How to Dine in Delhi

When you travel to a place you're unfamiliar with, do you depend on friends, family, and others in the know for restaurant recommendations? Or are you the type of person who spends hours searching the web for those secret spots? Which method works better?

That is the question I wanted to answer on a recent trip to Delhi, India. I hadn't been in four years and I was really looking forward to eating with my family who still lives there. Before the trip, I shared with my father a few new places I found with a quick Google search and was anxious for him to try them with me. He immediately retorted "Google's got nothing on me. I can do a better job. Delhi has so much that you will never find online-the street vendors, tiny mom-pop restaurants."

While I respect his palate and his knowledge of the local dining scene, I was stuck on the fact that I could create just as good a food tour, if not better, using blogs and articles by well-known writers. Finally, my mother broke the deadlock. "Why don't you let your Dad create a tour for you based on his experience? Then I can help judge who won-Dad or Google."

We came up with a few rules of the game:

1. Each of us would get one full day to explore our discoveries.
2. I had to use Google.
3. My father would go by personal experience.
4. The places had to be reflective of Delhi, with foods that define the culture of Delhi.
5. The places had to be accessible and not out of the way. It is really nice, in theory, to try to go to a hidden treasure with no address in the depth of Delhi's intricate streets, but it is impossible to find the
"bread-walla near the large tree, across the main post office, under the bridge, on the left side of the dhobi (laundry man) and on the top of the small hill!"
6. Delhi-ites are madly passionate about their food (and that is an understatement!). One of the strictest rules was not asking for eating advice. I made the mistake of telling a cousin what we were up to and got an hour-long lecture on how the restaurant scene in Delhi was out of date/too new/too Indian/too contemporary/not good/excellent-you get the idea.

Check in tomorrow, for my father's food tour of Delhi.

Monica Bhide writes about food and culture. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and several other national publications. She is currently at work on her third book of essays and recipes due out in 2009 from Simon & Schuster. Visit her website here.

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