Speak to anyone in Chennai who has been to Delhi about the food there and you can watch their eyes glaze over as they relive those happy memories of all the street food they consumed. The tiny streets of Old Delhi, near the Red Fort, are legendary for their crowds and mouth-watering street food, prepared in front of your eyes.
For the uninformed, Delhi street food consists of various deep and shallow fried items like parathas, dahi-bhalla and delicious desserts like the chuski, which is an ice lolly drenched in different flavours of syrup.
The Hyatt Regency in Chennai made bringing Delhi street food to Chennaites its mission during these dog days of the summer. The name of this food festival is Dus Din Dilli De. I referred to my super-power translator – my wife, who speaks fluent Hindi – on what this means in English. It means: Ten Days of Delhi. So named because the food festival will last for 10 days.
To anchor the food festival, the Hyatt Regency brought down Chef Anil Khurana, national executive chef for the Hyatt in India – so it’s fair to say they brought in the big guns for this one.
Kicking things off on the special menu is the live chat counter – no it’s not a place to speak with your friends, it’s pronounced chaat and consists of freshly prepared vegetables, fried dal biscuits, Indian spices and generous helpings of curd (yoghurt), sweet tamarind sauce and spicy mint sauce. This all combines together to create a crunchy, savoury, sweet and sour dish that makes people fall in love with Indian food all over again.
Bringing a unique twist to the chat counter, Chef Khurana has introduced a fruit chat option where you can have pears, bananas, apples, plums, cucumber, kiwi, sweet potato and papaya mixed together with various Indian masala spices to create a tangy, sweet sauce. It was a little odd to my tastebuds, but good enough for me to go back for a second helping!
Also unique to this food festival was buttermilk pani puris. Pani puris are crispy fried orbs which are filled with an assortment of items like liquid mint sauce or a tamarind sweet sauce. You have to pop the whole thing in your mouth at once. What you shouldn’t do is what I did which was to take a small bite and have the liquid sauce dribble down my chin – not the sophisticated look I was aiming for at the event. Now I do have a confession to make, I don’t like buttermilk, it’s way too sour for me. Imagine my surprise when after I had gobbled down two pani puris with a special Delhi sauce I was told it was a buttermilk based sauce!
No north Indian menu is complete without a variety of tandoori items. The tandoor is a large cylindrical clay oven where kebabs are dropped in from the top on large metal skewers and allowed to cook. For the meat-eaters the kebabs were made up of chicken, fish and lamb. As the waiter went around the table serving everyone in our large group, there were appreciative sounds from the other guests as they bit into the butter-soft lamb kebabs. Oh gosh, they were so good, so tender and so tasty. Cooked after being generously marinated, my mouth is salivating just thinking about them while writing this!
There were also vegetarian items which my wife tells were just as good – I wouldn’t know because I kept asking for more of the lamb!
Somehow, after the chat items, pani puris and kebabs we were asked to find space for the main food festival dishes – 11 options in total.
We all know that when there’s the option for dessert, there’s always a little more space available, no matter how full you claim to be or how many buttons you had to pop open on your jeans. Intending to take a small sampling of the desserts that were available, I was intercepted by a chef who insisted that I try everything, in extra large helpings.
Here’s a thing I’ve learned while living in India. The humble dal, or lentils as we call it in England, has got a terrible rep in the west. It’s the food of the hippies, I’ve heard people say. My best friend is one of them. He came to India recently and began munching on a salty, crispy bar snack. Munch, munch, munch he went, asking the barman if he’d be so kind as to give him a refill. I asked him if he really liked the snack, “Nomueff” he replied, his mouth stuffed full of the yellow snack. I told him they were fried lentils, the exact kind he mocked back in England and he couldn’t believe it.
I tell you this story because one of the dessert items was moong dal halwa – the same dal used in lentil soup and the same salty snack my friend couldn’t get enough of. I couldn’t believe it either, but this humble little pulse can legitimately be turned into any part of a three course meal. Halwa is slow roasted in ghee (milk fat) and can be made with a variety of fruits and vegetables like carrot, pumpkin and pineapple. Or in this case, dal. It was the perfect end to my culinary trip to the streets of Delhi, thanks to the Hyatt Regency in Chennai.
About Dus Din Dille De Food Festival
The food festival is on every evening from 19th to 28th May at the Spice Haat restaurant at the Hyatt Regency on Anna Salai. Reservations are recommended on weekends.
HYATT REGENCY CHENNAI
365 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600018, India
Tel: +91 44 61001234
Mob: +91 9176633310