

What we don’t need is sloppy statistics kindling an intergenerational stoush that does no one any good.

Read more
Sally Lewis: The modern-day monk teaching meditation to prisoners
100143 2018-12-10 00:00:00Z Profiles

Sally Lewis: The modern-day monk teaching meditati…

by Clare de Lore

Could an ancient form of meditation change the lives of prisoners for better? Sally Lewis says it can.

Read more
What's inside North & South's January 2019 issue?
99815 2018-12-10 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

What's inside North & South's January 2019 issue?

by North & South

We look at the riskiest places in NZ to live, what it'll take to fix the Family Court and review 2018's weirdest and wackiest things.

Read more
The Brexit deal is the perfect Prisoner's Dilemma
100059 2018-12-09 00:00:00Z World

The Brexit deal is the perfect Prisoner's Dilemma

by Andrew Anthony

In the Prisoner's Dilemma, going after what you want – freedom – might get you the very worst outcome. It's Brexit, in other words.

Read more
How Britain's MI6 gave the world modern spycraft
100061 2018-12-09 00:00:00Z Television

How Britain's MI6 gave the world modern spycraft

by Fiona Rae

Espionage nerd David Jason takes us inside the world of secret agents, including the inaugural MI6 boss’ car.

Read more