Header images courtesy of @ikon (Pixabay) and Republic World
One of the most populous megacities in the world, Delhi is a heady mix of tradition and modernity. It has its distinguishing features—the sweltering heat, the earsplittingly loud horn blaring from massive traffic jams, and constant hurry and scurries of crowds that can throw even a seasoned traveller into disarray. But this bustling capital city also happens to be a culinary epicentre of diverse cuisines brought in from all over the world.
While the Mughals brought some of the most popular Middle-Eastern dishes with them, Britishers added a touch of Westernisation to the traditional recipes. Immigrants from Tibet, too, added some interesting twists to the tongue-tickling array of delights. The result is an excellent amalgamation of flavours, spices, and ingredients. And the best way to experience this unique pandora of flavours is to sample its street treats. Get ready to fire up your palate, for nothing beats Delhi when it comes to food.
A famous Urdu poet once said, “If the world is the body, Delhi is its life.” And for Delhiites, food is the soul. What started as a humble wholesale market for customised wedding invitations years ago has now emerged as the hub of all things Delhi. Today, Chawri Bazaar in Old Delhi is known for its highly convoluted serpentine lanes, chock-a-block roads, constant clatter of tinsmithing tools, and a never-ending string of overflowing stalls selling Delhi’s yummiest street food.
If you’re planning to pay a visit, then Lotan Kulche Wala should undoubtedly be your first stop. As the name suggests, this three-decade-old popular joint is known for chole kulche—which is fluffy, butter-greased, coriander-topped white bread served with a spicy and flavourful curry made of boiled chickpeas. If you are a spice lover, then this is as good as it gets.
And if you are a pleasure seeker in heading out early and having breakfast outside, then Shyam Sweets is the place to be. From finger-licking good, butter-laden nagori halwa (a confection traditionally made with semolina, sugar syrup, and loads of dry fruits and butter) to heavy-on-the-tummy bedmi poori (a popular breakfast dish made with puffed-up wheat bread stuffed with lentils and spices and served with well-seasoned potato gravy on the side), Shyam Sweets is every breakfast lover’s delight.
By now, we hope we have seasoned your palate enough, for it is time to finally introduce you to the tantalising world of Indian chaat—an explosion of colours and flavours through aromatic spices and tangy sauces. And what better way to start your journey than to stroll along the meandering lanes of Chawri Bazaar? It could get a little tricky to locate this shop but if you do, then look no further—Hira Lal Chaat Corner is every chaat lover’s heaven.
Do try kulliya ki chaat while you’re here. The dish typically involves a wide selection of fruits and vegetables, which are used as serving cups and overloaded with a spiced yoghurt mixture. You might call it an acquired taste, but once you develop a liking, you will have opened yourself up to one of the most popular roadside foods of India.
It all starts with setting your mind on paying a visit to this overwhelmingly bustling area in Old Delhi—Chandni Chowk. Mind you, it isn’t for faint-hearted and isn’t anything like the archetypal bazaars you see in Hollywood movies by any stretch of the imagination. It’s chaotic, yet charming. It brims with jostling, clamorous crowds, yet pleasing in its own way.
Parathe Wali Gali is perhaps the most visited street within this multi-faceted cultural pride of Old Delhi. It is noted for a series of stalls selling India’s most-consumed bread—parathas, a flatbread typically made of white flour and stuffed with a wide range of fillings. Although these narrow streets were once known for their silverware shops and antique warehouses, the series of paratha shops that came sometime in the late 1960s ushered in a whole new generation of paratha connoisseurs.
Kanhaiyalal Durgaprasad Dixit is a must-visit iconic eatery and one of the only three remaining street food stalls in Parathe Wali Gali that is still carrying on the beautiful legacy of their ancestors, who were the early settlers on this legendary street. Here, do try out the crunchy, crispy rabri paratha, a local breakfast favourite consisting of a pan-roasted flatbread packed with a condensed milk-based sweet called rabri.
Babu Ram Parathas is another promised land for paratha lovers that is known for its robust flavours and wholesomeness. This agonisingly tough-to-spot paratha stall is a must-visit for its aloo parathas—a classic north Indian breakfast dish that never goes out of style. It is made of an unleavened flatbread stuffed with a forcemeat of boiled potatoes, peas, and onions, and typically served with a sharp-flavoured pickle and yoghurt.
Also try the scrumptious pumpkin paratha—a spicy, flavoured flatbread made out of pumpkin purée—and lastly, papad parathas, a go-to comfort meal that originated from the desert regions of India where scarcity of fresh vegetables forced natives to make flatbread with a stuffing of just gram flour.
If you walk in here on a busy weekday morning, you’d be probably set it aside as just another centre of trade and financial activities, an area where many multinational financial services corporations have their headquarters, and a hotspot for prominent Indian tech firms. And while that isn’t an inaccurate description, it is certainly not the only way to describe it. As the day progresses, New Delhi’s Connaught Place transforms from a business centre into a food haven. No matter where you go, you will be treated to some of the delectable street food dishes from all over India.
One of the oldest outlets on this street is Kake-Da-Hotel. Its food journey began in 1931 as a standard no-great-shakes street food outlet serving a limited menu at the time. Today, they reap the bitter harvest of an almost one-century-long struggle to fame. Kake-Da-Hotel is known to serve the who’s who of the political and entertainment world in India. Its slow-cooked lamb dipped in a flavourful spicy curry is a succulent and delicious reminder of Indian style meat preparations.
Parashar Food Stall located in the maze-like Shankar Market and is a go-to place for every Connaught Place worker who longs for a humble home-cooked meal while being away from home. Nothing about this place is fancy—haphazard seating arrangements, chaotic environment, and substandard plating of food. But once you have gotten past that and tasted their signature dish—rajma chawal, a classic Sunday brunch recipe in most north Indian households that is made using ingredients like kidney beans, tomatoes, onions, and a melange of spices, served with steaming hot bowl of rice—you will never be able to resist the rousing call of this North Indian staple food.
To satisfy your sugar cravings, do visit Haldiram’s. Founded in 1937, almost everyone in the country knows about this brand and has indulged in their sweets and a full range of savoury snack varieties from time to time. Not only does its legendary status deserve a special mention here, but the sheer size of the menu is sure to leave you googly-eyed.
From its famous sweet delicacies like gulab jamun (which is probably the most popular Indian dessert, made with fried dough balls dipped in sweet, sticky, rose-scented syrup) and jalebis (a sweet prepared with gram flour which is super crunchy on the outside and moist and gooey on the inside) to unconventional sugary delights like daulat ki chaat—a creamy and frothy dish made by whisking milk and topped with dry fruits and saffron—every dish on the menu will give you an instant melt-in-the-mouth sensation.
Of all the city’s districts, Lajpat Nagar offers the densest concentration of the varying shopping havens. Located at the juncture of a residential and commercial neighbourhood of South East Delhi, Lajpat Nagar has small-scale shops as well as lofty shopping malls sprawling over a massive amount of land. You will be astounded with the wide-ranging variety of items available for sale here—from vivid saris, embroidered fabrics, and kitchenware, to antique furniture and souvenir shops, Lajpat Nagar represents the full spectrum of Delhi’s experience from grit to glitz, with plenty of fascinating products, and not to forget, delicious street food in between.
Ask any Delhiite to name one absolutely satiating meal that they could eat for the rest of their lives (in an ideal world where carbs aren’t our enemy and high cholesterol doesn’t exist), the chances are they will pick chole bhature. Made of spiced, gravied chickpeas served alongside deep-fried dough balls and a refreshing salad of cucumber, onions, and a wedge of lime, this north Indian staple is quintessential comfort food. Perhaps not good for the health, but great for the soul.
And much like how every street food eatery has a speciality dish associated with it, Anand Ji at Lajpat Nagar has chole bhature. This no-frills attached family-run food stall guarantees the best-in-town chole bhature and serves them with a variety of thirst-quenching drinks like milkshakes, fruit juices, and the classic side staple—lassi, a yoghurt-based drink enjoyed with fresh fruits and nuts.
Another peculiarity about the Lajpat Nagar market is that Chinese and Nepalese food stalls are seamlessly placed (and sought-after) among a cluster of North Indian speciality food, or Western fast food spots. As they say, trust an Indian to take any cuisine and add its own flair to it, Dolma Aunty Momos is a place you must cross-off your bucket list to satiate your dumpling cravings.
Based on looks, these delicate and fluffy rice flour dumplings might bring back memories of the authentic Chinese or Nepalese dumplings you had before but taste-wise, they aren’t anything like what you imagine. From tandoori momos, steamed chicken momos, to pasta sauce momos and vodka-dipped momos, Dolma Aunty Momos offers conventional as well as crazy flavours that put a quick end to pesky hunger pangs and fulfil your cravings at the same time.
Delhi is a city full of surprises. You never know where a touch of the unexpected might be lurking amidst an otherwise seemingly predictable façade. Yashwant Place is one such oddity. Located amidst a scatter of foreign diplomats and embassies, and surrounded on all sides by the posh Chanakyapuri area, Yashwant Place will surprise you with its variety of Tibetan-inspired food.
If you are among those who can devour momos in any form—be it steamed, fried, or baked, then there is no place better than Bamboo Chopstix. The menu is packed with variety, and you can choose from a plethora of options including the crowd favourites—steamed fish momos, barbecue pork momos, and chicken steam momos. You can also try them with an assortment of comforting soups such as manchow—an Indo-Chinese hot and spicy stir-fried noodle soup—and thukpa, traditional Tibetan noodle soup.
Ever heard of fu yong? This Chinese-inspired dish, which is essentially an egg omelette packed with meat, seasonal vegetables, and Asian flavouring, is simple yet elegant! It is a popular kind of street food in the UK, the US, and Indonesia. But fret not! You can get it right here at Chinese Bite in Yashwant Place. The eatery is trendy among youngsters and is almost always in demand for its Chicken & Prawn Fu Yong and Egg & Mushroom Fu Yong.
And while we are on the subject of Indo-Chinese food, piping hot plates of sizzlers warrant a special mention. Sizzlers are the Indian version of a steak dinner served sizzling on a hot stone dish. Who doesn’t dig a straight-off-the-stove plate filled with fries, juicy chunks of vegetables or meat, with fried rice or noodles on the side? If you’re as crazy about sizzlers as we are, then head over to Chimney Sizzlers—a tiny hidden gem worth scouring the streets for. Its fish steak sizzler, sizzling chicken sizzler, or cottage cheese sizzler will definitely sizzle up your street food experience in Delhi.