Delhi – A Food History

Delhi, our capital, is one of the best places in India where you will find the best of the street food our country has to offer. But Delhi is much more than the street food which is raved about the most, but is actually extremely layered and tiered. There is a lot of history associated with Delhi’s food culture, which came from various backgrounds including the Marathas and of course, the Mughals. In this article, I will be elaborating a little bit about the history of the food here, as well as dive into the street food culture.

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Delhi’s food culture is basically a large blend of a lot of places in India, right from Kashmir to South India and many more. Which is why it is the food here reflects every bit of the various cultures, hence, you are bound to find endless places selling amazing momos and also ones that offer authentic south Indian food. Delhi has always been under different influences, communities and invaders right from the time it was known as Shahjahanabad. A lot of them built a trade market here and sold their goods which influenced the cuisine of this place.
Typically, Delhi food is stereotyped into being Punjabi food, this because it was ruled over by Punjabis. This is majorly because, a lot of Punjabis set up their restaurants here. They were one of the first people to set up shop here. Even after the partition, Punjabis immigrated here and opened up authentic food places. This explains why people parallelize Delhi as a place for Punjabi food. Contradictory to what the restaurant culture has introduced to us in the last decade or so, which is that North Indian cooking has a lot of cashews and cream being used in their gravy; most of the houses in Amritsar do not use these ingredients while cooking. What they do use is a lot of curd in preparing their non vegetarian dishes. They use a lot of fresh raw ingredients and just cook them on a low flame. This is what true Punjabi consists of. In true Punjabi fashion, there is never incorporation of cream in udat dal. Traditionally, they do not have any dish named dal makhni; instead they have maa ki dal, or simply udat dal. Hence, the Punjabi food you get in restaurants is a myth. There is also the point that authenticity in Indian cooking is overrated, as everyone prepares their dishes differently with their own style, everyone has their own traditions and which is why any single dish can never be prepared the same way in places.

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The street food in Delhi goes a long way back and now is an inseparable part of it. How street food came to be was very interesting and extremely intelligent. A popular tale is that in olden times, when people used to go jewelry shopping they had to wait around a lot and got very fidgety. Hence, to keep the customers content, the shopkeepers came up with the idea of serving them something which would not only be made fast but also something that would keep their taste buds happy : something savory. So that is how chaat came to be.

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This was my short article on the history and background on the food in Delhi. I hope you found out something new from this and enjoyed reading it.
- Kinjal Dixit