Walking down the crowded lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, Juanita Kakoty samples the sumptuous fare that tickles tongues and pleases palates.
The charms of Old Delhi lie not just in the dilapidated havelis that speak of the glorious days they once saw, or in the unending rows of shops showcasing exquisitely embroidered dresses and jewellery, but also in the aroma and sights of food in every nook and corner.
The kebabs and biryanis of this walled city have stolen the hearts of many since times immemorial; but what has also been captivating the food connoisseur for a long time now is the wider range of street food in this part of Delhi.
A walk with Tanushree Bhowmik, a food blogger who conducts food tours around Old Delhi, one Saturday morning was unique, because it did not include establishments and steered away from the much-documented Mughlai cuisine of the region. She suggested visits to the smaller vendors whom she claims to have discovered through “trial and error”.
We arrived at the Chandni Chowk metro station by noon, where right outside was 45-year-old Rajesh selling chole kulche at Rs 20 per plate. The kulcha (made of flour and steamed) along with the chole (green peas sun-dried and boiled) was absolutely non-oily. It was the garnishing as per the customer’s tolerance that spiced this dish up. One can catch him from noon till 4 to 4.15 pm.
A few steps away from Rajesh’s cart sat Shripad Bhardwaj on a stone, making tea by the roadside. He sells tea at Rs 10 per cup and we sipped some nice adrak (ginger) chai here, which seemed perfect after the chole kulche. We then took one of the lanes that came out to Natraj, a much celebrated chaat spot.
There, at a little stand on the pavement between Natraj and the Central Bank of India, Sonu Sharma was selling rabri faluda at Rs 50 per glass and kulfi faluda at Rs 40 per glass. We tasted some refreshing rabri faluda (faluda is a cold beverage; rabri is the cream derived from boiling milk and sugar for long hours) here while gazing at the majestic Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara up ahead.
Right down that lane was Bishan Swaroop’s chaat stall where Tanushree asked for kulle ki chaat, although it was not listed in the menu. “It is better here than in Chawri Bazaar,” she told me. We stood there as Swaroopji cut a boiled potato into two halves, scooped out the middle of the halves and stuffed it with boiled sun-dried green peas.
He then garnished it with spices (he asked us “medium masala” or “strong masala” and we opted for medium) and a few drops of lemon. This nice tangy chaat is great for health freaks as well as for those not scared of spices. At Rs 30 per plate, it actually could make for a great healthy meal.
Time for something sweet again after the chaat and nothing could have been better than the fresh rabri Govind Gupta was selling a few steps away from Swaroopji’s stall. The rabri comes from his home in Atras village near Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) by noon.
Tanushree then took me through the much-feted Paranthewali Gali and we went down the lane where, right at the T-point, Virendra Nankhataiwale was selling hot nan khatai, fluffy buttery cookies made of flour, sooji, besan and ghee. He sells them at Rs 300 per kg and is there with his cart from 2 pm to 7.30 pm. I packed a good portion for home.
From there we took a right and came to a corner where 30-year-old Ayush Cholewale was selling chole kulche. “This chole is different from the chole we first had near the Metro station. It is cooked spicy and the USP here is the homemade green chilly pickle, whose recipe he will not share at any cost,” informed Tanushree. The pickle actually made all the difference to the dish! I had as many as my tongue allowed! To taste it, you’ll have to be there between 12 pm and 5 pm, and each plate is priced at Rs 20.
A sweet treat
As we walked through Kinari Bazaar to Maliwara, we caught up with 58-year-old Girija Shankar who was pushing his cart full of kiwi fruits through the narrow lane. We lapped up some awesome kiwi chaat at a meagre Rs 10 per plate.
Coming to Nai Sarak, we stopped at Kalka Sweet House, opposite Kothi Haji Ali Jan, for chole bhature that makes for good breakfast in many parts of North India. This place opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm. The chole here was spicy but not hot; and 72-year-old M P Pandey told me, “We use 21 spices in our chole, which includes rose petals!”
At the end of our two-hour long walk, I realised that street food could be hygienic too. “They have maintained standards for the two years that I’ve known them,” Tanushree told me, as we sipped the refreshing and quintessential Delhi drink banta (lemon soda masala) for Rs 15 at Ved Prakash Lemonwale near Town Hall.