Why you should care
Because there’s more to any city than the headlines.
Many tourists zip past Delhi, making for the Taj Mahal or Jaipur’s camels and rugs. The capital hasn’t had a great reputation of late, from its mask-inducing pollution (which, yes, can be as stifling as the summer heat) to the headlines that warn women to cling to their honor and be home by 10 p.m. But it’s worth pausing a few days in South Delhi before zooming off to the “exotic” locales. Here, a generation of global citizens — designers, musicians, mindful entrepreneurs — are incarnating a new version of the old city. And they’re just as “Indian” as the monuments.
The Best Cappuccino in India
Coffee for many Indians means Nescafé drenched with sugar. But coffee snobbery is on the rise, and Blue Tokai is well-placed to lead us undercaffeinated drones to the promised land. When founders Matt Chittaranjan and Namrata Asthana moved from Chennai to Delhi, they brought along a taste for South India’s coffee estates. They source their beans from roughly 12 farms in places like Chickmagalur, in Karnataka, and the Nilgiris, in Tamil Nadu.
The physical premises only opened this year — following four years of the couple roasting in the annex to their house. We say thank goodness for the café — while you can find Blue Tokai beans in many hip restaurants across the city, not everyone knows what to do with them yet. The best cappuccino I’ve had in India was at Blue Tokai. If you’d like to geek out, ask for a peek into the roasting room or for a visit next door, where women can be found digging through the beans to remove imperfect ones.
Design, Design, Design
Shahpur Jat is one of Delhi’s many urban villages that’s gone hip. Like its neighbor, the overrun Hauz Khas Village, Shahpur Jat is still home to locals, many of whom may not be as wealthy as the shoppers that trickle through. You can find high-end, wedding-fit salwar kameezes next to shops boasting ethical organic cotton. We recommend Kanelle, Design Garage and, for menswear, Kardo.
Lunchtime: Go Bihari or Green
Stay in Shahpur Jat for lunch. One option is the upstairs café at Greenr, a boutique boasting sustainably designed dresses, wallets, jewelry and more that opened last fall. Greenr’s menu, explains Suriname-raised, U.S.-educated CEO Nitin Dixit, is inspired by California-vegetarian cuisine. And yes, that sounds funny, but as this former California vegetarian can attest to, it’s good. Amaranth tofu burgers, homemade black-bean-based sausage, yum. If you’ve got a bit more room in your stomach, venture to the rooftop café Potbelly, which offers Bihari food, not your ordinary naan and chicken tikka. You’ll find pumpkin curries and litti, a whole-wheat roll traditionally eaten with yogurt or mashed potatoes.
For the ravenous, there’s always Dilli Haat, farther north, the tourist-beloved open-air food court that offers a culinary tour through most regional cuisines.
Climb the Walls
After a walk around the block to help the digestion, head over to Delhi Rock in Greater Kailash, where Anuraag Tiwari is helping build the beginnings of climbing culture. Tiwari, a former Microsoft employee and Seattle resident, says he’s happier back in the motherland. “In America, people are kind of fake with how healthy they are,” he says, winding some rope in his hands to create a belay line. “I like being back here. I can do all these things and have a potbelly.” In the 6,000-square-foot space, you can climb (the space is better for top-roping than bouldering), dance, practice Krav Maga or give the aerial silks a try.
Drink and Dance
At night, get a glimpse of the city’s music scene at the Piano Man Jazz Club or at Bandstand, both in the vicinity of Hauz Khas Village’s bar scene, but significantly more thoughtful. A concert at Bandstand might include brief interludes for political sketches or a dancer decked out in classical Bharatanatyam attire bouncing to trippy beats. The scene is uniquely Delhi: posh, but not mindless — and hard to replicate outside the capital.