Early October. Just a week and a little more before Diwali. It’s also the beginning of the colorful wedding season in India. After exploring the street art in Lodhi Colony, we took a taxi to Chandni Chowk. Our driver refused to go inside and dropped us off at the main road. Since it was pre-Diwali and wedding season in India, the bylanes of Chandni Chowk were insanely crowded. We somehow managed to walk to Gurudwara Sisganj Sahib, A Sikh temple in Old Delhi. At five, we met Anubhav from Delhi Food Walks (he’s the foodie-in-chief of Delhi Food Walks) and the CNN crew who filmed a bit of our tour before they left.
You, me, everyone has a dream place. A place we love and yearn to see so much once before we die. For Nathan, it was the Taj Mahal which we saw in our real eyes. For Zin, it’s the chaotic busy streets of Chandni Chowk. And here we are, in Purani Dilli (Old Delhi), exploring the alleys of Chandni Chowk. The market is nothing but a brimming pot of culture. It’s a demonstration of the life of an average Indian. The forgotten, ignored local lifestyle a lifestyle blog, or a fancy magazine never talks about. It’s a heaven for foodies and another heaven for shoppers in all kind. From beaded earrings for Rs.10 to sarees in hues brighter than you could ever imagine, the market has them all.
Five past five in the evening. Anubhav guides us to our first stop of the tour. Soon, we have a crispy, piping hot aloo chaat in our hands, an aloo tikki dunked in chutney(s). We then walk to the oldest paratha restaurant existing in Chandni Chowk. Paranthe Wali Gali is home to parantha shops/sellers dating back to 1800s. It doesn’t get authentic than this. As we busily devour paratha we’ve never tasted before, some stuffed with condensed milk, we talk about the Ceylonese cuisine with Anubhav as he’s eager to find out how diverse things are in our tiny island. Surely, it isn’t as diverse as its big neighbour.
And boy, that was just the start of our food tour. From five in the evening to ten at night, for five long hours, we roamed around the busy alleys of Chandni Chowk with Anubhav and his colleague, Mudit who was a wee bit tired of all the walking and endless food (he blogs about his foodie adventures here on Instagram). We stopped by nine places. And Anubhav didn’t forget to remind us that paratha was just the starters. We had most authentic nankhatai in town, warm and freshly baked. Nankhatai is sort of like a snack, shortbread cookies spiced with cardamom. For the first time, we had samosas a bit different than the ones we’ve eaten before. These samosas are a well-known speciality of Purani Dilli: stuffed with green peas. No boiled potatoes or lentils.
Z’s face brightened as she saw large, thick jalebis, juicy and straight out of ghee. Hot, crispy and crunchy, the North Indian delicacy is a little treat if you’ve a sweet tooth. Before we entered into our big main meals which of course was meaty, we walked into the most serene place in Old Delhi. It’s a small alley. An alley with nine old havelis. They are named as Naughara Mansions in Kinari Bazaar. Nine old havelis and no shops. It’s as if you walked into a whole new world. It’s serene. It’s peace. It’s quaint. And quiet.
Before we had our main dishes, we walked hurriedly down the lane and visited a wholesale flower market. Thousands and thousands of flowers lying on the floor before they are turned into a chain – a string of flowers linked with each other by their stems – used for weddings and temples. The fragrance of fresh flowers were in contrast to the smell of warmly cooked food we earlier had. As we walked upstairs, we could get a bird’s eye view of the busy lanes. Thousands of people. Shopping. Buying things. Selling. Selling sarees. Leather handbags. Jewellery. Candles for Diwali and bangles so pretty. Hundreds of cycle rickshaws. Auto rickshaws. Even cars. Cars of all kind. It’s as if one tiny part of whole India lies here in Purani Dilli. Other side of the street houses a mosque. With golden Sikh temples and mosques in one single space, it reminds us of the diversity India is home to. (Also read: No. 1 Dewmini Roti Shop – our favourite place to eat in Mirissa)
We then walk into our favourite part of the tour. The chai shop. “This is our Starbucks,” Anubhav jokingly says as we sit on a bench placed by the side of the street. A few minutes later, we have a freshly brewed chai in our hands. We slowly sip our chai as Anubhav tries to hear more of Nathan’s Hindi. This, my dear, is certainly better than Starbucks. As we take a cycle rickshaw to our next stopover, Anubhav reminds us of the beauty in chaos. Next to our driver was a guy who sits on the same seat and talks about the daily life. About the business. The weariness during the wedding season here in the markets.
Bismillah was one of our favorite stopovers during the food tour. Quite luckily, we not only had the chance to have butter chicken. We also had malai tikka and kebab from Bismillah. Warm creamy tikkas with fluffy naan, onions and all mixed with a bit of lime. It soon became our new favourite dish. We were also greeted with a dish of authentic Mughal biryani. We then went to Old Delhi’s most popular place: Karim’s. The restaurant runs back to the period of Mughal Empire and they are still one of the hearty places of Delhi’s street food scene. We were there only to have authentic shish kebab. But then Zinara became a Zinara and was overjoyed when she found out that “Nahari” on Karim’s menu was exactly the same dish called Nihari. She’s heard a lot about Nihari from her Pakistani friends and could not resist to try it out.
By the time we finished our main meals, needless to say we were so full. But hold on to your stomachs, we aren’t finished yet. It’s half past nine and we are at a roadside sweet shop/restaurant, trying out phirni for the first time. And then at last, we take a cycle rickshaw to a kulfiwala – from authentic kulfi to fancy ones, we share more than five varieties of kulfi. By the time we ended our tour, one by one, the souls of Chandni Chowk, the souls of Purani Dilli, young and old, was bidding farewell to another weary day. Some are taking shelter on roadside payments. Most shops were already closed as we walked past them to take the metro.
When you travel, or in life, you chase experiences. Experiences that shape you and make you the person you truly are. The food tour with Delhi Food Walks turned into one such beautiful experience. The streets of Purani Dilli are extremely safe to wander alone. We are just a little bit (a lot, obviously) happier that we had the opportunity to learn and embrace a place, and walk into vibrant corners of it we never could have observed on our own. And even for five hours, we could live in it.
We would like to thank Delhi Food Walks for providing us a complimentary tour, but as always opinions are honest and entirely our own.