The Purani Dilli Experience
One of my all time favourite destinations in Delhi is Chandni Chowk. I head there to unwind, to lose myself in the cacophony, the old world charm, the madness, the mayhem, maybe some prop shopping … and not least of all, the delightful cuisine that is a quintessential part of the purani dilli experience. Volumes has been spoken and written about Karims and the landmark much-visit spots.
Then again, there are several others that are hidden gems. Some time ago, a bunch of us came together to do an off-piste walk through the streets of Old Delhi. Led by the affable and unassuming Pamela Timms, whose book Korma, Kheer& Kismet offers a delightful peep into the heart and soul of Old Delhi, the walk was a feast for the palette!
There is so much to be discovered and so much you can eat off a shoe string budget. With the weather having become increasingly cooler, we suggest you grab a bunch of friends, board the metro and head for old Delhi. It is difficult not to be untouched by the charm of this delightful experience.
The streets of Old Delhi have something for everyone, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. So I’m going to cover a few spots that we touched that delicious day. Hopefully, these will delight you, as they did us, and encourage you to go off the beaten track. Explore the streets and nooks and corners, be careful not to wander off too far, go in a group and reignite your taste buds.
How better to tantalise the taste buds than a plate of guilt-free and healthy KullekiChaat. Just down the road from Chawri Bazaar metro station, it’s a blink-and-you-miss shop on the left, a little hole in the wall. Keep your eyes peeled for one of Delhi’s lesser known chaats or street food, this is a delightful platter of hollowed-out fruits and vegetables that are filled in with a ‘bursting with flavour’ filling. In there go chickpeas, pomegranate pearls, chaat masala and maybe a dash of lime. Sweet, sour, savoury all come together to tease the palette, all fresh and exciting. We shared the plate as the inviting tava of fried aloochaat is also quite un-missable. This stop was certainly chaatnirvana.
A hop, skip and jump away in a busy little shop in a gali next to a granary is the sandwich wala, or more famously, the fruit sandwich wala. Expertly slicing apples, paneer, cheese, then slathering butter on pillowy soft white bread, it’s a sandwich fit for high tea. At different times you will find different fruit which include pineapple, grapes and even mango.
Another hot favourite is the samosa sandwich! And just when you think life can’t get any better, we dive into cold, creamy cheeku shake. Aaaah life!! The expert dilliwallahs behind this iconic shop, Jain Coffee House, are focussed, quick and like a mini factory. These are sandwiches you cannot afford to miss.
Time to walk again, around a corner or two, and we are outside gate number 1 of JamaMasjid. The lane opposite the gate is famous for the iconic Karim’s. Yet just a few doors before is another gem, now being discovered by many, Al Jawahar.
The khamirirotis being tossed into and out of the clay oven at the door tempt you to step in. With a simple yet satisfying menu, make sure you try their mutton ishtoo. Finger-licking good with a beautiful balance of spiciness and sweetness from the onions, it will soon become a favourite.
Life just seems to get better. Step out of Al Jawahar and right across the road is the most tempting mithai wali dukaan. What to eat and what not to, soon becomes the emerging question. Haplessly falling prey to the guilty sweet tooth, we try everything. It’s as good as it gets…. rich shahitukda, phirini, kulfi and the most divine homemade mango ice cream.
Stuffed to the gills and giddily happy, we marched ahead through meandering little galis, now eating with our eyes. It’s a world you cannot and should not miss. It embraces you with its charm! And yes, if you go towards the evening then you can always sponsor a few meals for the city’s hungry work force. For a mere Rs 20 a head, you can pay the restaurant owner to feed the tired and deserving men who patiently wait.