Its all about food at Chandini Chowk, Old Delhi , India
It was always known that Delhi had one of the best foods in the country and Dehliwallas know their abc’s of food as it is an inherent characteristic.
But how did it become so? I dug into some history ...
Old Delhi was called Shajahanabad and contained Lal Qila and Chandini Chowk in the 17th Century which was the capital and built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan.But before the 17th Century, when Zhiruddin Muhammad Babur came to Hindustan,he did not like it because to him it seemed a place that did not have “good food or good bread in the markets..”When his sons throne was annexed by Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan, in the 16th Century, he gifted the Shah of Iran with his Indian cooks and the Shah fell in love with Indian cuisine.When Humayun returned to India after his exile,a great number Persian cooks followed him , making him a lover of Persian food. So the Mughal court relished Persian delicacies like kofta, tandoori lamband pulaos.
During Akbars Rule , the Ain–ai Akbari ,the profound work by Abul Fazal ,talks about the army of cooks Akbar had from several parts of Hindustan ,who went on to become master of the cuisine.The kitchens cooked Biryani,Kichri Halwa, kebab, Dopiyaza,Qimah pulao and breads such as Khuskah. From Shammi kebabs to Roghan josh,all were cooked in the Mughal kitchens.
In the times of Shah Jahan, who loved banquets, it was known that they comprised of not less than 50 dishes .There are accounts of colored rice, small morsels of meat cuts stewed with onions, ginger, herbs and butter which was pleasing to all palates.Fruit took a very important place in the court culture and table. It was the edible yardstick of civilization. Mangoes , Musk melons, apples and grapes occupied important space in the food preferences of the Mughals.
The Biryani became famous during the reign of Aurangzeb ,who loved food and Humayuns import of Persian pulao was localised here in India as Biryani.It was taken to Hyderabad when Shahjehan occupied Hyderabad in the 17th Century.
Thus it was the Mughals who brought the wonderful world of spices, fruits ,meats and grain to be incorporated into the food of India and allow us to this day experience and enjoy their passion for good food.
Coming back to the summer of 2014 ,as we strolled out of the station that led straight to one of the lanes in Chandini Chowk, we were led to our first breakfast stop, Shyam sweets, in Chawri Bazaar.Each shop here is known for one food item …here it’s the Matar kachori (Fried Peas Snack).
At the metro station
Shyam Sweets ..our first breakfast stop
Bedami pooris are heavy ,deep fried puffed breads made of whole wheat , spices and daal, typically eaten with the spicy potato dish which was laced with cumin , chilli, and hing.
Nagodis are the small rounded puffed crisp puris made of semolina and ghee, served with the semolina halwa.
The rolling pin...
The Nagodi is broken open with your fingers from the top to make an opening to put the halwa inside and then eaten.
Dish of goodness..nagodi halwa
The matar kachoris were delicious but the true king here was the Nagodi Halwa. I could have eaten a dozen of those! This is the most popular breakfast eaten daily in Chandini Chowk , Delhi.
Rolling out the bedami pooris
Finish off with some chaas..buttermilk..to cool off
As we bid goodbye to our first breakfast, we were led to a narrow alley where there was a group of people, a few morning joggers too! , huddled over someone sitting on the pavement. At first , we couldn’t understand why there was a crowd but then, we saw our next stop…the famous chole kulcha and we could'nt believe it at first...
Dehliwalla morning joggers enjoying their morning dose of comfort food ...Chole Kulcha
Chole being dished out from a vessel
My chole kulcha...the joggers breakfast
A plate of chole and very thin kulchas which is the first time I had eaten this variety and I enjoyed the texture . The chole are eaten with this bread and was a bit spicy but very tasty. Morning joggers drink the water in which the chola has been cooked , as a tonic.
The Chola water tonic!
After we had eaten our few bites of kulcha chola,we were ready to taste more of what this haven of food had to offer.
We climbed onto a rickshaw which is one of the modes of travel through the crowded lanes of Old Delhi. We travelled to one of the lanes opposite to the famous Jama Masjid, which leads to the best Niharis in Delhi. Nihari is a beef or lamb stew cooked with the bone marrow or brain ,served as a breakfast fare and was considered to be originated in Old Delhi Area. Here lies Karim’s which is often told by travel guides where the best Nihari is served , but these lanes told us a different story.You must visit Ghaffars or Kallu's which are further in the bylanes which serve the authentic beef nihari.We had our visit during Ramadan and so all were closed for business in the day and had to make do with Jawahars Nihari.
Nihari Naan at Jawahar's
We walked past various raw meat sellers sitting in a row with their baskets of cuts of meat like goat heads,feet and fish and then came to a small bylane,to our next breakfast stop , a small eatery called Ameera.
Ameera..the perfect sweet shop
Khajla and Pheni being sold for Ramadan
Halwa ,khoya samosas...imarti at Ameera..what more can i say?
Pheni and Khajla ,a popular sweet, were available due to the month of fasting for the Muslims , called Ramzaan,in India.These are deep fried ,protein rich vermicelli ,soaking it in sweet milk and eaten after the fast is broken, generally during sahur .We passed the various shops serving these on our walk ,as we approached Ameera.
The shop owner was preparing for the evening break of fast but we were touched by his hospitality to offer us what was being prepared. We packed some khoya samosas,imarti jalebis and suji halwa to be savoured later. They all looked delicious.
One could just imagine the scenes after the break of fast, these markets and narrow lanes packed with people enjoying dusk with their favourite delights ,thanking The One and asking for blessings.
We made our way to taste the most popular breakfast ,the Aloo puri ..it is one of the common breakfasts shared by India and Pakistan. It is very famous in North India and in Karachi in Pakistan. One could make out its popularity since the shops seeling these were very crowded. One can get a plate for INR 10 (60 fils!)or 25 (Aed 1.50 !)depending upon the size of the puris!
By this time , we were very full but I still wanted to taste the pooris which were looking fresh off the kadai and I couldnt stop myself.
Fresh off the kadai..puris
As we approached .........I noticed the balloons like Puri s being freshly fried , as they arose from the Kadai waiting to be someone's sumptuous breakfast.
Though we were full and had had our fill of breakfast but my eyesfell on a certain kind of halwa that was set on a huge tray with lots of pistachios on top of it.It was looking so inviting , I couldn't help myself and asked our fellow walker to ask the shop owner for a taste, which he sweetly obliged.
Besan barfi ...matchless... from the famous Chaina Ram shop
This is the thing about the people of Chandini Chowk...always smiling with a positive demeanour and love it when some one appreciates their food...Just like my grandmother!
The halwa was as delicious as it looked and I was glad I tasted since I had to stop myself from eating more of it. And I got them to pack some for home.
With the sun now smiling upon us since a long time, we spotted a lassi shop opposite ...........
It was serving the famous Amritsari lassi (cool yoghurt drink). We couldn't say no to lassi on a hot mid morning ...my sister tried the sweet lassi while I had my ever favourite ..classic salted.The shop was very small, and there were many glasses of lassi arranged on a freezer waiting to filled ..which were done in minutes topped with mango Mango pieces. There can be many different flavours by putting saffron, almond, pistachios, masala, strawberries or simply a plain one but they sell Malai, Banana,Namkeen jeera,kesar Badam and Rose Badam.
The best thing about a lassi is the container it can be drunk in. For hygienic reasons it is served in a clay pot in many places which can be recycled and isn't a threat to the environment but here we got a straw with our glass.
A dollop of mango puree laced with the cream in the Mango lassis
Branding in Chandini Chowk
I was quite amused to see the branding of Amritsar Lassi wala! Even these guys have got their marketing right!The most famous lassi I have yet to taste in Amritsar...and I will be planning a trip very soon.
As tired but refreshed souls my sister and I walked back to the main road which has some great eateries known for Chole bhatura.This is probably the most famous breakfast in Delhi and can compete with butter chicken for many.
Raw mango pickles
It's a meal in itself and actually can be had at anytime of the day. Anurag mentioned to us that they had a group of foodies who wanted to find the best chole bhature in this area and they boiled down to one of the eateries here. We reached a narrow lane where I found a vendor sitting with a large vessel serving my all time favourite kadhi chawal (gramflour curry) and made a mental note to try it on my way back.
On reaching the small eatery , we were shown a table and the breakfast trays immedietly were set before us! ..the advantage of being a part of a breakfast tour!...The Bhatura was not very oily which was great in taste. The Chole (spiced Chickpea gravy)could be savoured in the delicious gravy which was rich in ghee and topped with juliennes of cottage cheese(paneer) and had the right kind of spice one looked for in the dish.e
I could rate this as one of the finest Chole bhatura I had ever had since I kept on eating it despite my stomach telling me to stop!
The must try Chole Bhature at Shiv Mishtan
As we left this eatery, I had to taste the kadhi chawal that I had my eye on, though it was a disappointment of sorts since I love the Rajasthani/ Marwari Kadhi which is spicy and this one did not tickle my taste buds. It was a bit subdued.
Kadhi..small gramflour dumplings in gramflour/yoghurt curry
We passed a famous Kheer shop which was known for one of the best kheers in Old delhi..maybe the whole of Delhi. Yes, these people got it right! Specialise in one thing and one has to get it right!
The owner who was preparing the kheer invited us to taste his fresh kheer which he was preparing for the day ..it was unlike any kheer I had tasted. Very creamy and milky with tons of khoya is it. The secret of course was to cook the milk as much as possible. The taste of cooked milk with sugar is heavenly.
The Bade Miyan!
We took our spoons and dug in…it was so creamy and the texture was smooth just melting in your mouth. I couldn’t stop eating it . We thanked the gracious owner who was overjoyed by his photograph being clicked and wanted to look his best!. I will share with you my recipe for Kheer which can be made at home. Its a very simple versatile Indian dessert that can be served hot or cold.
Finally we stopped at Delhis famous bottled lemonade shop. This is a very old drink that is still popular in the old areas of Delhi where there is a marble at the mouth of the bottle that needs to be popped before drinking the lemonade and the bottles are recycled after this.I remembered my school days when these would be sold in carts in certain areas of New Delhi too.
The Lemon soda seller
So we popped our lemonade bottles and cooled ourselves in the bright summer afternoon waiting to tell our stories back home to the inhabitants of South Delhi who should step out once in a while to these authentic lanes of Old Delhi where food is a centre of life and our traditions still live on …