I haven’t posted in 5 months – and what is better than starting with a post on this epic trip. Be prepared for a long-ish post full of delicious food!
It was a cold, foggy morning when Ishaaq & I arrived at Chawri Bazaar in Old Delhi. A few hawkers were setting up shop and cycle rickshaws passed by as we met my friend Vipul near the Metro station. As we walked rubbing our hands in the cold weather – Vipul regaled us with small snippets of information about where we were off to and the kind of food we would be trying out in this unique (for me) breakfast crawl.
Earlier this January, Ishaaq & I travelled to Delhi, Amritsar and Agra for a food trip. And we explored some of Delhi’s best kept secrets courtesy of Vipul (you may know him as @foodie_baba on Instagram and @sporty_baba on Twitter). He has a wealth of knowledge of the best food across several locations in India. This breakfast ‘crawl’ was one of them.
Lotan ke Chole Kulche
As we turned a corner, we came across a small gully that was jam packed with people, and Vipul disappeared into the crowd, while we waited on the side like typical tourists. It turned out that we were at the spot where Lotan makes his famous Chole Kulche.
Chole Kulche is a typical North Indian dish, and places across Delhi serve it up in some form or the other. I’ve had and savoured Chole Kulche at various restaurants in Delhi on earlier work trips – but it was nothing like this! Soft white peas (chole) cooked in a spicy gravy and topped with an even spicier ‘tari’ (the fat that leaves the sides of the dish as the gravy cooks down). This is eaten with a soft bread called Kulcha, which when dunked into the chole soaks it up immediately. True comfort food indeed.
Bedmi Puri, Petha, Aloo Sabzi and Nagori Halwa at Shyam Sweets
Still in a tizzy after our first taste of Lotan’s Chhole Kulche, we moved on to Shyam Sweets – where we also met up with Amrita (you know her as Amrita of Life on Instagram and Twitter). Shyam Sweets is famous for its Bedmi Puri with Petha (Ash gourd), Aloo ki Sabzi and Nagori Halwa. Bedmi Puri is a typical Uttar Pradeshi dish made using semolina and wheat flour. This is dunked into the Aloo Sabzi (or Spicy Potato Masala) and the Ash Gourd gravy – an ideal balance of spicy and sweet.
We also had smaller puris with the Nagori Halwa and the Aloo Sabzi. This entire combination of dishes, I’ve been told, is a dying tradition. Sad since this unique combination of the spicy aloo gravy with the sweet halwa and crispy pooris, while not being a normal combination of flavours, is quite delicious!
The Mystery of Daulat ki Chaat at Ajab Singh’s
Just outside Shyam Sweets were two carts filled with what looked like white and yellow clouds. This is what I had come to Delhi for in the winters – everything that I had heard about Daulat ki Chaat could not prepare me for the wonder that this dish is! I had first read about it in Pamela Timms’ book Korma Kheer & Kismat.
Daulat ki Chaat is a dessert that is only made during the cold winter months in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Fresh cold milk is churned with fresh cream till it is airy and light with a traditional wooden tool and then poured into small batashas or saucers. These saucers are kept out in the cold night for the dew drops to help in aeration and eventually setting of the mixture. Common folklore says that the full moon night was the ideal time to set the Daulat ki Chaat.
The texture of this dish can’t quite be described – it is light, airy – almost like feasting on a cloud. The yellow portion of the dish is simply flavoured and coloured with kesar or saffron. Equal portions of white and yellow are then topped with silver warq, fresh khoya and toasted, crisp, brown khoya to offer a variety of textures and flavours. The season for Daulat ki Chaat is quite short – and if you come across one of these hawkers in the bylanes of Delhi or Uttar Pradesh – do not miss out on eating it – it is worth every bite.
Warm Nankhatai on a cold morning
Still wondering at the flavour and texture of Daulat ki Chaat, we set off on foot towards Chandni Chowk; the city was wide awake by then, and there was a traffic jam of cycle rickshaws as we walked! And then we came across a cart of the most delicious smelling Nankhatai – a soft, crumbly ‘cookie’ with a mild sweet flavour, set to cool on a chair inviting us for a bite!
An article by Mohit Balachandran (popular on social media as Chowder Singh) states that the Nankhatai originated in the Gujarati city of Surat when a Dutch couple who owned a bakery there sold it to an Irani gentleman who then created the Nankhatai, which became popular all over North India.
Our Nankhatai seller had a pushcart with a unique oven. The small round, flat and raw portions of the dough were placed on a plate and atop that was placed a heavy iron dish covered in hot coal. This did wonders for the colour and flavour of the biscuits as they cooked! He then weighed them out old style on a hand held scale. And ten bucks for 100 gms was a steal. We were a happy troupe on our way to Chandni Chowk.
Dogra ke Ram Laddoo
Our first stop at Chandni Chowk was at Dogra ke Ram Laddoo – Ram Laddoo is basically Moong dal Pakodas (fritters) topped with green coriander chutney and deliciously fresh slivers of red radish – talk about a party of textures in the mouth.
Chhole Bhature at Sri Mishtan Bhandar
And then, Vipul took us to Sri Mishtan Bhandar for the best ever Chhole Bhature I have come across. Usually, Chhole Bhature served at joints across India – and even Dubai for that matter – is quite a sad affair; the puris are usually thin and crispy and extremely oily as is the chhole gravy. But the one at Sri Mishtan was a revelation of what the ideal Chhole Bhature should be – white chickpeas (also called chana) cooked into perfect union with the dark brown masala begging to be mopped up with the softest, fluffiest, spongies bhatura (or puris)!
Milk Cake at Hemchand Ladli Prasad
Despite sharing just one dish amongst the four of us we were stuffed – but still willing to go the last mile! As we walked on – we entered another small alley filled with the aromas of milk. Small dairy shops lined the lane, and we stopped at Hemchand Ladli Prasad for his famous milk cake. This one is made by continuously roasting milk solids in a pan with ghee and sugar till the entire dish is gooey, caramelised and brown. We think the combination of textures and flavour is more of a modern concept – but without spelling it out loud – these are the dishes that epitomised it!
Butter Naan and Dal Makhani at Kake Di Hatti
They say the simplest meals are the most heartwarming. And our next stop simply reiterated that! Kake Di Hatti is famous for its Butter Naan and Dal Makhani – and for me that was the epitome of this dish! From the liberal butter ‘massage’ (for want of a better word) that the naan went through to the slow cooked Dal Makhani (a combination of black whole urad dal and rajma) – the flavours that one would normally find rich were actually food for the soul.
We had to end our amazing flavour-filled ‘crawl’ with a dessert. The Moong Dal Halwa at Giani’s is one of the most popular in Delhi. So we moved on to taste it – this is the only dish that I’d probably say I’ve had a better version of. We also sampled the rich rabdi falooda here – sweet, thick creamy rabdi topped with crushed ice!
Pandit Ved Prakash Nimbu Pani
After the entire gastronomic experience, which lasted for the best 3 and 1/2 hours ever, we decided to help our slightly abused but extremely satisfied tummies with a delicious Nimbu Banta at Pandit Ved Prakash Nimbu Pani Wale – where we had a lovely time sipping the drink and chatting up with the owner.
And, that was the end of the #PuraniDilliTakeover with Vipul – the only person I blindly follow when it comes to food recommendations! This was an entire vegetarian walk – and I didn’t really go to the Jama Masjid area this time – but I certainly will explore that part of Delhi soon!
I leave you with some pictures of the Chandni Chowk Market Scenes…