William Dalrymple loves his food as much as he loves to talk about his new book “Nine Lives”
On a pleasantly warm day William Dalrymple provides ideal company for a leisurely lunch at 19 Oriental Avenue, the first floor restaurant at Shangri-La’s Eros hotel that gives a sense of space so often lacking elsewhere. No danger of the guest at the next table overhearing your conversation here, as William settles down to talk of his journey from “The City of Djinns” to “Nine Lives” over a glass of beer and some delectable Chinese cuisine.
“Chinese is not my favourite cuisine but I love the stuff they dish out here,” he says. Then proceeds to reel out how much Delhi has changed in the 25 years he has spent here.
“I am almost a Delhiite now, though I have not given up my Anglo-Scottish citizenship. I spend some 10 months a year in Delhi. I have friends here, family here and of course, some of my most caring readers. It is an evolving city.”
Saying that, he shows a couple of messages from his readers back in Kerala who have absolutely loved his latest book, “Nine Lives” brought out by Penguin. As he helps himself to dim sums and lobster, Williams reveals, “There are many Delhiis. I live in one near Mehrauli. I have a very soothing walk around the monuments there in the lap of medieval Indian history, then go back home to enjoy my pizzas and beer. However, I do find the traffic a bit discomforting. I can drive in London but not in Delhi. But then having a Blackberry helps.”
A vast spread
As the staff lines up plenty of choices for Williams with a nice spread of lobsters, noodles, rice, chicken and corn soup, the celebrated author gets talking about food.
“I love Middle-Eastern cuisine. It is light. Typical North Indian khana can be heavy in hot weather. I have lots of seafood. I love oysters in London. I often go by the recommendations of Claudia Rodden who has written a lot about Middle-Eastern cuisine. These dishes are simple to cook. I try them at home. Back in England, I do cook, but here I have a very able Tamil cook who helps us. I don’t go out to the clubs in Delhi and prefer to be home than hanging out at a bar.”
As he relishes his food, not averse to an extra helping, William has a bit of a surprise in store. “I love the eateries in Delhi. You can get any type of food, Thai, Mexican, Lebanese. I love Japanese food too. And yes, I do go out to Karim’s in Old Delhi to have their popular kababs and roomali roti. When I travel to South India, I love the food at small roadside eateries, particularly those in Karnataka. You can have amazing food at very affordable prices. I am a thali rather than a dosa man. ”
The way he talks of food, he could well have a cookbook up his sleeve. William laughs at the suggestion, but quickly points out that “Nine Lives” has already sold more than 35,000 copies! No surprise then, at the end of this lunch, William headed to Olive Bar and Kitchen in South Delhi where he had a discussion with writer Sam Miller about the book.
For the moment though, William wants to talk of Oriental Avenue here and the city’s restaurant culture. “I have had an absolute feast here,” he says, declining dessert, opting instead for coffee to round off the meal.
“The change in the restaurant culture of Delhi is amazing. About 10 years ago, you only had select eateries and five-stars. Now, you can have the fare of your choice at a price of your choice too. From Shangri-La’s to smaller joints, there is everything.”
Well, life offers plenty of choice to William Dalrymple. He may not be destiny’s favourite child. But he is many people’s favourite author. He absolutely loves it that way. “I am not mobbed but recognised at many places,” he says, his cloak of modesty very much in place after a nice and “delectable meal”.