The past month or so has been a busy one for me, since I've been lucky enough to squeeze in two international trips to different conferences, and the latest one took me all the way to India!
I've talked a lot about my love for India on the blog before, especially the food there. Not only do I love the flavours and variety of Indian dishes, but I can't think of another country that I've visited with such a high prevalence of vegetarians and vegetarian options at restaurants - quite different than my experiences in other countries like Japan!
My last trip to India in 2010 (when I did an internship there) was mostly based in Mumbai, so I was excited to have the chance to visit the capital city of the country this time, New Delhi. It was a pretty short trip and most of my time was spent at the conference center (the amazing Taj Palace Hotel - highly recommended if you ever visit New Delhi!). I did have one full free day though, so I took advantage of being so close to the Taj Mahal and made a day trip of going to see it. Now I know why it's considered one of the seven wonders of the world - it is absolutely beautiful!
But on to the food, since that's why you came here in the first place!
This was my first meal the morning after I arrived in New Delhi. From my limited experience, Indian hotels tend to offer amazing breakfast buffets, and this one was especially good because they made fresh dosas to order! Dosa is basically a large, thin, crispy crepe that comes plain or with a filling. I got a masala dosa, which is stuffed with a potato mixture, and of course I ate mine with lots of coconut chutney (in the middle of the plate), which I love too!
I also love the Indian style coffee they serve for breakfast - it's extra milky and sweet, which makes it taste like a treat instead of just my regular morning caffeine dose!
Every day there were new items at the breakfast buffet, so I always filled my plate with lots of different things to try, which would keep me full for a long time! Above are some of the dishes that I tried - in the interest of keeping this post short, I won't explain what they all are, but I've labelled them so that you can look them up if you see something that interests you (or I'm happy to try to respond to any questions in the comments)!
For my first dinner, I was still pretty jet-lagged so I just went down to the hotel restaurant, which actually turned out to be really nice! If you're visiting India as a tourist, you can definitely get some attentive service at many hotel restaurants - I was never allowed to serve myself from my own plate, and I had at least 3 different waiters constantly checking on me, not to mention the chef himself who came out at the end!
I ordered the delhi chaat platter because I love chaats (street food snacks), and it came with an assortment of four different chaat items: palak patta chaat (fried spinach leaves topped with yogurt and chutneys), dahi gujiya (lentil dumpling soaked in yogurt and chutneys), ragda pattice (potato patties topped with a split pea gravy and chutneys), and raj kachori (crisp puri shells stuffed with a potato mixture and various chutneys). I loved the combination of yogurt with sweet and spicy chutneys in each of the dishes! The meal also came with complimentary pappadums to start, mini naans with pumpkin chutney (top right), and a bite of sweet dessert!
The next day I travelled about 4 hours to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, as I mentioned at the start of this post. After a long day of travelling and sightseeing, I was starving by the time I finally got to sit down at a restaurant for a (very) late lunch! I stuck with things that I knew I loved - mulligatawny soup, freshly made butter naan, and a mango lassi to wash it down. It wasn't the best lassi I've had (since mango season is over), but the naan was so good!
We were also fed pretty well during the conference days. I looked forward to our morning and afternoon refreshment breaks because they always had delicious drinks and snacks waiting for us! My favourite drink was the masala tea (what we Canadians would call chai) - it was perfectly spiced and milky, and I liked the little clay pots that it was served in!
They also offered a different cold beverage each time, and it was always in a new colour! These were a few of the options - rose milk water (a bit strange), khus sharbat, and ginger juice.
I also enjoyed my vegetarian lunch box, which came with a salad, croquette, mini roti rolls filled with paneer, rice, and yogurt, with a sweet almond halva and a banana for dessert - pretty good for a boxed lunch! I was a bit disappointed when they switched to a Western style lunch the next day...
On the first conference night, I was a bit tuckered out and not feeling up to venturing out in the city at night, so I ordered room service instead and was so glad that I did! Not only did I enjoy the elaborate table setup, but the khichdi that I ordered was really good too. Khichdi (a mix of rice and lentils with spices and tomato) is my idea of Indian comfort food and one of the only dishes that I learned to make when I was in India the last time - I'll have to post a recipe on the blog soon for you guys!
On the last night of the conference, we had a group dinner and I ordered the vegetarian set menu, which ended up being a ton of food! The meal started off with a tasty amuse-bouche of paneer with a pomegranate seed (top left), followed by a corn soup (top right), and two appetizers: a lentil patty and paneer tikka (bottom left). Plus we had a selection of pre-dinner appetizers - carrot sticks, mango pickle, and crispy pappadums with chutney (bottom right).
For the main courses, we were each served portions of several shared dishes (vegetarian or non vegetarian depending on preference). My vegetarian choices (clockwise) included a vegetable mixture, creamy malai kofta, very rich lentils, creamed spinach with corn (not pictured) and biryani, served with a few different types of naan. Since everything was in the North Indian style of food, it was a bit too rich for me, but still very good!
And as if that wasn't enough food, we also got three different desserts: gulab juman (which tasted like an extremely sweet fried donut soaked in sugar syrup), chenna payas (cottage cheese balls soaked in coconut milk), and kulfi (Indian style ice cream served on a stick). The kulfi was definitely my favourite of the desserts!
Most Indian meals at restaurants end with a selection of mouth fresheners, which usually includes fennel seeds, sugar crystals, and other seeds. This tray also came with areca nut (which almost broke a tooth!) and paan leaves, none of which I was adventurous enough to try!
On the last day, I wanted to try something other than North Indian food (since I was still recovering from the previous night's dinner!) so I ordered a South Indian dish for lunch - uttapam! Uttapam is like a giant pancake made from soaked and ground rice and lentils, with extra ingredients like onion and tomato mixed in. I loved the pancake on its own, but it's even better topped with tomato and coconut chutneys and the sambar (spicy vegetable stew) that it comes with!
If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me through so many pictures! If you love Indian food as much as I do, then hopefully you enjoyed seeing a reminder of what makes the cuisine so good! And if you're not that familiar with Indian food, then maybe you'll be inspired to go out and try some of the variety of dishes, or to try some Indian cooking at home!
I'll be back later this week with a new recipe inspired by my trip!