“Chaat.” Say the word to anyone on the Indian subcontinent and it is enough to make eyes resplendent with joy. The word itself derives from the Hindi chaatna; to lick. This should be enough of an indicator as to the kind of lip-smacking, mouthwatering snacks it represents. Now, I suppose, it has the more generic translation of “Indian street food”.
Delhi is most notable for two things: it’s history and its street food. As a place that is heaving with people, it’s gastronomic range is as enriched and diverse as the cultures that reside here. Wandering the labyrinthine lanes of the Old City, you’ll notice that there isn’t a single corner that is free of an enterprising cook, armed with tiffins and bottles, that isn’t thrusting battered vegetables into cauldrons of bubbling ghee. From Chandni Chowk to Majnu ka Tilla, Delhi is replete with many culinary delights. I decided to share the whats and wheres that I’d discovered. By no means is this the most extensive list but if you don’t go to Delhi and try at least half of these, have you really experienced it?
What: Flatbread serving with an assortment of curries or chutneys
Where: Where else but the infamous Paranthe Wali Gali? Our first stop was Babu Ram Parantha. It’s been around since the Mughal era (1882, to be precise.)
What: spicy chickpeas and fluffy, deep fried leavened bread.
Where: All your Google searches will direct you to Giani’s di Hatti, Chandni Chowk and they’ll be right to do so.
What: hollow puri filled with spiced potatoes and chickpeas, with tamarind chutney on top. Side note- I was intrigued to discover the tastes of pani puri in Mumbai are so sweet in comparison to the ones in Delhi. I later found out from a lovely follower that Delhi favours tamarind, whereas Mumbai favours date.
Where: Ashok Chaat Bhandar in Chandni Chowk or Bengali Sweet House, Connaught Place.
What: chunks of fruit like green banana, pineapple and grapes showered in salt and spices.
Where: This is quite a niche chaat and nobody does it better than Bishan Swaroop Chaat, Chandni Chowk. I was expecting a hole in the wall but this genius man does it all from a cart! You know it’s good if he has his own geotag.
What: swirls of batter which is then soaked in a sweet saffron syrup.
Where: Old Famous Jalebiwala, Chandni Chowk. I stumbled across this corner by accident while walking from Jama Masjid to Chandni Chowk (arduous but I recommend it) and so glad I did. What I realised on this trip was that mithai in India is nowhere near as sickeningly sweet as what we get dished in London. Is it the fresh ingredients, the pared back recipes? I don’t know, but they were the best jalebi I have ever had in my life.
What: thickened milk lassi, often laced with rose syrup and chopped nuts
Where: Annapurna, Chandni Chowk. I spotted this on my way to Bishan Swaroop Chaat Corner. His masala was so fiery (my medium is clearly not the same as an Indian medium) that I ran back to this place for a chilled kulhar of rabri lassi.
What: neatly pleated steamed or fried dumplings with fillings of chicken, vegetable or paneer, usually served with a red chilli chutney
Where: Dolma Aunty’s, Kamla Nagar.
Kebabs, nihari and dum biryani
Chandni Chowk didn’t have too many meat dishes on offer but if you’re looking for galouti kebabs, freshly cooked paya (if you’re Bengali, you know how painstaking and time consuming this dish is!) and the most aromatic lamb biryani, head over to Nizamuddin. I wasn’t expecting to discover much as I headed to this legendary Muslim neighbourhood but it comes to life even more after evening prayers. Even if you’re not looking for meat or halal food, this unassuming area is worth a trip.
Lastly, if searching high and low for the best that the galis of Old Delhi has to offer seems like too much to ask for, I would recommend Delhi Food Walks who will happily ease the stress of wandering around the maze-like streets. I personally did not use them, but I did bump into a few groups who were being shown around by them and having read up, they seem to be the most reputable.