You can never have enough of Delhi. And this holds even truer for the old quarters of Delhi. Every nook and alley of Old Delhi has a story to tell, a history to unravel. So when More Than Just Curry, a food tour platform tracing India’s culinary journey, took us on a food and heritage walk around the old walled city of Shajahanabad, there was much to look forward to. And disappointed we were not. The four-hour-long lovingly curated and guided tour was centred around Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi.
What went in favour of the day trip was the fact that it was quite a small bunch of people assembled for the walk. They are known to conduct such personalized tours, and even hosting solo walks on request. The tour was headed by a friendly tour guide Gaurav and an equally enthusiastic assistant, who patiently answered all our tiny bits of queries and led the tour. It was a well-thought-out tour, covering quite a few places in the day’s itinerary, yet well-spaced, giving enough breathers for some knick-knack shopping and savouring food along the way and stopping for a relaxed lunch in between.
The assembly point was the Chandni Chowk Metro Station Gate No. 2, a lesser crowded spot in the otherwise busy marketplace, thus making it easy to spot everyone and a quick round of introduction. After a brief introduction of why-when-how of ChanniChowk, we headed for our first stop, Haryana Paneer Bhandar.
We were in for a treat. Not only that stretch of lane had shops showcasing slabs and slabs of milky white and freshly made paneer, but the shops even had what is called “spiced” paneer! We got to sample cubes of spiced paneer, sprinkled with some Indian spices. Absolutely fresh and unadulterated. They are used in most Indian homes to make curries out of them, we were told. After the mild paneer, it was time for some real spices.
Yes, it was time for Khari Baoli – a street known for its wholesale grocery and Asia’s largest wholesale spice market. The strong spicy aromas did wonder to our nostrils and most of us sneezed our way through the spice market. Khari Baoli houses several wholesale spice shops, and we sampled some whole spices in one of the stores. Never seen so many varieties of spices all in one place before!
A walk down the street took us to a 17th-century mosque, the Fatehpuri Masjid, located at one end of ChandniChowk. Some young men were seen performing “wazu” (an act of ablution) before entering the prayer area. We clicked a few pictures and learnt a bit of history surrounding the mosque. And before we could know it, we exited from the other end of the mosque to find ourselves standing right outside China Ram, the century-old confectioner and snacks corner of Chandni Chowk.
Sorted for the morning snacking with some deep fried kachori and aloo sabji, we headed to Haldiram for some samosa, pani puri and a tall glass of thick lassi. Yummy indeed! Stopping for a moment at Kanwar Ji for syrupy gulab jamuns, we then headed to the lane that has gained a legendary status in not only Delhi’s but also India’s food map – the Paranthe wali Gali, famed for serving panthas to even Pandit Nehru.
Of the 20 odd parantha shops, which belonged to the same family, only three remain now. But the legacy continues, never mind the slight dip in quality. But the paranthas are said to be experiencing a revival here. The lane merged into Kinari Bazaar, a lane famous for its clothes and zari market. A “khazana gali” (treasure lane) you could say! One end of Kinari Bazaar opened into a narrow strip at the end of which was situated a Jain temple, surrounded on both ends with ancient mansions, standing tall in the test of time with their intricate works and old structures. Many such lanes are spread across Chandni Chowk, bearing their own quirky names and carrying slices of history. One such lane we walked through was Gali Anaar. Wonder where it got its name from!
As it neared post noon, our stomachs started growling for some more food…. And thus we pit-stopped at Haveli Dharampura, a late Mughal-style haveli, restored to its former modern grandeur, now housing a restaurant and a boutique hotel.
A view from its rooftop reveals shrines of four major religions practised in India – hence the name “dharampura”, “dharma” meaning religion.
After gorging on some comforting naan, dal makhani, dogula kofta and mutton korma at their beautiful restaurant, we headed for our next stop – Jama Masjid.
By this time the sun was raging in the afternoon sky and we made a quick climb of the steps of Jama Masjid and we were off to Dariba Kalan, the lane famous for its silver jewellery. It is said that the silverwares and silver ornaments lend Chandni Chowk its name.
The Hindi word for silver is “chandi”, which probably shimmered as moonlight. That brings us to the other source of the name – “chandni” meaning “moonlit”, since some of the oldest shops in the marketplace were made in the shape of a half moon.
Although not much of the original structures remain today. But before that there was a quick round of tasting phirni (a sweetened rice pudding) at Karim’s, which by the way is best known for its non-veg Mughlai delicacies.
Our last stop for the day was Sis Gunj Gurdwara, the site where the ninth Sikh Guru was beheaded on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. With such doses of history and nuggets of sweet and savoury food we departed, but not without carrying a sweet aftertaste of the madness of Chandni Chowk with us.
Credit: Abhilasha A.