Delhi has been keeping in tune with the changing times while evolving and assimilating within itself a myriad of culture and culinary trends like no other city in India. It is a melting pot of gastronomic delight ranging from international cuisine to its very own variety of street-food for which it is so popular.
Photo from Flickr
With the ever increasing number of restaurants mushrooming throughout the capital, it has a plethora of outlets tingling the taste buds of the Delhiites with fine dine restaurants and speciality cuisines which remained unexplored until very recently. There are international chains like McDonalds, Pizza Express, Dominos and Starbucks besides stand alone specialty restaurants offering American, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Mexican, Italian – you name it and its all there.
From the humble Rajma-Chawal (kidney bean curry with rice) and Kadhi-Chawal (a yellowish curd curry with rice) to the ever popular and exotic Butter Chicken which by the way claims its origin in the tight lanes of its walled city, Delhi has no dearth of options to satiate a hungry belly or the foodie’s heart.
Chandni Chowk is a Mecca for the food lovers and in fact it has been termed the food capital of India. A visit here is a must while in Delhi to not just experience the food but the atmosphere here which is in stark contrast to the main city’s trendy lifestyle. As opposed to the shopping malls and wide roads, this place is woven with a mesh of electric wires lining the sky and old buildings still reminding of its effervescent past. But the buzz in the atmosphere and the vibrancy is unmistakably the charm that characteristics the soul of Old Delhi.
In its intricate lanes are tucked away shopping experiences which even the malls of today cannot offer. The place is famous for a variety of products and wholesale markets that have special areas demarcated for each like: bridal wear and accessories at Kinari Bazar, jewellery especially silver ornaments and gemstones at the Dariba Kalan street, shawls and pearls at Moti Bazar, books, stationary items and wedding cards at Nai sarak and Chawri Bazar, electronic goods at the Bhagirath Place. It also has Asia’s largest spice market called Khari Baoli. The aroma of spices here is bound to kick up an appetite and you would not be let down as Old Delhi is packed with outlets churning out delicious food. From the hole-in the wall- type eateries like the Natraj Dahi Bhalle Wala which is renowned for the Dahi Bhallas (lentil dumplings laden with spicy and sweet creamy curd sauce) and potato patties called aaloo tikki to the more lavish and novelty driven restaurants like the Karim’s and Moti Mahal, you would be faced with choices vying for your attention.
The Karim’s is an institution for Mughal food with its unparalleled array of delectable non-vegetarian dishes, the preparation of which is still a closely guarded family secret. Though dipping in its popularity today, Moti Mahal restaurant was the place where ‘Butter Chicken’ was innovated.
Once in Chandni Chowk, it is impossible not to go to the ‘Parathewali Gali’ – a lane where they have the stuffed Indian flat bread called paratha which are a fried version here, smothered with pure clarified butter. Some unusual breads like the Papad Paratha (stuffed with spicy lentil crackers) and Mawa Paratha (stuffed with dry fruits) along the pumpkin curry are just awesome and a personal favourite. The other unique ones are the ripe banana and also reduced milk concoction called ‘Khurchan’ stuffed breads. Give it a try and you will be a convert. A word of caution though – you have to cast aside your worries about the calorie consumption while indulging in such treats.
Another main feature of these paratha shops in the lane is the display of photographs adorning the walls, of the dignitaries including some famous Prime Ministers of the country and other renowned politicians and movie stars who have been drawn to these joints to sample a meal and have been a devout ever since. The pride and confidence in their product reflects in the sign boards at these shops claiming the use of pure clarified butter for cooking and they even offer cash rewards to anyone proving them wrong.
To end your meal on a sweat note you could also try the Jalebies (sweet round crispy whirls dipped in sugar syrup) at the Jalebiwala shop or a malai kulfi (creamy frozen dessert like an ice-cream) a short walk from the lane.
Most of the shops in this area were established in the pre-independence era and the trade is being carried on since generations, keeping intact the originality of the cooking method and the taste. This is the reason why that in spite of the outburst of a wider spectrum of cuisines, the Old Delhi region is still the favorite haunt of the food lovers of the capital.