I like getting lost. Its this horrible habit of mine – imagine walking down the road with me, and suddenly, I’m nowhere to be found because probably something has caught my eyes, or I’m after that particular colour I have spotted, or there’s a light from somewhere which has made me look up, and I have completely forgotten everything. Dear reader, if you have known me through m words, then you’d know that I have focus when it comes to getting what I want, but a severe lack of it in knowing the things I need.
Which is why getting lost in Chandni Chowk is one of my favourite things to do. I often don’t know where I am, but that’s okay, because I know I’ll eventually find my way out of it. And I’ll know better.
I’m sure you’ve heard enough of Chandni Chowk by now from countless descriptions written/videographed/shot, and I will say this out loud – nothing can match up to the actual feel of the place. Go inside, and depending on where you enter through, the smells shall change. I remember the first time I entered, and encountered the faint smell of earth, sweat and the sweet smell of Ghee. It was strange but beautiful because that allure led me to return over and over again.
I remember one of my favourite walks with SK, who was wearing a suit in March, and sweating profusely as we ate through a hefty portion of Nihari or Nahari, followed by some rather nice chicken from Aslam, and finishing our tour with some rather heavenly, warm Shahi Tukda. We were accompanied by two beautiful ladies who looked lost but smitten, and I had walked into random corners, discovered little gems which made me happy. One of them had been a cold glass of gur ka sharbat, palm sugar dissolved in cold water to create a rather soothing concoction which would work like an electrolyte on a dry summer day. I’d had more than one glass of it that day, feeling the slightly mineral aftertaste clinging to the back of my throat as I had walked away.
On another entrance is Kanwarji’s, wrapped in memories of gulab jamun competitions, A laughing at me as he downed them one after the other, as I struggled with my second, mentally calculating the amount of Kaju Masala I would be able to carry with the last few hundred rupees in my pocket.
That leads me to the Paranthe Wali Gali where I had mostly ended up eating Khurchan and Rabdi, sweet and creamy, and thick lassi by the glass, bypassing the paranthas after the first or second time. If you ask me, I would rather have the kachori from Jung Bahadur at Maliwara, with that spicy aloo ki sabzi and extra chillies on top to satisfy the heat seeker in me.
And if you ask me to eat from Paranthe Wali Gali, I would want to go to Pandit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthe Wale, and eat the Khurchan Paranthe, because why not put khurchan in a paratha and then deep fry it in ghee? It is only logical. The other favourite is Nimbu, which is piquant and midly bitter, and stands up well against the banana chutney and thin aloo matar gravy they serve.
And if you go there in the heart of winter, like me, then you would see Daulat ki Chaat everywhere. Its difficult to say exactly what this is, but well, its mostly milk frothed well and then carefully stored overnight to set. Ideally, somewhere along the line, morning dew is involved, as far as I know, and there are many sellers. But find one who isn’t allowing too many flies to sit on his cart, which is what is important here. I found one on my recent visit, and we helped ourselves to copious amounts of it, laced with bits of unrefined sugar (Bhura), crushed pistachios, and solidified milk (khoya). It melts instantly on my tongue, leaving a hint of saffron and crunchy sugar bits, that add to the texture considerably. In all, beautiful.
I cannot oversell this, I think.
Of course, there’s also other attractions in winter. From street vendors selling Nankhatai biscuits straight off the warm tawa to various ‘exotic’ ingredients, including broad bean seeds, turmeric straight from the mountains, one-clove garlic (great for your immunity), and various other beauties which you would randomly walk into. I was busy ogling a yellow saree when I literally bumped into a nankhatai cart, and happily purchased some warm, crumbly biscuits – which weirdly tasted, for a second, like there was milk powder added to it, but, in retrospect, I realized it was just the roasted chickpea flour which was giving me that rather funny illusion.
In different seasons, you’d end up finding gems all over Chandni Chowk. For example, this white carrot halwa which I found in Shereen Bhavan near Jama Masjid (this was S’s find, though). They had other halwa on offer as well, but nothing like a plate full of this mildly sweet halwa generously laden with cashewnuts and khoya on a cold winter afternoon and a chatty female friend.
But no matter what, although I know I am biased, the fat jalebis from Old Famous Jalebi Wala, hot and moist and crunchy, is going to remain a year-long favourite for me. I know, there are many who would claim that there are perhaps better places, but that’s their thing. They like it thinner, they like it sweetened with extra rabdi, but I am a simple girl with a penchant for hot, crunchy jalebis, with enough sugar syrup in them to burn my overenthusiastic tongue.
This concludes part one of this particular text. If you notice, this part talks of mostly vegetarian food and sweets, and yes, the non-vegetarian part is coming up soon. And, yes, I have deliberately left out a few stalwarts from my list, but precisely because they are exactly that, and shall need their own post.
Do you have a favourite Chandni Chowk place to go to? Which one is it?