My love for the walled city is quite known, as mentioned earlier, that place makes me feel like Alice in wonderland. Hence I always cook up excuses and look for opportunities to visit that part of the town. And what better time there is to walk those famed food lanes than in the month of December. The well settled winter chill coupled with possibly the best time to be out basking in the warm sun we zeroed down on a perfect December afternoon.
Swooping on the heady combination available, a FED raid was called for and a bunch of Food Enthusiasts assembled at the Chawri Bazaar Metro station. This raid was dedicated to explore Sita Ram Bazaar, one of the lesser known lanes of the walled city; however it is also the lane that I end up visiting most often. My regular visits can be attributed to my Aunt, who lives there with her family.
What probably very few people know about the Old Delhi food trail is the fact that this particular part of the city, famed for its kebabs and biryanis, also houses lanes that are an absolute delight for a vegetarian. Chawri Bazaar and Sita Ram Bazaar, strongholds of the Hindu trading communities are areas that are traditionally pure vegetarian. As far as I know, even eggs are a very recent addition to the food scene there. This happens to be the area from where the famous Chat, Kachori, Samose, Bedmi, Nagori, Gol Gappe, Kulfi etc of walled city hale from.
The Sita Ram Bazaar food walk that day was quite an ad hoc for experience for me as well. I knew the lanes like the back of my hand but what I was not sure of was which vendors would be serving at that time of the day? Was Sunday the day I would find all that I had sampled previously? Would my regular guy be there or would we miss him by an hour or so? However there was one thing I was pretty sure of and that was the fact that we would not be disappointed. The happy smiles throughout ensure that I don’t need to emphasize of this point at all.
While waiting for other foodies at the metro station, the temptation to have Ram Laddoos of the hawker standing right next to gate number three was hard to resist. Though they were not extraordinary but totally succulent and with the right amount of salt and spices and worth the moolah and the long wait. However as I often say, even the average food you get in those lanes is better than the good food elsewhere.
Post the Ram Laddoos we started our expedition, and decided to give a skip to the Ashok Chat this time. Been there, done that way too many times. But Hey! May be next time :D. Our first stop was a cart selling Kachoris. I am sure many of us love our drinks, however a night of heavy drinking always leaves a bad taste in mouth the morning after. And that is where Kamal Kachori waala’s claim to fame comes from. He is the only vendor that I know who serves his kachoris with chhole, instead of the usual aloo ki subzi. His chhole are known to be super spicy, making them extremely popular among people suffering from ‘morning after’ taste buds. But don’t lose heart, you can find pure joy and delight on any given day with or without the hung-over taste. The heat of the red chilli ‘tadka’ in the chhole and the strong and potent smell of heeng from the kachori would be enough to open up and assault your sinuses. Quite understandably one of the best and the most hit item we sampled that day all I can say is that I cannot wait to get back there and stuff myself silly with those kachoris.
Next in queue for the foodies was Chhole Bhature which is not technically a walled city specialty. My past experience with this Chhole Bhature waala (Near Lal Darwaza) was decent and this time as well he did not disappoint. Though not at par with the best in business, however still edible.
Quite surprisingly the lanes were choc-a-block with people selling Daulat ki Chat; however I have been warned time and again against having it from any of them due to various reasons. Luckily Gali Arya Samaj in Sita Ram Bazaar has the best Daulat Ki Chat waala in business. For those of you who are wondering what Daulat ki chat is, it is basically milk froth mixed with khoya. Froth is made by whipping the milk for a long time, and then powdered sugar and khoya are added to it before serving. It’s a winter delicacy and an extremely light dessert. Kalakand came next on list, coming straight from the Kadhai of another vendor with a small unnamed shop in the same lane. It was fresh and delicious.
Unable to think of anything else to eat in that gali, we decided to move towards Kucha Pati Ram, home to legendary Kude Mal Kulfi waala. However instead of taking the conventional route, we took another ‘exotic’ route and stumbled upon a shop selling Kachori and Samosa. How was it different? They had two varieties of Samosas, one stuffed with Mutter (Peas) and the other with Gobhi. The mutter samosa was quite a revelation, and also quite a hit. It is the season for peas and hence they were quite sweet, tender and flavorful. Mixed well with the right spices they are a potent combo for the taste buds.
It was no surprise that Kude Mal, once again turned out to be highlight of the day. Just imagine 25 foodies, jostling with each other for every piece of kulfi that was available. From Anaar, Phalsa, Jaamun, Aam, Kiwi to Paan, Fruit Cream, Classic Kulfi, Aam Panna and Kala Khata, you name it and we had them all.
Unfortunately there was only person who was serving us, and before he could scoop out an entire kulfi from the can, it was already gone. But after having 40 kulfis in all, we had no reason to complain. And what was absolutely as delightful as the kulfis themselves was the fact that all of us took the Old Delhi lanes and got back to our childhood, quite literally. I don’t remember the last time all of us created such a racket to sample something. Jostle, jump and tug for something with all our heart and not once not twice but forty almost times like a bunch of over enthusiastic kids.
The final stop of the evening was in Chawri Bazaar for Veg Kathi Kebabs and Rumali Rotis. This is something that again one does not find on a daily basis in walled city, and luckily for us, we were there on a Sunday. Maybe I love that stuff too much because I am yet to have a Kathi Kebab that I did not like. That said most of my experiences of eating it have been in walled city as well. Average food found within the walled city is more often than not better than the good food found elsewhere ;-).
The joy of being there that Sunday afternoon and the joy of revisiting that experience to pen it down is as good a conclusion as I can come up with for this post. Old Delhi lived to its promise, it sprang up some surprises and least of all it managed to delight one and all. Asking anything more is asking too much.
PS : Besides good food, the super-awesome company took the experience to all new high.
Written by Shashank Aggarwal, with support from Pallavi Shahi.