You can’t walk far through the streets of Delhi without stumbling into some of these treats…
Sweet paan: this was an exciting mix of ingredients, expertly measured and wrapped up in a betel leaf. There was a bit of a language barrier at the little paan shack I tried, and neither the rickshaw driver who wanted us to try this solid after-dinner digestif, nor the man making it could tell me the ingredients. First he spread the bright green leaf with a mysterious paste, then added a treacley, tobacco-looking mixture. On top of this he placed cubes of what looked like turkish delight – pink, rosy and icing sugar-dusted (some sort of candied fruit). Then he liberally heaped on numerous seeds, including fennel and anise, followed by a huge dollop of honey. It was impossible to squash into my mouth all at once, as you’re meant to, so I politely took the biggest bites I could and stored the stuff in my cheeks, squirrel-style. I chewed and chewed for what seemed like a good ten minutes before I could even talk. Meanwhile the ultra-sweet, bitty liquid threatened to dribble down my chin. I wasn’t sure if I was meant to swallow any of this, but didn’t have much choice when my mouth was so full. And trying to spit out the side of a speeding rickshaw whilst avoiding the backspray of my own paan-flecked spittle was quite a challenge.
Parathas: soft, flaky, impossibly buttery breads. So hot and delicious they often burnt my fingers and the roof of my mouth. These were usually served with potato (aloo) or cauliflower (gobi) inside.
Samosas: crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, with plenty of cumin. Punjabi samosas seemed spicier than those in Delhi, and some of the best were to be found in Amritsar, at Bubby Vaishno Dhaba, a cafe in the covered market near the Golden Temple. They were fresh, crispy and served with sweet, smooth, fruity chutney on the side.
Potato cakes: these fried road-side snacks were surprisingly salty, tasty and filling. Usually served with coriander chutney.