Tuesday, 16 May 2017

#9 A non-fiction book

Korma, Kheer and Kismet – Five Seasons in Old Delhi by Patricia Timms 

Just as the seasons here were undergoing a subtle tug of war between staying in summer and moving to monsoon, I discovered this delightful sunshiny butter coloured hardback little book which is part memoir of the author’s stay in Delhi, part her culinary adventures through the five seasons she spent in the ancient city. 

In the twelve chapters , Patricia Timms writes lovingly and with an addictive enthusiasm of her culinary explorations around Old Delhi, focusing on the street food legacies that this modern day metropolis has inherited from its ancestors – the Mughals being a chief influence.

Leaving the comfort of modern day malls and air-conditioned restaurants, it was heartening to see how the author gently guides us to the heart and soul of a vibrant city with life and its mysteries pulsating in every street corner. Beginning with the enticingly titled chapter ‘The Mutton Korma Mysteries’ , Patricia Timms unfolds how she decides to explore the authentic tastes of Old Delhi in the only manner that it can truly be done – by actually going out onto the crowded streets in the blistering heat and eat and experience at first-hand the culinary delights of the city. 

Also included in each chapter is a recipe which is personally experimented and verified by her, which in addition to her dedication to bringing us as close to the authentic experience as possible, truthfully admits to whatever lack the final result it may hold – mainly because, as she asks us to keep in mind, these culinary delicacies have been made by the experts, the street vendors for generations, they have been doing the same thing thousands of times and getting it just right, moreover, however well we may recreate it we will still miss the “actual experience of eating it on the street.”

Single-handedly this book has rekindled my desire to walk around my own city and explore dishes and experience the authenticity that every city will invariably offer to those who seek it. Hopefully as they say – when you change the way you look at things, the thing you look at changes. It would be wonderful to be properly acquainted with the pulse of my homeland by experiencing its legacy – just like how Patricia Timms’ glorious ode to Old Delhi has shown us.

'Daulat ki chaat', a winter highlight in Old Delhi is probably the most intriguing of all the dishes. The author describes this ambrosial delight as "small, perfectly formed clouds have dropped from the sky." Heavenly!
Just like a true explorer,  the author simply doesn’t just list out what she has tasted but instead she connects Delhi's street food to its history, its climate (she explains the different seasonal foods available), its geography etc. Her inquiries to get the actual recipes from the owners themselves don’t result in any success but her descriptions and effortless evocation of the preparation of the food as she watches it being made is drool-worthy.

The stories of each dish are all incredibly interesting. The description of the mutton korma made by Ashok and Ashok Meat Dhaba , located in a nondescript street in Sadar Bazaar, will leave you desperately craving for some. Though the shop opens only at 1 pm, it is a testament to the popularity of their korma that everything is sold out within an hour!

Feeling desperate in her new kitchen after relocating to Delhi with her family, Patricia Timms takes us past her initial days of  disappointment and her gradual immersion in the sights and sounds of Old Delhi. She befriends the owners who are happy to elaborate on how they cook, and the legacy that has been passed on to them. Many of the people that she had interviewed seems to be third generation owners, explaining how they find it hard to let go of what they believe to be a par of their core identity.

The chole bhature from Diwan Chand’s shop, sutli kebabs from Mian Sa’ab’s shop, Kuremal’s kulfi, sheer kurma made annually by Mr. Nassem (a good friend), the sweet fruit sandwiches served at Jain Coffee House (in Raghu Ganj), the comforting shakarkandi (roasted sweet potato), Karachi halwa of Chaina Ram   – all this and lot more will have you hoping that you could take a trip down these very streets of Old Delhi and savour it yourself.

Be warned – this book will have you feeling hungry ALL the time! 

Patricia Timms also happens to chronicle her Indian food adventures on her blog called ‘eat and dust’ which is definitely something one can dig into for a delicious bite now and then.

Until I do get to visit this honestly original and mysteriously beautiful city, I will endeavour to try my own culinary adventures on my home turf and hope to find joy and comfort in what it has to offer, as Pamela Timms has shown us how. 

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