“Food in Delhi and you better not start with any other place than Jama masjid area” – I was told
Delhi, if not anything else is a city which has seen at least four centuries. “And so has its food”. Okay, bad joke, I know but somehow I’ve never been properly introduced to the food in Delhi. And this year, I thought I must go to Delhi once to check the famed Delhi food. Now, thanks to social media, I have got a few good foods in most of the cities and Delhi is no exception. So when I had put up the post that I want to go and check out the food in Delhi, my friend Anirban Bora volunteered. And from his super busy schedule at Economic Times, had thankfully managed time out for taking me around to places.
Okay, who am I lesser mortal to deny the command? So, here, I have traveled mostly by cabs and have not really taken the metro. So, for someone who is planning to travel by Metro, please check the route map and other details here. For the rest, please take a cab or auto and get down at Jama Masjid gate 1. I’d suggest not to take the cab any further. Because firstly, you’ll get to hear some choicest cursing by the cabbie and secondly, you’ll be late. To explore the food in Delhi, please remember, you have to walk.
The place is super crowded. I mean really really crowded. And if you’re going in, the majestic Jama Masjid will be on your right. On your left, there will be numerous shops. During the evening time (and that’s when you should go actually), they rise to their full glory with few of the best street food in Delhi, mostly non-veg and you can expect a heavy dose of beef in this place.
Qureshi Kebab Corner
I have got a certain characteristic, a bad trait in fact. That just by watching good food, I kind of get baffled. But my friend Anirban told me very specifically that we’ll start with the Kebab stalls. And since I had only 4 days to explore the food in Delhi, we’ll have to cover the basics and cult shops first. “Okay sir” I said and our first stop was Qureshi Kebab corner.
The order was simple. We had ordered sheek kebab and one Roomali roti. The counter guy, on hearing this modest order looked at us for a couple of seconds, but considering us as some shit, moved on to his next customer. It’s just another roadside shop. But around 30 odd men are fighting there to get their share of kebab. One bite and I understood the reason. It was one of the best sheek kebabs that I had till date. The outside was crunchy and I could actually feel the texture of the meat. But did that make the kebab chewy? Hell no … it was good but just that one meat texture lover would enjoy it. The problem with the service style was, they’ve poured some mint coriander chutney above the kebab. So, the scene is either you have those hot kebabs within 2-3 minutes or they tend to get soggy. Do not worry, we maintained our time there. It took us just 3 minutes.
A few steps from Qureshi kebab and again on the same footpath is Lalu Kababee. Do not go by the name, this joint is as famous as the previous one. The same modus operandi, you pay the amount, some amount that you won’t mind and you get your order on a disposable plate. Tissue for wiping hand will be given on request, but for me, a jeans trousers work wonders. However, here apart from the usual Sheek Kebab, we had ordered Beef Boti Kebab. And this was a revelation. I’ve had meef many times in my life, rarely have I come across such texture. You’ll have to use your teeth, but purely for the carnal pleasure. The meat was super soft, flavored with very very fewer spices to retain its meaty aroma and was pure heaven. But the chutney problem remained the same. “Food in Delhi is kind of confusing”, I murmured to myself.
A few steps ahead and we took a left. And we reached the famous Al Jawahar. The folklore goes like, this place was named after the late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (who used to frequent this place) and people find its food significantly better than the neighboring Karim. This place is super famous for serving some serious meat dishes from breakfast till lat ate night. Just like the Shiraz or old Royal, this place smells of old age. And please remember, this is a proper restaurant. Okay, you are not expecting an AC (the first floor is AC’d BTW), but proper seating arrangements, dressed waiters and Salim Bhai managing the whole show with a walky talky. As per my habit, as soon as I entered the place, I started shooting and Salim Miyan caught me. Politely I was asked “Kyun photo khich rahe hain ?” But upon a brief talk, he became quite friendly and we had a good chat.
Our order was simple again. One portion of Gurde Kaliji and one creamy Brain Curry. For some strange reason, I was told to skip the chicken changezi here. Now I must warn you. this bheja curry is quite difficult to find as it tends to get over. But you must try this. Both the gravies were different in taste and like any good gravy, they were rich, yet less spicy. One can actually feel the countless hours of bhnaoeing being aplied to get the texture right. Paired with one tandoori roti, they were good. God knows why Anirban took the phirni, but I found it quite average.
Pahalwan Ki Dukan
A food walk in Delhi Jama Masjid area is unfinished if someone skips this place. A little ahead of Al Jawahar, on your left, this small shop will be there- Pehlwan Biryani-wale. You can check the location on Google map here. One gigantic yet smiling personality, Janab Haji Muhammad Anwar, will be there with three handis and one boy servicing. Unlike many a tourist and fancy people, mostly locals visit this place. Now, there are only 3 dishes that are being made, apart from tandoori roti- Korma, Nihari, and Achari Tariwali Chicken Biryani. We ordered for Nihari (yes, in the evening) and Chicken Biryani. I know, its a sacrilege to order chicken when there is red meat available, but a biryani HAS TO BE ORDERED.
The biryani is flavored with yellow chilly and thus having its special aroma. Delhi food rarely uses dry fruits and other costly ingredients. It’s supposed to be a Lashkari (or rich army-like) food and not shahi or royal food like the Awadh. The Nihari was good, but nothing to jump around. But the biryani was damn good. It had a not-so-subtle aroma of achar spices and yellow chilly and small chicken pieces. This had set it apart from the rest biryani varieties. The Nihari was average, but the place is a must-visit.
Babu bhai kebabwale
And from Pehlwan shop, we were heading towards Babu Bhai Kebabwale. Now, this shop seemed to be respected by everyone in that vicinity and while exploring the food in Delhi, this can’t be left behind. So, once we reached, this was just a small shop and one single gentleman, Md Shakir, was sitting there managing the crowd. While he was managing customers, his hands were putting kebabs on sheekh like a machine. He specializes in two items, sheekh kebab and dhaga kebab. Dhaga Kebab is like our Sutli Kebab and in reality, our Adams produce tasted better. But what a fine art of sheekh kebab he has mastered, ahhh ….. If Qureshi and Lalu Kebabee were good, Shakir Miyan is an artist and is in a different league altogether. By some magic formula, the kebab was coarse outside but simply melted inside my mouth. Sheer poetry it is. He is a one-man army and proudly told us that the shop is more than half-century old.
“Kuchh mitha ho jaye ? “
On the way to Pehlwan Shop, on my left, I’ve seen a shop mentioning Mawa Jalebi. And since then, I was jumping around with joy. And after the kebab, though we were full, some sweets were needed. Hence, some mawa jalebi. These dark-colored jilebis are made of pure khoya and it was evident from the slightest tinge of a salty aftertaste. Fried in pure ghee, they were pure heaven and can’t really be skipped.
But the final stop for the evening was the first shop, even before Al Jawahar. They make some lovely shahi Tukra. Now, shahi Tukra in Delhi was of a different texture from what we get in Kolkata. In Kolkata, the bread retains its shape and tries to retain the texture. But in Delhi, the poor piece is beaten and mashed down to pieces and then bhunaoed in ghee. The result is one of the sexiest mash-up of bread, kheer and ghee. It’s super rich and served piping hot from the tawa.
Subah ka nashta nahi karenge ?
Shabrati Nihari wale
After any night, comes the morning and being the capital of India, how can the morning food in Delhi be left behind ? We were told that the most famous place for Nihari in Old Delhi, is the Sabrati Nihariwala. You can check the location in Google map here. Though I’ve added this map, I am not very sure how useful this location would be in those lanes and bylanes. and the best solution there is to ask anyone about the place. It’s a cult joint and been serving Nihari there for more than half a century. Now I tend to trust a person who is making only a handful of items (namely Nalli, Nihari and Magaz) for that long. And I was not wrong. But warning, do reach the place early. This person starts his business early (by 6 AM) and closes by 10 AM. The business again starts in the evening time, so don’t worry.
It’s a very very rustic setup with basic rickety wooden tables and chairs. In fact, I was pretty scared to sit, with my 300 KG weight. One gentleman was serving with the large handi (with nihari gravy) in front of him and rogun and meat kept separately. Rotis were getting done in large numbers live from the tandoor and one other gentleman was serving. Please do not go there, if the word hygiene comes to your mind. But, I’ve tasted my life’s best Nihari there. The bone marrow was perfectly out and mixed with the gravy, lending a super creamy texture. And they didn’t use the extra ghee, but rather the runny gravy had a body of its own. sliced ginger and green chilies were sprinkled. The dish was rich, yet not very spicy- overall superb. We haven’t tasted the other dishes, in fact, they got over by the time we reached. But I’ll go back again for only this Nihari.
On the way back, in the morning, I was taken down to Asgher Bakery. They are those old school bakeries in Old Delhi, who among other items, make those lovely saunf flavored biscuits. And we religiously carried them to the masala chai seller to dip them in the glass and enjoy the morning view of Jama Masjid. Another day, another side of Delhi, and we were about to explore the Chandni Chowk area, for the food in Delhi.
Please note this is my first visit and due to the time constraint, we couldn’t taste all the places. So, this blogpost will be updated in due time.
Bon apetit !!!