Got a day free in Delhi? Walk through the culinary culture of this historic city through the lanes of old Delhi.
One spring afternoon, a school friend rings up and invites me to Old Delhi and I realised that this will be a great day trip down the memory lane. Born a Delhiite I have passed through these lanes many a times but I each new visit surprises me with new finds to relish.
My foodie friend, Ramit Mitra and me got off at the Chawri bazaar metro station. Being the deepest metro station in Delhi built underground, one has to take the elevator three levels up unless you are a sturdy foot. Come out on the streets and suddenly the city just burst open on you with its loud cacophony of rickshaw pullers, people carrying cargo on their heads and crowds passing by, busy in their daily rush of work.
We crossed the road and walked straight towards the Kulcha-choley seller. The one who makes it better is only available during breakfast time so we settle for this food stall but even this is delicious.
Ramit Mitra, my school time friend and a heritage walk curator in Delhi, says the golden words, “Everything tastes good over here but unless you have had the best one you won’t know the difference.”
Our next stop down this Chawri Bazaar main road is Hiralal Chaat corner. I have been to this shop many a times during my childhood days. First order was the aloo chaat, which is quiet special over here. But wait there’s something even better waiting for you… kulley chaat. The sweet fruits and the tangy spice mix bursts inside your mouth with juices and it’s a mind blowing experience. We finished one plate and I asked for another one immediately!
And then Ramit says, ‘Wait till the mango season starts’. Wish I could come back again!
As we were headed towards Ballimaran through the narrow lanes in a rickshaw, my friend pointed out Mirza Ghalib’s bungalow so I quickly got off and walked into the lane as he had to move to meet someone.
A few paces into this narrow lane you see the board and a sleepy guard sitting on the doorstep. I was led into a hall and a few ante rooms which look like the front portion of the house and just as my curiosity got the better of it the tour got over! The rest of the house is barred by boards and ugly plastered walls because the rest of it has been either raised and changed totally. Totally disappointed, I headed towards Fatehpuri Masjid.
On far end of the main Chandni chowk road stands an oasis of peace and calm, the Fatehpuri Masjid. The street outside is a cramped and a bustling world of vehicles big and small jostling through the small road, the inside it’s a vast open ground surrounding a small water-filled pond crowned by a small fountain. I took off my shoes, carried it in my hand, covered my head with my scarf and walked in to the compound. In here I was suppose to find Ramit again to continue the rest of my food journey.
As the sun sets behind the mosque we walked out into the mad world again. On the right of the gate there’s a paneer (cottage cheese) seller, one must try his special cumin and coriander spiced cheese… I carried home some for a later treat.
And am thirsty now! So we make a short stop at Ved Prakash Lemon Wale situated on the main road itself. It’s the famous old world bottled soda water with a marble used as a stopper. It is a common summer drink in these parts but this vendor again has a special taste hence recommended.
Now its time to dive into the serpentine lanes again. No, am not interested in the deep fried paranthas in the paranthewali galli. During my childhood trips I have love them but it doesn’t taste the same anymore.
JD Kachori wala in this lane fries the most aromatic kachoris. And he is sitting at one of the sharpest bends in one of the narrowest lanes.
A plateful of these thin crusted and rightly spiced kachoris vanishes in seconds while the passing by two-three wheelers keep pushing you from one corner of the lane to other. The thickness of the kachori perfectly holds spicy filling inside and its crushed and sprinkled the curry and a delicious sour chutney on top. The chutney itself can be eaten spoon-fulls. Before you get crushed between ever increasing crowd at the shop and the two wheelers whizzing past behind you, just eat, relish and move on.
Too many things to try too less space in my stomach now, so am rationing it!
Just then Ramit turns around and says those wise words “too many vegetables we have had let’s get started with some non-veg now!”
We quickly hop into a auto-rickshaw and reached Jama Masjid. The bright lights of the eateries are getting blurred by the rising smoke of the coal fire burning all along this road.
We stopped right in front of Mohammad Shahid on the Urdu Bazaar road. Two-kinds of skewers is being cooked on open coal fire. Ramit explains that this is one of the only two stalls on this street that sells authentic beef kebabs while the rest are selling the usual chicken and mutton fare. I bite into the steaming hot sheekh kebabs and it melts into my mouth. Thats’ when I realise why he picked up this stall specifically.
While my thoughts are still lingering around ordering another one, I was dragged into the lane next door. This lane had only food stalls and restaurants. Most of them have a similar menu so I quietly followed Ramit.
Aslam is one of the small joint which has risen 4-5 storeys high and was our next stop. Count your blessings if you find a table in the lower floors otherwise brave yourself to ‘climb up the Qutub Minar’ as Ramit says. We walked up a few round of steep and narrow stairs to reach the 4th floor. Each level has only 4-5 tables. There’s only one order over here, tandoori chicken served half or full.
Once roasted the chicken is chopped and dipped in curry made of melted butter and curd and some spice mix. The best way to have it is with romaali roti. The acidic curd balances the fat of the butter and crispy roasted chicken dipped in it sucks up all the juices. Don’t get bothered by the big and messy steel bowl because presentation is not in their skills but food quality is! And I have never tried a better tandoori chicken before!!
A trek down the four floors and we slowing walked further into this lane. This time we stop by two stalls where men seated on floor were selling meat and fish side by side. In an area called Bazaar Chitli Kabar on a little hole in the wall of a Masjid two brothers are selling fish fry and kebabs. At Babu Bhai Kebab Wale, Ramit mentioned that the chicken kebabs are a very recent addition of his but beef preparation is the best thing here. Respect his skills as the man takes his time to cook the meat and be sure that you will get the most succulent kebabs.
Being satisfied we started walking back to the main road when Ramit suddenly jumps with excitement at finding an ice cream seller.
And the reason for such excitement? Fresh fruit ice cream made right in front of you!
Well let me explain the process to you.
A drum filled with (nitrogen)dry ice keeps rolling while fresh fruits and fruit pulps are smeared on it layer by layer. The fruit pulp sticks to the drum and freezes, a stick or a spoon is used to carve out layers of the frozen fruit.
Voila, it’s freshly made ice cream right in front of you!
Our ice cream guy had only the usual bananas, papaya, oranges and apples while the more specialised ones have pomegranate, grapes and in summers they will have mangoes too!
Though I don’t have a sweet tooth but this was too tempting to settle for anything less than two cups. As I was licking rigorously through the last remnants of the ice cream bowl we walked back to the nearest metro station to call it a night.
By the way, this time I didn’t even try the sweet shops because that will require another full day’s food trip again! So stay tuned for more.
Ramit Mitra curates food and culture walks in Delhi. You can connect to him through http://delhibyfoot.in/
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