Suitcase and World: One last lesson before saying "Goodbye India"!

Monday, October 4, 2010

One last lesson before saying "Goodbye India"!

Today was my last day in India and while I was sad my trip was coming to an end, I was very much looking forward to spending my last few hours here with Jyoti Agarwal. I had a full day with Jyoti which not only included cooking but also a shopping/dining outing.

I had arranged for Gurvinder to pick me up from the hotel and take me to Jyoti's house. Who better since he had taken me there before and he's such a nice man.

One thing about Gurvinder.  He's never late coming to pick you up.  In fact, he's early!  This time was no different.   I got into the backseat and he patiently navigated our way out of the side streets of Karol Bagh into the madness that is the streets of Delhi.   Or so  thought we would be.  Except the traffic was remarkably well behaved.  Just so happens that today is the opening day of the Commonwealth Games and Indian police and military are out in force.  Even one lane of the road were on had been reserved just for cars shuttling athletes and dignitaries to/from the sports stadium.

Gurvinder knew exactly where to turn off to Jyoti's neighborhood and as I had expected, we arrived a few minutes early. I was a bit reluctant to go up and knock on her door so I decided to wait a bit.  In the meantime, I negotiated with Gurvinder to come back later on in the evening to come back to Jyoti's house and take me to the airport. 

Jyoti's housegirl greeted me at the door.  It was nice to see another familiar face.  Soon, Jyoti appeared and as before, got right down to the business of asking me what I wanted to do.  Shop?  What did I want to buy? Eat?  What was I interested in tasting?  Cooking lesson.  North Indian.  Anything in particular I wanted to cook?  Veggie meal?  Meat meal?  Dessert?  Rapid fire questions to which I had few answers other than I was open to anything and everything.  Actually, I just wanted her to decide for me :-(  Jyoti's smart.  She soon figured that's what I wanted to do so she suggested an itinerary to which I responded, "Sounds good.  Let's do it."  With that, Jyoti got ready to go out and we headed to her car.  Jyoti and I had previously talked about hiring Gurvinder drive us around for our shopping excursion but due to some miscommunication on my part, he had made alternative plans.  So, we had to send him on his way.

Jyoti has a small sedan - perfect for the crowded streets in Delhi.  I got in the front passenger seat.  As a veteran driver in the streets of Delhi, Jyoti drove fearlessly and pretty much ignored the lane markers on the road. Everyone does that here so no worries.

Our first stop was to a nearby sweets/snack shop called Evergreen which is very well known in the city.  Come to find, after I got home, that they have a store in South Riding, VA.  I must go and check it out to see if it's as good as the one in Delhi cause if it is, it will quickly become a new hangout for me :-)

Jyoti expertly backed her car into a parking space that was barely bigger than her car.  Luckily, I was able to open the door just wide enough for me to squeeze out.

Before going to Evergreen, we spent a few minutes inside a store that specializes in all things "Indian Wedding".  I am so glad I am not an Indian woman who is about to get married.  The things that you must do and buy is absolutely dizzying.  I wonder if couples elope to escape the insanity. 

Since I'm not in any need of wedding stuff, we darted in and out and headed to Evergreen.  My kind of place - left side is bakery/sweets/snack shop and the right side is a small cafe.  We started in the bakery and as Jyoti explained what things were, I picked out the ones I wanted to try.  Somehow, I ended up with a lot of baklava style sweets - who knew they had such things in India!  Of course, I also bought a few packaged items to bring home with me.

Then, we headed over to the cafe side which served mainly what I would call Indian snacks - not the munchy kind but the street food kind.  My eyes settled on the gol gappe which surprisingly I had not had on this trip so that was a definite must.  Gol gappe is basically snack that comes in bits and pieces that you assemble.  First bit a bit sized, hollowd puri that has been fried crisp.  Second bit is  mint water.  Third and last bit is a mixture of of tamarind, chili, chickpeas...and sometimes masala potatoes.  To eat, you crack a hole in the puri and fill the cavity with a bit of the mint water and the tamarind/chili/chickpea mixture.  If you don't put too much of the filling in, you can pop the entire gol gappe into your mouth.  If you're greedy like me and you put too much filling in, then you have a mess on your hands, literally, as the stuff comes oozing out of the puri as you bite into it :-)

Gol gappe is very much tyipcal Indian street food.  Everywhere you go, you see vendors selling it.  I never dared to try eating from the street vendors mainly because I was concerned about the water used for the mint water - didn't want to risk coming down with *Delhi belly*.  But, Jyoti assured me it would okay eating it here.   Yay!

While we waited for the gol gappe to arrive, we munched on the baklava style sweets Jyoti had bought next door.  We washed them down with sips of masala chai.  It was perfect morning snack as I did not have breakfast this morning.

The gol gappe were wonderful.  I downed each and every one :-)

Jyoti then got some other potato ball (?) thing that came with a bunch of condiments.  She mixed up the condiments and piled them on top of the potato ball thing.  Then we dove into it.  It was okay.  I prefered the gol gappe though. 
After Evergreen, we headed to the market to get some of the ingredients that we needed for our cooking lesson and for me to buy the spices and Indian cooking utensils that I wanted.

One thing about the Indian food markets.  They are full of fresh veggies and fruits.  Nuts play a big role in Indian cooking so there are plenty of stores selling them.  Of course, India is known for the use of spices in its cooking so not surprisingly, spices abound at the market - things both familiar and unfamiliar.  For the foodie in me, I felt like a child in a toy store.  I was in utter awe and the smells of the spices and sugars and candies.....were sooooo tantalizing!
Jyoti took me to her favorite spice shop so I could get some of the spices that I wanted to bring back with me just in case I couldn't find them in the Indian stores here.  The cool thing about India is that they will grind the spices fresh for you if you want but I brought everything whole as I don't want them to lose flavor.
 Then it was to the cooking supplies shop.  I wanted to buy the small two handle wok style pot that Jyoti cooks with - will be perfect as a one person stir fry pan for me.  Jyoti's favorite store was crammed from floor to ceiling with every kind of cook pot, pan and utensil imagineable.  It was no wonder I needed both her and the shop owner to help me find what I needed :-)

After the market, we headed off to a local South Indian restaurant for lunch.  I was still full from breakfast but the thought of having seafood cooked South Indian style was just too tempting to turn down.
Over lunch, Jyoti talked about her two sons, our lives and our neverending pursuit of happiness.  It was really nice getting to know Jyoti at a more personal level.  I think we realized we had a lot in common in terms of our outlook on life.

After lunch, we headed back to Jyoti's house for my lesson in North Indian cooking.  In a whirlwind, we made veggie pakoras and chutneys and a super tasty spinach/tomato broth and tikki with peas and dal and rice pudding and chicken rogan josh.....and butter paneer.  Best part was that I knew I would get to eat everything we cooked!

I managed to capture two of the lessons on video.
This is how to make a classic Indian butter sauce which we used to cook paneer with but in the US, it often comes as the sauce for butter chicken.

And this is how to make rice pulao.

In a very short amount of time, Jyoti had whipped up enough food to feed an army.  Luckily, I ate as she cooked otherwise, I don't think I would have had room in my stomach to devour everything in one sitting.  Everything was so tasty.....there is no doubt that food tastes better when it's prepared by a seasoned cook who has a passion for food and that is most definitely Jyoti!

Time flew by and yes, it was because I was having fun!  Before I knew it, Gurvinder was at the door and it was time for me to leave for the airport.  As I was getting ready to leave, Jyoti handed me a gift - a beautiful scarf.  Her thoughtful gesture caught  me by surprise! I gave Jyoti a big goodbye hug and thanked her for her time. For me, spending my last day in India cooking in her home was the perfect way to end my trip!

Gurvinder deposited me outside the departure terminal and I said my farewell to him as well.  He and I had spent quite a bit of time together.  I've kept his card just in case I need a driver the next time I'm back in Delhi.

I'm writing this posting as I'm waiting to board the plane that will take me back to the US.  I'm sad to be leaving India.  It's been a wonderful trip, full of memories that I hope will live with me for the rest of my life.....and if not, they will at least live on this blog. Signing off from India!