Sunday, 19 September 2010

Foodie tour of Old Delhi

I don't love Old Delhi but when given the chance to traverse Chandni Chowk with a celebrity chef on a culinary tour, even I realise the foolishness in refusing.

More fool me though - I was still recovering and went against the advice of my doctor, who really just doesn't understand what it's like being a freelancer, and the experience of spending four hours in the maelstrom of the old city was enough to push me back inside the dengue pit.

Nevertheless it was a great day. It was a story for a UK magazine on restauranteur Marut Sikka, who owns two of Delhi's most evocative and creative restaurants - Magique and Kainoosh. He also has a cooking show on NDTV Good Times and a couple of cookbooks. The concept of the story was to have him introduce his food neighbourhood; although with Delhi being very spread out he chose Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi rather than his own neighbourhood.

Marut Sikka in the back of a cycle rickshaw

Together with a photographer flown up from Mumbai, we spent four hours pushing and shoving our way through the milk market, the spice market and various street food stalls. Not speaking Hindi, usually the nuances of these experiences escape me, so it was great to have a guide - especially one as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as Sikka.

The best chole batura stand in Old Delhi, according to Sikka

Vendor at the spice market, selling bark used as an old-time toothbrush

It was freaking exhausting, though. I fell asleep in the car on the way back to the restaurant where we still had to take his portrait shot and finish up my interview. I hope I didn't snore.

Thankfully the day ended with dinner at Kainoosh: tandoori lobster, the smoothest galouti kebab I've ever tasted, lamb spare ribs, chicken leg stuffed with apricot-y mince and wrapped in pastry, fig kulfi and a cocktail designed just for me: a jasmine cardamom martini.

Then I woke up the next day with a throbbing head and aching limbs. The fever was back.

But it had been such a stellar day it was kind of worth it.

This is me at the end of the day: slumped and exhausted and awaiting my jasmine-cardamom martini.

Last photo by Chiara Goia

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Dengue feverish

Dengue fever here is pronounced "deng-goo". Against my better nature, I have started saying it that way too, just to be understood.

And I've been saying it a lot this past week, as I have fallen victim to the seasonal scourge that plagues mosquito-ridden Delhi in monsoon time. Deng-goo.

It has not been pretty. There is nothing glamorous about deng-goo. It's all about sleeping endlessly, waking up for a round of projectile vomiting, sleeping some more, swallowing a handful of pills and trying to keep them down, staggering from the bed to the sofa only to pass out from the effort. Repeat for seven days, punctuated by platelet level tests in which some ham-fisted orderly jams what feels like a blunt needle into your arm.

The best bit is that as there is an epidemic - 1,500-odd official cases, far more in all likelihood - there is nary a hospital bed left in town. When I went to Supermax hospital in Saket on Sunday evening, the day I was struck down, they stuck me on the only spare bed in emergency, in the Resuscitation Room, and discussed loudly that they were only admitting the most serious patients. I caught a glimpse into the adjacent ward which looked like something out of WW2 with beds crammed in every which way.

There is also concern that platelet stocks might run low, so instead of admitting patients when their levels fall under 100, they've downgraded to 50.

We're just a few weeks out from the Commonwealth Games. The Games village is built on the banks of the Yamuna River - a major breeding ground for mosquitos. They've now called the army in to drain stagnant pools of water and fog the site before all the foreign athletes descend. For what it's worth, I don't think anyone should bother coming here. It's still raining, mosquitoes are out in force, the city remains a building site.