A taste of India's street food

We are back to New Delhi, moving on more modern sidewalks, and I am struggling to keep up. Gupta pushes open a door. It's aMcDonald's. "No," I say. I glance at the menu. A Veggie, Coke and Fries for 180 rupees. A Maharajah Mac.

I turn and leave. Now it is Gupta chasing. "Let us try it," he says.

No, I repeat. This is India.

But we get caught in a pedestrian eddy that is swirling us toward a group of stores. Gupta is pointing. A red and yellow restaurant: one-half Pizza Hut, one- half KFC.

I start to protest. Too late. My guide is focused, narrowing his eyes.

KFC-India's MasterMeal attracts his gaze. Its picture shows a pair of chicken legs, an unidentified disk and a serving of cheese. Gupta decides on a 195- rupee (about $3.60) Zing Kong Box instead.

"Like in America," says Gupta. It is not a question. He passes me my share of the Zing Kong's contents: a fried chicken patty on a bun, a chicken thigh and a side of fries.

The KFC is spicy. It's not like home at all. For the first time today, I am feeling slightly queasy.

OK, I say. Time for some pizza. I pick a Pizza Hut-India Teekha Veggie (99 rupees, about $1.85) that's topped with chiles, marinated tomatoes, capsicum, cheese, onion, red paprika, paneer — a type of curd cheese — and baby corn.

Gupta and I dig into the seven-inch pie. It's not as fresh as my uttapam with tomato onion. But it's got a kick I like. Maybe it's the red paprika. Or the peppery corn.

"Need some ketchup?" asks Gupta. He saturates his slice with Heinz.

I am laughing at this, but Gupta is happily chewing. He rolls his pizza up like dosa. He pores over the plastic menu and suddenly points. Pizza Hut-India has Chocolate Truffle Cake With Cottage Cheese.

I am getting full. But this sounds worth a try.

Shall we split one? I say.

Gupta stares. His eyes are like perfect lentils. His mouth is in an upswing. There is the start of a definite curl.

Delhi may be closed for the day. But C.K. Gupta is smiling.

We are in northern India, and it is time for dessert.

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