A taste of India's street food

I park the car at the edge of Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk neighborhood. We take a ride on a bicycle rickshaw for a while (it's welded to the back of an Indian-made Hero-brand bike) and then we get out and try to walk. Streets are miniature and twisted.

After a while, he finds a courtyard — it's partly a driveway for some bikes — that has folding chairs. A card table is topped with a plastic, patterned cover. There is a man with a beard, metal pans and a portable stove.

"Here, you can get more than bite-sized," says Gupta, ordering a masala dosa. For me, he selects the same regional dish I'd tried at the restaurant: uttapam with tomato and onion.

Uttapam, I say. "Sounds like a prescription."

"Probably no one gets sick here," assures Gupta.

So far on my India trip, I have been splurging. The deals are good. My hotel, the Leela Kempinski Gurgaon, has a name that's hard to say. But it's enormous and shiny, with on-site restaurants that are like horns of plenty spilling meats and fruits and cheeses from around the world.

But when our snack is delivered, I realize I am in a different Delhi. The food is served on metal plates, and each of the platters — including chutneys in cups — costs less than 80 rupees, about $1.50. Prices may be high in the stores, but not here.

My uttapam looks the same as it did at lunch: a cross between a pita and pancake. Its toppings seem to be trapped inside. Gupta pours on Day-Glo green and orange relishes without checking first. "Hey," I say.

But when I bite, there's nothing. No fire. Nothing except an onion-y, tomato-y, cilantro taste that makes me want to have more. I do.

"Does this stand have a name?" I ask. Gupta questions the owner, who mulls over my obviously Western looks, then shakes his head. "He says no," translates Gupta. "I think he's worried you might be inspector."

Uttapam tastes like the world's purest pizza. After I'm done, I try a bite of Gupta's masala dosa. It's scrolled up like a crepe. Biting into its quick-fried outer pancake, I get a surprise: a molten core of lentils.

I wave my fork at Gupta. It is missing a prong. Gupta waves his back.

His eyes are following my progress. I add a dab of relish myself — a pink one that makes my food look almost preppy, mixed with the green.

"Now," says Gupta, motioning that I should finish. We move on.

In front of us is an ocean. It's rolling, bobbing, rippling with people. There are islands of stalls. "Tea and coffee selling," explains Gupta.

I can see that, I say.

Gupta leads me to a temporary-looking stand that says Tamil Nadu. "South Indian coffee," he explains. "Try it, please. No germs."

My cup of Tamil coffee is like liquefied candy with caffeine. "These beans get roasted," Gupta announces. "They are powdered. You use only hot milk!"

I promise, I say.

Something at the bottom of his cup gives Gupta an idea. "Enough," he says. "We go now. Time for different tastes."