Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Diwali!

Yesterday was India's biggest Hindu holiday - Diwali!

As with all Hindu holidays, it seems, the backstory of Diwali depends on who you ask. In general, Diwali is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Also it has to do with the goddess of wealth, maybe. And it's also the new year, but only to certain people in certain parts of India. Oh Hinduism, you're so confusing to me.

In terms of scale, fervor and celebratory style, Diwali is to India what Christmas is to the U.S. People deck their houses with fairy lights (read: Christmas lights), stores bustle with shoppers buying gifts for family and friends, there are parties every night, and there's a big emphasis on sharing of dessert foods. Also like Christmas, it's very much a family holiday, celebrated in the home. Or on the street in front of the home, as it were...

Diwali being the festival of lights, and India being a country of relatively few safety regulations, the holiday is celebrated in part by lighting firecrackers. Gigantic, loud, terrifying firecrackers. I'm talking about massive fireworks worthy of 4th of July in DC, being shot off in front of every house. For the last several nights, it has sounded like a war zone in my neighborhood. What it does to the air quality is horrendous, but the fireworks really are quite beautiful.

My celebrations were pretty low key. I spent the day with the Ks, then in the evening went to a friend's apartment in a very tall building, where we had an amazing view of the fireworks being set off all across the city. When I got home, my roommate and I sat out on our balcony and lit the candles our neighbor had given us (along with a bottle of wine!) as a Diwali gift. It was a lovely way to spend my first Diwali in India.

Apartments decked out in Diwali lights.

Candles on my porch.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hindi Word Highlight: Khanna (खाना)

Translation: food

At the office, we all eat lunch together at a big table in the conference room. Everyone brings his or her lunch (actually, we leave it in the kitchen and the 'office boy' sets it out, but that's a story for another day...) and passes it around for sharing.

I've stopped sending mine around. There's just no point. No one is willing to try non-Indian food (too bland, no spices, blah blah) and my Indian food isn't up to my coworkers' standards. I simply can't match the talent of the lifelong cooks each of them has working in their houses (no joke).

Back when I did send my food around, unsolicited critiques flowed freely. Some gems include:

"You didn't cook the mustard seeds long enough."

"What, you didn't put any salt in?"

And my all-time favorite..."You like this?"

So I stopped sharing. I think we were all grateful for that.

Considering these past experiences, I was a little stressed coming up with something to bring to yesterday's holiday (more on that tomorrow) potluck party. I clearly couldn't go Indian, but non-Indian wouldn't have gone over well, either. In the end, I found a compromise, using ingredients common to Indian cooking but in a non-Indian dish. I whipped up a fantastic homemade salsa.

I figured chips and salsa would be a safe bet - tomatoes, onions, cilantro, chilis and lime are in half of the things my coworkers eat anyway. I added extra onion, salt, and chili peppers to adapt it even more to their tastes. And yet, despite my cheerful, constant prompting, no one would eat the damn chips with the salsa. Everyone took the chips, but the few who took the salsa ate it as salad. As usual, the salsa was the only thing left of people's plates.

I officially give up.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parantha Gali, or The Night I Gave In and Ate Street Food

Since arriving in Delhi almost 4 (!) months ago, I have been (obsessively?) meticulous about what I eat. No unpeeled, fresh fruits or vegetables, no ice in my drinks, and most definitely no street food. This has been rather frustrating, because Indian street food is my favorite kind of food. I adore pani puri, bhel puri, papri chaat, and all of their street snack siblings. But I adore not getting sick much, much more. And since I've seen the guys selling these snacks stick fingers up their noses and pick some deep, deep wedgies, it hasn't been, like, allll that difficult to just say no.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I finally succumbed. I was with some friends in Old Delhi after the Ramlila procession and one of them suggested we grab something to eat in this little alley that is famous for its paranthas, a pan-fried stuffed bread. Paranthas, which can also be found in more high-end establishments, happen to be my latest food obsession. So with just a little bit of peer pressure, I ended up on Parantha Lane.

We chose a place called Pandit Dayanand Shivcharan, which has been open for 6 generations. We got a brief history lesson from its proprietor, who then proceeded to give us a warm welcome by feedings us (yes, feeding us) all a spoonful of curry. From the same spoon. Our attempts at politely declining were met only by a forceful jab of his curry-laden welcome mat.

The paranthas did not disappoint. I had one stuffed with radish and another stuffed with potato. Maybe it's not technically street food, since there's sort of a three-walled building surrounding a small seating area. But I'd say it still counts for my street food initiation. Take a look at the photos and you'll understand why.

Radish-stuffed parantha with chutneys, pickled vegetables, and a curry. The sauce on the bottom left was made with banana and tamarind and it was fantastic.
View from my table of the street.
Our maitre d.

Making paranthas.

Leg hair adds extra flavor!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hindi Word Highlight: Ghumana (घूमना)

Translation: to walk/to stroll
Pronunciation: ghoomana

Yesterday, a friend and I went on a guided walking tour of ruins in Hauz Khas Village. I wish I could convey to you the look and feel of this...enclave, if you will. I read a description somewhere that called it a 'faux bohemian' market and that strikes me as a fairly accurate representation. The place is crawling with expats (myself included) and well-to-do Delhiites who eat at the trendy cafes, drink at the hipster-esque bars and shop at the boutiques that sell expensive clothes and ironic Bollywood-themed home goods. I think of it as the Delhi equivalent to DC's U St.

More than just its trendy, modern incarnation, though, Hauz Khas Village is also the site of ruins dating back to the 13th century. The name comes from the large reservoir that the ruins surround - Hauz Khas means Royal Tank. The main building houses a tomb and a madrasa (aka school) and is situated in the middle of a park where kids play soccer, families have picnics, and couples display a surprising amount of affection. It was lovely strolling around the ruins in late afternoon, my favorite time of day. I'm looking forward to going back for a picnic once the weather has cooled down a bit more.

The tank, part of the ruin, and some modern buildings in the background. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

A little music for your Friday

This is Chammak Challo, the song of the moment over here. According to S, my coworker/adviser on all things Indian, 'chammak challo' is slang for 'a girl who is beautiful and always well-dressed, with lots of make-up and jewelry, even at small gatherings.'  

The popular music industry in India is driven by Bollywood; all of the major movies are released with original soundtracks. Chammak Challo comes from a new movie starring King of Bollywood/maybe the world, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). In the movie, Ra.One, he plays some sort of superhero. I don't know. I find him intensely irritating, so I don't plan to watch it. But I do love the song!

Oh, and in case you're wondering why SRK doesn't sound exactly, um, Indian in the song, that'd be because he's not actually singing. Bollywood singers don't do their own signing - pretty much every song is dubbed. In this case, they've added an international twist - much like the ever popular "Smack That," this is an Akon song.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


It's festival time here in Delhi, folks! We're in the middle of the Hindu holiday Navratri. To the outsider like me it's a rather confusing holiday, so I'm not going to even begin to try to explain it (Wikipedia can handle that). Suffice it to say that it's a big holiday celebrated differently in different regions of India. Because Delhi draws people from across the country, there are a lot of different celebrations going on. And this means that there are a TON of fun goings-on to check out.

Tonight I ventured into Old Delhi to see a procession of floats depicting the gods/characters from the story of Lord Ram, one of the Hindu gods. His story is important to (the basis of?) the holiday (and back to our trusty online resource for a more extensive explanation). It was a festive experience filled with music and lights. It was not dissimilar from a parade in the U.S., though the floats were all trailed by noisy generators to power the lights and at least one float was towed by an ox. Because we're not as familiar with the story of Ram as we clearly should be, my friends and I didn't always know what was going on. Luckily, the friendly people standing around us offered explanations for each new float.

I tried to take capture some photos of the parade but I clearly haven't figured out night photography yet. Regardless, here are a few shots from the evening.

Either the good guy or the bad guy. The bad guy, maybe?