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Posted in delhi, the world around us by hemmant jha on April 3, 2011

Karim’s.

Intermingled with the urgency of commerce, the chatter of many small and simultaneous transactions, veritable nests of airborne coils enabling electricity and communication and entertainment [supported by tree trunks no longer in their prime, and so densely embellished with nails and mirrors and posters for the latest potboiler and graduate studies entrance exam preparatory schools that their structural material is no longer visible to the naked eye – one can only assume that something lies underneath that holds all of this together], decomposing piles of animal and vegetable matter, hitherto unseen means and methods of transportation, an amalgam of brands international, national and indeterminate, the thickness of many human and animal air exchanges within this valley compressed between teetering hillocks of residential and business dwellings, exhaust fumes from kitchens and power generators and two stroke engines, is the unmistakable scent of human endeavor and human toil.

I feel strange writing this post sitting at a Peet’s Coffee & Tea. While dense with its own aromas of roasted coffee, client chatter, grinders and espresso machines, solo piano playing languidly in the background, it seems so tame by comparison. Comparatively speaking, I might well be in the clear air and quiet of Montana, or the Himalayas.

But this post is not about commerce and the urban marketplace. It is about food and our senses. Jonathan Gold suggests that it is simply not possible for the best food, or the most interesting and persuasive food, to come from kitchens that have an A rating – a B rating is a must [What are these ratings? The official version here.]. A C is even better – or worse, depending on one’s perspective. With a C, you’re bordering on taking your life into your hands as you enter the establishment, or gambling it away with every savory nibble. A D [certain death?] rating does not exist.

“Gold subscribes to the rating system whereby “A” stands for American Chinese, “B” is Better Chinese, and “C” is Chinese food for Chinese, but admits that, for years before the grading system was in place, he walked around with constant low-level food poisoning.”

Dana Goodyear, ‘The Scavenger‘, The New Yorker, November 09, 2009.

By this logic, the environs I describe in paragraph 1 could well be home to manna from heaven, also pure hell. It is the rare first worlder who could even bear to be in Chandni Chowk for any length of time. If one did, he or she could only be a foodie, for hidden deep within this glorious, unseemly mess sits the great granddaddy of Mughlai food, Karim’s.

Below is the journey, Part One.

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