Breakfast at Nathu’s with Delhi’s very own Pamela Timms

Meet Pamela Timms.

A Scottish lady who moved in to Delhi with Dean, her husband, and kids seven years back. It was supposed to be a year long-stint.

It’s still going on.

In the process, she fell in love with India, especially Old Delhi. It is said that Pamela has made Old Delhi her own just as Old Delhi has adopted her.

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It’s through Pamela’s love for Old Delhi that I know her. Through her blog Eat and Dust which connected us on twitter a few years back. She writes about Old Delhi, and wherever else life takes her, on her blog. She neither romanticises what she sees. Not does she patronise. She just writes about things as she sees them. The way one would write about one’s home and one’s people. The sincerity and warmth comes through.

Pamela also writes in The Mint Lounge. Largely about the stuff she bakes. Some of which are on her blog too. That’s not my beat but I have friends who follow Pamela’s recipes and swear by them. I look forward to the day I can taste some of her cooking.

I didn’t expect to meet her when I went to Delhi recently. I thought she had gone to the UK for a break. Then my luck turned for the better.

I tweeted that I had landed at Delhi and immediately got a tweet from her… ‘drop in for coffee’. She was leaving a couple of days later.

I called her up and spoke to her first time. We then made plans to meet for breakfast.

I was at Barakhamba Road and wanted to get a feel of a typical Delhi breakfast and not the hotel spread. It didn’t have to be the best breakfast to be had for one’s money or the most authentic.  I just wanted to eat breakfast at a place where Delhi’ites eat. Normal folks. Not necessarily foodies or foodtards. I wanted to have a simple, uncomplicated bite of Delhi. The Delhi my mother grew up in and was the first Indian city that I visited as a kid.

I asked folks for options close to my hotel and one which came up was the chhole bhatoore at Nathu’s or at Bengali Sweet Shop. Both apparently close to my hotel. I requested Pamela to join me and she readily agreed. That made life a lot easier for me as I had a packed day and didn’t really want to miss out on the chance to meet her. Pamela was quite ok with Nathu’s.

My choice of Nathu’s invited raised eyebrows from a number of locals when I told them about my plans.

But that’s so commercialised…that’s not the place for chhole bhatoores….

In some cases, just heavy sighs when I told them.

Folks did admit that Nathu’s is a place where Delhi’ites eat. It is a ten minute walk away from my hotel so met my other specs.

I headed out on a nice misty September morning to Nathu’s at Bengali Market.

bengali market bengali sweets opp nathu's IMG_2423

Pamela and I reached at the same time and I saw her waiting outside Nathu’s.

I did the British thing and said, “lovely weather”.

“You think so? It’s too damp and all of us in Delhi are getting tired of it”.

Yes, she had ‘gone native’. As we took a seat, Pamela told me about her impending trip back to Scotland.

“I don’t know how Indians live in the UK. No sounds of doorbells. No people on the roads. No noise. It’s so unreal”

I rest my case.

We chatted as we waited for our lassis as Pamela told me about how she had fallen in love with India. How her book on Old Delhi got commissioned and how she’s still hard at it. She told me of her stories from Old Delhi. The Arabian Night-like Daulat Ka Chaat…the making of which turned out to be more Wasseypur grit and grime as she found out. The kebab- wallahs who had invited her home and whose wives had cooked for her. They had opened their homes to her but wouldn’t part with the secret of their masalas. The Durga Puja at Kashmere Gate which she spoke about with more fervour than even any Bengali could about Durga Puja. Her love for the food in the little places in Old Delhi versus five star nights that often left her cold with their excesses.

Like everyone I met at Delhi, she turned out to be a fan of my mother’s posts and even showed me one of my mom’s posts that she had bookmarked on her iPad.

Our lassis arrived and we both frowned at the paper cups. Where were the kulhars (earthen cups) or at least the standard dhaba lassi glasses?

I had been warned that the Nathu’s of the world saw the Golden Arches as their role model or so the general belief is amongst the fooderatti of Delhi. The blasted paper cup an example of that I guess.

The lassi was sweet, full cream, flavoured with a touch of saffron…full of Punjabi goodness. Sans malai in testimony to modern dietary fads. Well if this is what Delhi drank for breakfast then it would work for me. I was going to be a well behaved guest. Not the way I was when I came to Delhi when I was 5 and would visit folks places for dinner and when done tell my grandpa ‘now we can go’.

nathu's lassi

Pamela went for an uthapa but I couldn’t have a ‘Madrasi’ (politically correct as the term is) dish in Delhi could I?

Channa bhature it was for me.

I am so used to chhole with bhature that the black gram channa with its robust earthiness was an interesting contrast to the usual chubby and indulgent chhole (chickpeas). The channa tasted more like home cooked food that the oily chhole does. Tad salty though. Something which I later found characterises the street food of Delhi. This is a city that’s seemingly high on BP.

nathu's chana bhatoore

I quite liked the soft carby crunch of the bhatoores though local purists pointed out that the bhatoores in my photos looked crisper than they should be.

bhatoore at nathu's

I am sure that they are right but I got the Delhi breakfast that I wanted and got to have it with one of Delhi’s proudest daughters.

And Pamela got to pick up some gulab jamuns for her sons who I am told just love the stuff.

Sometimes I wonder if we lose out on life in the search for the perfect experience. Putting down folks who enthusiastically talk about something they liked with an ‘oh but so and so is so much better than that’. Perhaps food is to be enjoyed and not idolised. Perhaps the ‘right way’, ‘the authentic way’ or ‘the best way’ are over-rated when it comes to food.

Or perhaps am I just going through a phase.

Well, for the moment all I can do is sit quietly and wait for Pamela’s book on Old Delhi. Perhaps I will find some answers there.

In case you were wondering Pamela doesn't run down Karim’s in Old Delhi and politely says that there are a few things worth trying there.

besan ladoo

motichoor laddoo kachori  

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