Mexican Chefs and desi on Food Walk in Chandni Chowk Old Delhi
Food. Ah the Fuel for our body. The very thoughts of delicious, finger licking favorite comfort food is enough to make the salivary glands go in excessive production stage opening the flood gates in the mouth.
And what better place to taste the foods of Delhi than the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk also known as Delhi 6 for it Pin code number.
They say about Switzerland that you can click in any direction and you will get a beautiful picture, I say in Chandni Chowk you can randomly shoot pictures and every frame will get a food pictures.
A fruit seller, street vendor with bread pakora basket on his head, a Jalebi shop, a chole wala, it is difficult to click a picture in Chandni Chowk without getting food in your frame. No wonder Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi is the best place to go for a food walk and is considered the food capital of India.
Nothing connects us better than food, the gastronomic glue that binds foodies of the world. The brave of the human species craved spices of India and traveled from Europe and literally launched a thousand ships in search of the source of spices of India. Not all ships reached India, some of them actually landed in the new World. Result? More spices and food, and more migration of the food across the globe during the colonial period.
So I was not surprised when Chef Zahie and Chef Gerardo from Mexico were going all OOHS and AAHS like little kids on seeing Chilies, Squashes and corns on pavements of Chandni Chowk, as we entered the Internationally World Famous in Universe Parathe Wali Gali.
For those who do not follow desi Traveler on Twitter let me give you the background. Chef Zahie and Chef Gerardo are internationally world famous Chefs from Mexico and are TV star chefs. Both of them started their career not in food but as architect and an economist, but their passion for food led them to their calling and today they both are well known Chefs for authentic Mexican Cuisine and they have their own TV Show, YouTube Chanel and a fan following that literally eats out of their hands. The Chefs and yours truly have a common friend Food Diva Elsie Mendez and Chef Zahie and Chef Gerardo invited us to a special exclusive invite only event. I was literally drooling at the thought, but fate had another plans for me.
“Thanks to the wonderful road planning, Zero Bribe Policy in infrastructure projects, super efficient Traffic management on NH8, I was stuck in traffic only for 3 hours while that Greedy Blogger who claims to be my friend was calling me every few minutes and informing of the dishes he was enjoying served by the Chefs at The Leela Gurgaon.”
But I was feeling really bad less for the food but more for missing the company of Chef Zahie and Chef Gerardo who were waiting for me all this time. While you’re friendly neighborhood desi Traveler was enjoying the fumes generated by adulterated diesel all around him.
But I really wanted to meet the Chefs so invited them for a food walk in Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi. What could be better than a Food Walk in Chandni Chowk , than a Food Walk in Chandni Chowk with two famous Chefs from Mexico who have contributed to books on Mexican Cusine, and love to explore new foods and how food connects us all.
Luckily the kind chefs agreed to come for the food walk and we all went to Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi via Delhi Metro Yellow line and had a food tasting tour in Chandni Chowk in the expert guidance of greedy foodie number 1 Shree Tarun Gaur Jee. Tarun knows every nook and corner of Old Delhi specially the corners where you find the best street food in Old Delhi. No matter even if sun rays don’t reach those narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, but Mr. Gaur has been there and tasted the delicacy and decided if he would like to visit the place again or not.
And if Mr. Greedy Foodie really likes the place then he would take you there and make sure you try the best dish that the shop has to offer.
The best part of going with Tarun is that he knows which food shop specializes in which food item. So he makes sure that we eat the best of the food and pace ourselves between shops to not miss anything.
We focused on the vegetarian street food of Old Delhi in Chandni Chowk and started with a talk about desi food at Natraj Bhalle Wala, but decided to skip them as the Parathe Wali Gali was waiting for us.
We visited the most famous of the shops in the Parathe Wali Gali – Pundit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan. This is a shop where people like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Indira Gandhi, many movie stars, Cricket players and people like you and me have jostled for space to ding into the crunchy parathas that are deep fried and not baked in a Tandoor or heated on a Tawa. Kind of Shaken not stirred case.
Now those of you who are not from India and wondering what a Paratha is then here is the explanation:
Gently browned, delicately hand-rolled whole wheat pancakes for breakfast, stuffed with a mixture of lightly spiced mashed potatoes, sautéed onions livened up with just a hint of chili, mint and coriander and topped with a swirl of golden butter. Accompaniments include beaten, fluffy yoghurt light as air and a home-made dip made from tender, young mangoes and spices, Chilies as red as uncut rubies
Sacchi Kasam Purani Dilli kee , this is how 5 star hotels describe Aloo Parathas, but the beauty of Parathe Wali Gali is that it has served Parathas before 5 star hotels made a joke of the Parathas. If history books and folklore is to be trusted Parathe wali gali was serving Parathas even before Aloo or potato aka Solanum tuberosum came to India with Portuguese. Trivia: It was not until late 18th century that it became a major crop in India. So you can find parathas of Carrots, methi, Palak, Khurchan, Dal basically name it and you can have it as long as it is vegetarian as pandit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan does not serve non veg food. ( Cost starts from Rs 50 per paratha i.e. less than a USD and the pickel, chutney, vegetables etc. come with the parathas. )
We started with Tomato, Aloo, Mixed and Lemon Paratha, each paratha served with mouth watering side curries and sauces that can be star attraction of a meal on their own. So we had Aloo Mattar Kee Subzi, Banana Chutney made with Jaggery, mint chutney, Aloo cooked in Jeera, with potato skin intact in typical Old Delhi Style, Sitaphal kee Subzi, which we polished with glass of sweet Lassi served in a Kulhad. Needless to say all this was accompanied with a Punjabi Style pickle made from Carrots, Radishes, and green chilies. Now just as side note Chilies are also gift of Mexico to the world along with Corn, Squash some beans and one and only Salma Hayek. (Salma by the way is a friend of Chef Zahie though could easily pass as a cousin). OK, hey guys no Googling for Salma’s pictures, we have enough mouthwatering food pictures coming to make you drool.
The breakfast at Parathe Wali Gali was followed by Khurchan and Rabdee, the beauty of Khurchan and Rabdee at Parathe Wali Gali is that they are not good looking at all. As you don’t need any garnishing aka makeup if you are so awesome that you will melt in the mouth. As for what is Khurchan and Rabdee just like Chef Zahie and Salma Hayek they are friends but can pass as cousins. Both are made by heating the milk at slow burning fire for hours and as the milk start condensing one branch of family becomes Rabdee other branch becomes Khurchan. Got it? Well how do you expect to understand the family tree of Rabdee and Khurchan without visiting Old Delhi?
As we continued our culinary journey in the little lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi just following the greedy foodie as if lured by the tune he would sing and we just followed him drooling all the way.
Our next stop was the famous Kulcha Wala at Nai Sadak. I remember visiting this particular kiosk even when I was in school though the stall was much smaller in those days. Now there are many similar stalls around the original but you can easily spot the original Kulcha Wala of Nai Sadak as he has maximum number of people waiting for getting their Kulchas.
Check this video I clicked of the street food vendor making plates of Mattar to go with Kulchas.
From Kulchas on the street we focused our attention to Shree Ram Dulare whose claim to fame is that he serves cold water to thirsty shoppers, foodies who have chewed on more spicy food than they can handle. He never charges anybody a penny and smiles at those who give him some tips, but he also smiles at those who just thank him and move on without leaving any money.
I don’t remember when I first saw him when I was in school or college or on one of the food walk or heritage walk I came to Old Delhi for, but Shree Ram Dulare has been exactly like this as if an animated movie is being replayed on TV every single day. Shree Ram Dulare still has that decades old, yet refreshingly shy but warm smile, same cold water, same benevolence towards those who stop and request for a glass of water on his stall. Respect. They no longer make people like Shree Ram Dulare anymore, may he continue to serve water to thirsty foodies and shopaholics in Old Delhi for decades to come.
Soon we walked towards the Gole Hatti a shop that has a very Punjabi menu as apparent from the name Gole means round and Hatti in Punjabi is a Shop.
We stop there for a plate of a Chole Palak with Rice or Rice with spinach and mattar . The two chefs take a spoonful of the rice and stop eating, I wonder if they do not like it. ( check the second picture from top in this post ) After a few seconds of suspense they smile and say “Wow, we love it” Both me and Tarun give a sigh of relief and as usual the chefs want to know all the spices used in making of the Spinach curry.
I take another mouthful, close my eyes, and start untangling the flavors jostling for supremacy in my mouth:
- Black Pepper
- Tej Patta
- Star aniseed
And the list goes on, as I can only tell what I know, but there are secret ingredients and ratio of the spices that are a family secret and came to India with the ancestors of the present owners of the eatery.Till Chef Zahie and Chef Geraldo have asked me I have never thought of wondering what spices goes in all the street food I have been gulping down. But I guess that is the difference between a professional eater like me and professional passionate Chefs who not only love their food they live for their food. The next dish at the Gol Hatti was Rasmalai. The specialty of Rasmalai at Gole Hatti is that it is made without adding any saffron, because as per original recopies Rasmalai was made without adding saffron. So while everywhere else you may get Rasmalai that is golden yellow due to adding either saffron or some cheap substitute color of Saffron at Gole Hatti the Rasmalai is white in Color. ( Ras = Syrup, Malai: Milk Fat that floats to top as milk is heated on slow flame )
But our desire for deserts was still going strong so we walked in Shiv Mishtan Bhandar and polished plates of Jalebi and Moon Daal Halwa.
We could have continued but there was a war going on between the tongue and Tummy. The tongue was crooning” Yeh Dil Mange More” ( I want more), but the tummy was pleading – “ Please I cannot have any more food, Chandni Chowk has been here for centuries, it is not going anywhere else why can’t you come again for another food walk and try rest of things then ?”
So the petition of tummy won over desire of the tongue, and we decided to walk towards the Chandni Chowk Metro Station. But not before we all had a hot cup of desi Masala Chai at Hemchand Ladli Prashad, milk sellers in Kucha Ghasiram.
As we were walking back to metro I rememebered that Chef Gerardo had requested for a head scarf for his head as it was too hot, but we have all forgotten about the same. So after hours of walking in streets of Chandni Chowk in hot sun just before we entered the Metro Chef Gerardo got his head Scarf.
With this dear reader I close this post, we tried may be 5% of delicacies and street food available in Old Delhi and for sure will be back as we missed one of the best kept secret of Chandni Chowk the Nagori with Subzi as it is a breakfast dish.
How to reach Chandni Chowk: Your most economical and environmental friendly way to reach Chandni Chowk is Delhi Metro Yellow line. Those coming from Blue line can change at Rajiv Chowk Metro Station. If you reach around 7 am in the morning you will get some special dishes that are served only during breakfast. Wanna join we go their next time ?
If you have any recommendations please mention the same in the comments.
Note: Most pictures in this post are from my cellphone
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