During a recent trip to India’s capital Delhi, Amal Mohamed discovers there is more to food in this vibrant city than tikkas and curries.
There’s nothing worse than losing memories – or what we in the digital age fall back on when remembering past events – our photos. This was my predicament a few days ago, having lost my hard drive before backing up photos of a recent trip to India. It was as though I had misplaced a piece of my past. The anguish is like losing a limb. So in a rush to document, solidify the smells, sounds and tastes of India that are slowly tucking themselves in the dusty attic that is the memory of a self prescribed cyberphile, I started to piece together an afternoon at the plush Andaz Delhi by Hyatt, a luxury hotel in Aerocity, New Delhi.
Even amidst the rolling heavy grey fog that engulfs Delhi at the start of its winter season, there is a buzz about. The cacophony of whizzing tuk tuks and hooting trucks weaving through seven lane highways is a reminder to anyone that is tempted to forget, of the pulsing life of this city. My companion and I wearily slink into the comparably serene AnnaMaya, a warm enclave decked with coloured glass details on walls that reminded me of Kitengela glass back home. The orange and yellow hues softened the contemporary shapes that made art installations of its sharp furniture.
“Welcome to our food hall,” says the smiling maître d’hôtel guiding us to our table. As we sit, the hunger that comes with getting lost many times in a new city that morning catches up with us. We pore over the colourful menu with yearning and then surprise, as the expected tikkas and curries give way to unexpected combinations and curious molecular gastronomic dishes. Named after the Goddess of Food and Magic, this eatery certainly has us dazzled. Chef Gupta is working his charm in the open live kitchen. We see him pick homegrown microgreens from refrigerated pots of soil as if from an enchanted garden. We give each other quizzical looks making sure we were not imagining anything.
One thing AnnaMaya has bragging rights to is creating dishes with locally sourced artisanal ingredients such as Ranikhet rock salt, honey pulses, dry fruits and pickles. As our orders of the promisingly healthy Matcha lassis and barley risotto arrive, we are told of the sacred importance of barley, or jau – the everyday grain of the people of the Indus Valley. In the Rig Veda, which is probably one of the world’s oldest religious text still in continued use dating back to 1500 BC, barley is the main grain that is mentioned and so revered that it was offered to the gods. And it turns out that AnnaMaya’s barley risotto is definitely fit for gods, for wandering tourists and all in between! The substitution of the usual rice with pearl barley infuses a nutty flavour and wholesome, chewy texture. The barley also provides the perfect backdrop for lemon and parsley flavours to flourish. To top the satisfactory filling meal, is the knowledge that it is the healthy alternative to rice risotto, being a better source of dietary fiber and higher nutritional value.
AnnaMaya’s homage to the Indus valley’s ancient use of grains can also be seen in their menu that offers millet biryani, stewed barley, barnyard millet khichdi and lemony finger millet. This is one unexpected Indian food experience that I feel has taken us on a journey into the country’s lesser known past and made me realise that maybe it is food and not photos that should be our markers of moments!
If you’re ever in Delhi, stop at Annamaya. It will be an unforgettable experience www.annamayadelhi.com
All food photographs were sourced from the Annamaya Facebook Page