A few years back I’ve met a woman. That was right before my first trip to India got confirmed. She shared with me, that she had previously visited the country, traveled across different cities, and fell in love with Indian people and culture. Of course, there were downsides too. During her two-week journey, she’d been eating only rice. She claimed she managed to survive on a few snacks she’d packed in her suitcase and occasional fruits that she’d managed to buy locally.
Was I worried to board that plane taking me from New York to Delhi in early 2014? Not at all! I’ve made sure to get used to spices way before I would have to put that skill into use. Luckily, in the Bahamas (where I was living at that time) people also enjoy their food full of flavor and don’t mind an occasional chili add on. I was ready. What I wasn’t expecting though is that all that preparation was not necessary.
Of course, traveling to India as a tourist is very different from living here as an expat. During our first visit, we wanted to experience everything Indian and were desperate for all the curries, aloo puris, palak paneers, and other deliciousness that the cuisine has to offer. No matter how much I was enjoying it, I could not come to terms with myself if I would ever
have to be eating this food every day for the rest of my life. One, I wasn’t used to it and missed fresh salads that I found difficult to find in Indian restaurants, and second, everyone wants a variety once in a while!
So, let me break a few myths here and share with you what your options are if you ever come to visit or relocate to Delhi.
- Homecooked Indian Food is very different from the one you get at a restaurant. It is simply impossible to eat so much spice, oil, and butter daily. So, Indian people are generally very modest with their home-cooking. The food is simple, healthy, and less in calories than
anything you order from a restaurant. One thing remains though: the variety. It is rare when lunch or dinner consisting of only one dish. It has to be a minimum of two dishes (even if both are vegetarian) plus the world-famous Indian chapatis or rice to go with it!
- Indo-Chinese, Indo-Italian, and other “Indo” cuisines are quite popular here. It is possible toorder chili paneer (local cheese) or ask for a peri peri chicken pizza. However, in recentyears, more and more Indians are traveling abroad, experiencing other cultures, and optingfor authentic flavors. Hence, many restaurants decided to distinguish themselves by offering the original Italian, French, or Greek recipes.
- “When I ask them to make a dish non-spicy, they still bring me a plate full of chilies!” Yes, it is a very common complaint from travelers and expats. I would agree that many local chefs would not understand “non-spicy” means no spice at all! Plus, the hot flavors do not always come from chilies only, but from the combination of the local masalas (spices). Also, some dishes are simply impossible to replicate without making it burn your throat. That is why it is up to you to decide which restaurant you must visit to have your requests accommodated. How would you know? Check out their menu first. If they are familiar with European cuisine, most likely they would know what “no-spice” means. Also, restaurants with a higher price range are proven to be more flexible in accommodating requests. Street food is operating on a “many dishes one recipe” basis. And spices often used for disinfecting purposes. So yes, stay away from the local vendors and don’t try to make your food “less safe” to eat.
- India is known to be cheap, but just like anywhere else in the world, you have to pay for quality. It is possible to have a meal for $2. Just don’t expect the décor, view, and proper sanitation. Your best pick is probably the local cafes where the meal price ranging from $7- Within that price, you can grab a pizza, enjoy a salad or a creamy pasta.
- People always ask if alcohol is allowed in India. Yes, it is. Please, do not assume that people drink less here in Delhi than in any other big city. Alcohol is crazy expensive here, with a 20% tax if you purchase it in bars and restaurants. However, high prices have never stopped anyone. Every Friday and Saturday night the city is buzzing. People are partying, meeting friends, and having one too many all the time!
I will suggest a few places of personal choice and hope you will get to visit them as well:
*Olives Bar & Kitchen (https://www.olivebarandkitchen.com/) is elegance at its best. Yes, you might be surprised to have such a dining experience in India, but it is there and is an absolute “must try” if you live or visiting Delhi. It is a Mediterranean restaurant that offers the highest quality at the most picturesque location. Their garden is so inviting that you will be coming there again and again. It might hurt you financially a bit if you plan to become a regular there. I would suggest this place for special occasions. Oh, and service is always a top-notch!
*Roadhouse Café (www.roadhousecafe.in) is a cozy place located in one of the most popular markets in Delhi (M block Market Greater Kailash 1). People who visit the place always mention the “good vibe” in this café. Maybe it is the interiors, maybe it is about the people who work there. The main thing is, everyone has a good time and leave with a good impression. They are famous for their thin-crust pizzas, Italian pastas and choice of Vegan & Gluten-Free Dishes. Their latest add on was the full Asian Menu, which you can opt for while dining there. Trust me, they will surely know and understand what “no spicy” means!
*Dhaba Estb 1986 (http://www.dhaba1986.com/epicuria-location.php) is a restaurant chain that serves authentic Indian (Punjabi) cuisine, and does it in a fun and colorful way! Yes, their décor is a mix of the craziness of truck art details and vintage Bollywood posters, but it is warm and welcoming. Just make sure you get there hungry, as the dishes are heavy and there are tons to choose from. The prices are far from the “cheaper side” but it is totally worth it.
This is just a shortlist of favorite places. There are over 12000 restaurants in the city so you will surely find your best picks too!