New Ways To Eat Through Delhi

Hosts Sid Mewara and Shashank Jayakumar’s new YouTube show The Delhi Guide breaks away from the stereotypical food scene of Delhi. It goes beyond chaats and butter chicken to find emerging food pockets like Zakir Nagar, Shaheen Bagh and Chhattarpur while also delving into lost migrant delicacies, cuisines of gharanas & more.
Sid Mewara and Shashank Jayakumar at Yo Tibet in Humayunpur.
Sid Mewara and Shashank Jayakumar at Yo Tibet in Humayunpur.

What happens when a World Bank consultant and an investment banker meet around a table in Delhi? No, they do not discuss mergers, acquisitions and valuations; instead, the conversation is about food! When cousins Sid Mewara (Sid) and Shashank Jayakumar (Shanky), together called The Big Forkers on YouTube, decided to city-hop for their new culinary show, they not only chose Delhi as the prime location but experienced what they call “Dilli ki khatirdari” in full swing.

From getting “Eid-ki-iftariwali feel” at the homes of qawwals of Nizamuddin, and finding why the wrestlers of Old Delhi’s akhadas eat vegetarian meals to relishing a Cameroonian meal made by a growing immigrant African community in Chhatarpur, and finding other immigrant meat-based dishes in emerging food spots like Zakir Nagar, Shaheen Bagh and Batla House, they sure have range. Their aim is to look “beyond butterification” as they call the butter chicken fixation of Delhi.

“We love food and wanted a show where we can go unscripted, and just be ourselves. You’ll see a lot of joking and banter. We’re not here to win hearts and minds, but to give our honest take on Delhi’s food scene,” says Sid, 46, on the conversational format of the 13-episode series named Delhi Guide, out recently on YouTube.

Its upcoming episodes will also feature notable guests such as Masterchef India Season 16 finalist Sadaf Hussain and author and food connoisseur Vir Sanghvi. Shanky says that since they pay for all the food-tasting sessions, it gives them the leverage to put out honest reviews. “We don’t dish out only positive reviews,” Shanky says. According to him, the street eats of Delhi such as Dahi Bhalle and Tikki are “overrated”.

Tasting naan at Pandara Road
Tasting naan at Pandara Road

Chalo Dilli

The duo got the idea for the show in 2019 when Shanky asked Sid where he could find the best Paella in Valencia, Spain. Soon they scoured Spain for the next two weeks, travelling through Valencia, Almeria, Alpujarra, Toledo, Granada and more for authentic local dishes. This is when it struck them to start a full-fledged show in Delhi, with previous editions being shot in Mumbai, Goa and Bengaluru.

Delhi was chosen because of the diversity of communities that inhabit it. “People here celebrate food with a sense of ownership where they’re always ready to say, ‘Main batata hoon tumhe kya khana chahiye (I’ll tell you what you need to eat)’,” says Shanky, 38, who is half Malayali, half Marwari, and has grown up in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. He has been living in Mumbai for the past 20 years.

“What sets Delhi apart from other metros is that Delhiites are connoiseurs of food. People take time out to eat at a place unlike in cities like Mumbai, where people are savouring quick and handy bites such as Vada Pav, Misal Pav, Pav Bhaji and so on, which they can eat while on the run,” he adds.

Unexplored eats

While the first three episodes of the show explore the known food spots such as Old Delhi, Humayunpur and Khan Market, it is the upcoming episodes that will highlight the lesser-known eats. The lineup includes African food of Chhattarpur, an area where Cameroonians, Ghanaians and Nigerians supported by the United Nations live.

They are in India for medical tourism. “We met a Cameroonian woman, Flora, who cooked a meal consisting of Egusi (Nigerian stew), greens, fish, jollof rice and fufu (a dumpling that is staple in Ghana). She surprisingly sang Bollywood songs while cooking, having grown up listening to Hindi songs!” Sid says. In another upcoming episode, they meet qawwals of Nizamuddin — the Niyazi and Nizami Brothers — Haider Nizami, Hasan Nizami and Imran Nizami from Hapur Gharana.

Their family has been regaling audiences at Nizamuddin Dargah for over seven centuries; the family is believed to have had close ties of kinship with Sufi poet Amir Khusrau. “We sat with them over a meal of Kashmiri Goshtaba, Changhezi Chicken, Bhindi Gosht and Dal Gosht. Having an elaborate feast with them while listening to their stories of sharing a stage with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and meeting Rahat Fateh Ali Khan as a child was mesmerising,” says Shanky.

Other episodes feature the streetfood of the Afghani community in Lajpat Nagar, the oldest Korean restaurant in Delhi, Gung The Palace in Defence Colony, and Bihari cuisine that goes beyond Litti Chokha, extending to Bihari kebabs, Motihari Pulao and Tari Chicken that they feasted on in Shaheen Bagh. However, it was at the Aitihasik Akhara near Daryaganj, where they remember burning their calories when they were thrown in the mud by wrestlers.

“It was hilarious! After wrestling, we learnt to grind the almonds and poppy seeds to make a thandai, which was like making almond milk on your own. After such strenuous activity, every time I hear an influencer say they will have an almond milk latte, I feel like sending them the visual of how much toil is involved in making almond milk,” says Sid.

After shooting all the episodes of the series, Sid particularly has had a change of heart about Delhi’s food scene. “While the diversity of Delhi’s food scene is known, people mostly remember non-veg dishes from Old Delhi, the chaat of Chandni Chowk or traditional Punjabi delicacies such as Dal Makhni, Chhole Bhature, or outlets such as Nirulas and Wenger’s. However, the sheer diversity and richness of the migrant culinary story of Delhi is still unexplored. Hopefully, the show will throw some light on that,” he says.

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The New Indian Express