shopping & more eating with the experts in india

It’s our second to last evening in New Delhi. Hubby’s nephew, Babloo (his nickname), an officer in the Indian Air Force, and his wife Anna have invited us to dinner in their living quarters where they live with their two sons. While we chat with the boys and catch up on old times with Babloo’s visiting father, Anna flits effortlessly from living room to kitchen cooking what we in the southern U.S. refer to as a “bodacious” dinner.Β  I’ve already mentioned how screwed up our meal times have been since we arrived. A “normal” dinnertime in India is usually around 8:30/9:00 in the evening. We’d had lunch late that day while we were touring all those temples and synagogues, and I’d already eaten nearly a whole bowl of Chinese-style shrimp. Still I was very much looking forward to Anna’s dinner as her reputation as a great cook had not been lost on us.

Anna is a Christian from Kerala, and grew up eating meat and fish. Babloo began eating meat after he grew up and joined the Indian Air Force, not sure which came first. On prior India trips, I had avoided eating meat but now I was really looking forward to whatever non-veggie delight Anna planned for our friend ML and me. When Anna called dinner, we saw a dining table laden with food, both vegetarian dishes to please father-in-law and Hubby, and not one–but THREE–lovely non-veggie entrees, beginning with a fillet of fish baked in a creamy sauce followed by a delicious Tandoori chicken and the usually accompanying dishes such as rice and naan and salad and vegetables. Then came the mutton stew! It was all delicious, but after having dipped my hand once too often into the biscuits while drinking tea plus the late lunch of shrimp, I was too stuffed to accept second helpings, much to my chagrin.

We returned to our hotel a little too full of good food for our own good and looking forward to spending our last day in Delhi shopping with Anna and Babloo. Not only had we heard about Anna’s cooking reputation from our daughters’ visit last summer, we’d also heard how cheerful and indefatigable she was at shopping and finding whatever you had in mind to buy. In our case that day, that included stainless steel salt & pepper shakers with holes on the side like the ones we’d seen in a restaurant in Agra, a carved wooden elephant and wooden segmented cobra for our grandson and bangles and ankle bracelets for our granddaughter. We knew our suitcases could hardly accommodate any more than that.

Here’s Anna, Hubby, Babloo, and ML in front of a typical shop in the circle grid of the Connaught Circus, representing the handicrafts of the Government of Orissa State. (I chose the setting for the elephant carvings along the top of the raised platform.) The State Emporia complex features handicrafts from various states and regions in India. To know where to go to find exactly what you’re looking for, you need to know what each state or region is famous for. We were told that bargaining was not permitted in these government sponsored state stores. Anna knows otherwise, at least for some stores. She gets the best prices from the vendors, and . . .

then Babloo steps in to pay, often securing an even better deal before rendering payment. It turns out that Anna and Babloo–working in partnership–are quite the expert shoppers.

Naturally, when a group of you are shopping, after awhile someone needs to use the facilities, and since you’re in no particular hurry you go into a shopping mall food complex to locate one. (Like we do here in the U.S.)Β  While you’re there, you might as well stop to fortify yourself with an ice cream or cup of coffee–so you won’t feel guilty for using their toilet. This food complex is not quite as big as those in American malls, but they’re far more appealing in their snack offerings if you happen to be a vegetarian. I can’t see a single meat product in these food cases. The floating weiner looking items in the lower right corner are not hot dogs, they’re sweet gulab jamun soaking in sugar syrup, seen more often in small ball shapes.

Outside, we encounter a group of musicians and colorfully garbed dancer. It’s unclear whether it’s to call attention to their state’s store or simply to collect bakshish (tips). Notice the casual dress of the shoppers as they stroll by.

When it was time to look for the bangles, we found a whole row of open-air handicraft shops in a different area not far away, where bargaining is more or less expected. Most of these stalls are devoted to bangles (notice the ones on the left). Glass bangles are especially popular during marriage ceremonies. They’re worn by women of ages and are available in an array of colors and sizes. You can mix and match for various color combinations to match whatever you’re wearing, and some women wear several inches worth on their arms and wrists. If you can’t find the color and decoration that you’re looking for in these stalls, they probably haven’t been made yet.

Apparently Valentine’s day has caught on in India. How would you like having this giant heart of red roses with a mix of what looks like calla lilies? This one is Texas “larger than life” sized.

While these are only a few pictures I’ve chosen to show here, the truth is by this time we’ve done quite a bit of successful shopping. Blessings to Babloo who patiently drove us to different shopping districts all over the city, parking and hanging around to help whenever we needed. When we reach a South Indian restaurant similar to Haldiram’s we’ve already partaken of, we know it’s time to stop for a chai or South Indian coffee and a rest. Of course we didn’t try very hard to resist other small (?) snacks as well.Β  ML looks a little daunted by the huge butter masala dosai with chutney and dal she ordered. How do you eat this thing?

The other dishes includes Anna’s paper dosai and Hubby’s sambar vadai, plus an uttappam in the foreground. No dinner for me tonight!

South Indian style coffee is served quite hot, almost boiling, in small silver tumblers that are not only too hot to hold in your hand, they could burn your lips as well. I asked Hubby to demonstrate for ML the coffee by the yard cooling method that Indian baristas use, that is, pouring back and forth from cup to bowl–without losing any to your lap–until it’s sufficiently cool to drink. In spite of his lack of practice over the years, he doesn’t spill a drop. On the other hand, I chose not to show a picture of myself trying to do the same. What can I say? I spilled.

Our last shopping stop is in the Khan Market in the part of Delhi we used to walk to often from Hubby’s brother’s home where we often stayed when we were visiting India. It was hard to grasp how large it’s grown over the years. It has apparently become one of the most popular and colorful shopping districts in Delhi as well. I remember when there were very few shops open, and those were most for small appliances, such as blenders not as easily available in India as they are now. Look how much American this store front looks. You could easily persuade me that this photo was taken on a street in Queens if I hadn’t taken it myself.

At the end of the day, we had accomplished most of our shopping agenda. I had my stainless salt & pepper shakers, the elephant, bangles and anklets, as well as several items Anna and Babloo insisted on purchasing themselves and sending to the daughters #1 and 2 and their families–not to mention the beautifully embroidered Pashmina shawls they gifted ML and me. We were also beginning to suspect that we might have to eventually break down and buy another suitcase as well. More on that later. Next post, we’re off to Goa!

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15 thoughts on “shopping & more eating with the experts in india

  1. Goodness, gracious. I was so hoping you would shop photographs of the bangles. Oh, such glorious shopping. I’m sitting her grinning. You could have sent it home via the post office or fedX, you know. πŸ™‚

    • Didn’t think of that–nobody mentioned it! Lots of marble and rug dealers wanted very badly to ship their stuff home for me! I didn’t have the big bucks they go for; too bad!

    • I used to enjoy shopping, but as I get older I find I don’t want much. Shopping in foreign countries is still enticing, though. And you’re right, shopping friends are great–ML (who was in India with us) is a friend like that.

    • Ruthe! I immediately thought of you yesterday when I found this yesterday: http://neeliyam.wordpress.com/ When I read about this impending trip (in November) it sounded so intriguing I was ready to sign up myself but for our previous plan to go to Ireland/Scotland. This trip features Indian cuisine along with some of the best things to see in India beginning in Delhi and Agra and then on to Rajput. If I had to choose a favorite, it could very easily be the state of Rajput! Even if you entertain no thought of actually going, do go to this site and dream along at the description as I do.

  2. Alice – after an unimpressive lunch of a bean burrito and some left over asparagus, I was salivating reading about Anna’s cooking – tell her I’m getting her number and looking her up when I get there. Or maybe importing her here – New Orleans has no decent Indian food anywhere, alas.

  3. UPDATE: I received this email recently and decided it would make a Postscript for this post.

    Hi Alice Aunty
    Read your blog post about Babloo eating non-veg after joining Air Force. Well, how can I forget the pig got home to my place, scalped it and made the most sumptuous pork masala that we alongwith couple of friends finished off in no time ? I happened while Babloo was studying engineering in Nagpur. It is a different story that my mother never touched those utensils again. My parents were visiting Appnu Mama in Kapurthala when we had this culinary adventure. My mom came to know about this
    Cheers !
    Raghu

    • Your brother told me this story when I was in Nagpur. I thought it was hilarious, and at the same time thought how well Babloo and you would have fit into my father’s family–his antics remind me so much of my Uncles (especially the one of the 2 brothers who originally wrote the “one o’ the nine” articles reproduced here in Wintersong (see Categories in sidebar). Of course I verified the pig cooking story with your mother & father and we all had a great laugh. She tells me the odor of cooked pig–which I imagine could be very offensive to a lifetime vegetarian–took a long time to completely go away. That they could laugh about it now went a long way toward making me feel truly like a member of the family. What a sense of humor and tolerance! 😎

  4. Hi Aunt Alice,
    I was tickled to read Raghu’s comment on the blog. This was the first story I heard from Raj Mama about Babloos adventures.

  5. I have always had the desire to visit India; thank you for the interesting & adventurous commentary; you’ve strengthened my motivation to make it happen.

    • It will be quite an experience, I have no doubt about that! Good luck with bringing about the adventure that will most inspire you. You already live in quite a setting yourself!

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