My excitement had congealed into apprehension. I was catapulted into bureaucratic chaos, a new city and a new university. Delhi had a reputation of being tumultuous and unforgiving. I was shy and socially awkward – large cities chewed and spat out people like me.
My flatmate took me under her wing, patiently answering my questions. You must try momos, she said as we sauntered to one of the food vendors punctuating the small market near our apartment.
The plate of momos were the first of many surprises over the next 3 years in Delhi. Till then my knowledge of Indian cuisine was divided into binaries of north and south. North was naan and biriyani. South – idli, vadai, dosais. What began was a blurring of these lines and a gentle unravelling of Indian food stereotypes.
It arrived on a paper plate, the carrot and cabbage slightly visible under its oil-slicked delicate skin, dished with a fiery, eye-watering sauce. Momos – first cousins of dim sums – are a ubiquitous street food in Delhi and is a nod to the Chinese and Nepali influences which have flavoured the Indian plate. It pales in the presence of Delhi’s formidable street food heavyweights such as spiced kebabs, chaat and ghee smothered parathas. But its quiet simplicity is a winner.
I wasn’t too interested in food before, but my wanderings around Delhi and India soon became intertwined with food. I was from Colombo and had a tendency to stick to my culinary comfort zones. Delhi changed this. For a student on a budget, Delhi is a gastronomic dream with epicurean options from other Indian states and international cuisines. I was introduced to Afghan, Bengali and Tibetan cuisine. It was where I sampled my first thukpa and fell in and out of love with chaat.
Delhi was the city which reintroduced me to food. And this plate of momos is now synonymous with my love for the city.
But all this was much later. I took a bite of the momo. “How is it?” asked my flatmate. I closed my eyes and smiled. “It’s perfect”.