In the six years that I’ve lived in the National Capital Region I've ventured into Old Delhi only in deep winter when the fog has obscured the average Dilliwala's aggressive edge. These were safe culinary excursions devoted to stuffed parathas and fluffy daulat ki chaat, kababs and biryanis. Like every conscientious new arrival… the Old Delhi gourmand trip? I'd been there; done that. Then along comes Pamela Timms’ Korma Kheer and Kismet; Five Seasons in Old Delhi, that combines cookbookery, gossip about neighbourhood characters, and family adventure stories that read like Gerald Durrell with bizarre landlords standing in for the animals, and lets me know I've only nibbled where I should have feasted. I bravely fix to accompany Timms on a food walk through the old city. 'Bravely' because I'm an effete Gurgaon tower type who has convinced herself that golguppas are best eaten at the neighbourhood mall. We decide to meet at Chawri Bazaar metro station. Terrorized by the idea of being outdoors at mid-day in early August, I'm at the station half an hour early, dressed in cotton robes, a stole ( urf gam cha) wrapped around my neck. Pamela hops off the metro looking relaxed in a pretty summer dress. She might be Scottish but I'm the gormless memsahib here.
Our cycle rickshaw creaks down crowded galis and past a medieval mosque before halting at the Old Kheer Shop. “The Kismet in the title is from something Jamaluddin said,” Timms says handing a copy of the book to the smiling bespectacled man at the shop, who serves us bowls of the most satisfying kheer I have ever eaten in my life. “He hasn't told me the recipe but I know they make it on a wood fire,” Timms says. Jamaluddin, who speaks solely in Urdu couplets, looks mighty pleased and another bowl of kheer appears with cups of sweet desi chai.
Next, we head to Sadar Bazaar. It’s a long way off, past shops selling spices, kites, kulfi moulds, nan khatais and, since this is a couple of days before Raksha Bandhan, thousands of rakhis that look a trifle deracinated for being manufactured in China. 33,000 deities ensure that my arm narrowly escapes being severed in a rickshaw collision and I arrive intact at Ashok and Ashok, the korma place, the descriptions of whose founders provides much of the drama in the book. “The korma here is very different from what you get near Jama Masjid. Maybe because this is a Hindu place,” Timms says as we devour the grainy dark brown chicken curry with biryani and ghee-lashed naans and wash it all down with Thums Up, that thunderous pre-Liberalisation beverage that refuses to die. Being a confirmed sickular type — surely, that word is a legitimate part of our lexicon now — I hadn't ever thought about the religious affiliations of korma but Timms has a point. Different Indian communities do favour different ingredients — a fact that's celebrated by gluttons of every community.
Dessert is crisp golden jalebis with rabri at the Old and Famous Jalebi Wala at the mouth of Dariba Kalan. Next, Timms drags me to one of the last sweet shops that makes khurchan in Old Delhi. But by now I'm so stuffed, I'm done with being educated and I'm done with the frenetic activity and exotic cacophony of Old Delhi. As I run away, Timms slips back into the crowd, intent on discovering yet another eating place. Someone give the woman a medal. Better still, buy her wonderful book and gift friends copies too. Just the recipe for daulat ki chaat makes it utterly worth it.