I recently interviewed Vandana Verma, food and drink editor at Time Out Delhi magazine and I took the opportunity to ask her for her recommendations for eating out in Delhi. For those of you visiting Mumbai in the near future, check out the short film above where Vandana takes us to the best street food stalls in Mumbai and introduces the mad world of tiffin boxes and Mumbai lunches.
Reena: How did your love for food start?
Vandana: Like most people’s love for food – at home. My family have always been all about food, and eating together, on the dinner table, was a big part of my childhood (and continues to be a big part of mealtimes with the clan. My sister’s enthusiasm for food puts mine to shame – but she’s also a fantastic cook. I think we’ve both got our parents to thank for our preoccupation with food!
Reena: Indian cuisine varies wildly by region. Which region's food is your favourite and why?
Vandana: There’s no contest (for me): it’s got to be southern coastal cuisine. Despite being from the North myself, it’s the simplicity of the culinary traditions of the south that I find so appealing. I could eat those coconut and tamarind-based curries forever, mixed in with steaming mounds of rice.
Reena: Do you tend to cook more or eat out more?
Vandana: I eat out a fair bit. More than I’d like, really. Increasingly I hanker for home-cooked meals over meals out, but Delhi’s restaurant scene is exploding in a manner that makes it very hard to stay in consistently. I do wish I cooked more, but even at home, we have a wonderful cook (named Jeevan) who renders me entirely redundant in the kitchen.
Reena: How is Indian cooking evolving and what are the latest trends in Delhi?
Vandana: It’s hard to say how Indian cooking is evolving – as a cuisine it’s so varied, and as recipes are handed down through generations, as with anywhere else in the world, there’s a natural evolution. Or a devolution really: recipes are simplified to suit lifestyles. When you change the context food’s prepared in, then you change the manner in which the food is prepared. But I think this is true of community foods all over the world. My mum’s actually trying to get her mother to write down all the old, family recipes that she remembers from her childhood in the hope that she’ll be able to pass those on to my sister and me as well.
Reena: Heston Blumenthal’s theory is that we start to enjoy foods that we have historically disliked after 20 tastings. What food do you dislike most and do you think you’d get past it with 20 servings?
Vandana: Had I been asked this very question three years ago I’d have rattled off a list: karela (bitter gourd), lauki (white summer squash), tinda (Indian apple gourd)… mostly these seasonal summer veggies. But I can’t honestly identify a single food that I’m truly averse to anymore. Perhaps duck or chicken feet? I remember seeing these at a breakfast buffet in South East Asia and physically recoiling. I can’t say that I’d get past it, because it’s the texture that I object to. Still, never say never.
Reena: Which is your favourite non-Indian cuisine?
Vandana: South-East Asian everything. From giant bowls of Vietnamese pho to bibimbap from Korea, creamy Thai curries and Indonesian sambals to sushi and donburi from Japan, I am crazy for Asian flavours.
Reena: Where are your top three places to eat in Delhi?
Indian Accent at The Manor hotel – this lovely restaurant serves internationally inflected Indian food on the grounds of a boutique hotel. Their foie gras-stuffed galawat kababs (discs of minced meat with a foie centre) are incredible, as is their panko-crusted bharwan mirch (supersized green chilli stuffed with goats cheese mousse and fried in panko crumb).
Grey Garden – I’ll admit that I’m biased; the Grey Garden is owned by friends, but even if it weren’t, I’d keep going back for glasses of wine under its ceiling festooned with white cotton trimmings, tables that double up as display cabinets and effortlessly soulful vibe.
Gunpowder – This cosy restaurant has a great view of the Hauz Khas reservoir, only topped by the South Indian cuisine its kitchen sends out. Portions are generous, prices are reasonable, and the Coorg pork is tender and flavoursome. Mop up every last bit with Gunpowder’s flaky Kerala porottas.