Old Delhi. Busy, bustling streets. Narrow lanes with old havelis on both sides. Passages, so narrow that they allow for a single person to pass, leading to clearings with large shops. Shops, lots of them, selling all sorts of stuff, from wedding cards in bulk to fine wedding wear and jewelery. Warm, affectionate people. Food everywhere you look.
Chandni Chowk is a quintessential Indian bazar experience. One that has to be experienced with all the senses. The constant activity on the streets, sometimes overwhelming for the sheer density of people and establishments. The cries of vendors retailing everything from safety pins to art jewelery and everything in between. The enticing aromas emanating from every other street side eatery, some so famous that they command queues at meal times. And then of course the actual taste, the sensorial delight at trying some of these dishes that this old part of Delhi is so famous for.
Some of the food that Chandni Chowk is famous for, is not available at all across the rest of the country and even if it is, there’s a slim chance that anyone will get it as right as these decades-old eateries. Unique dishes, both sweet and savoury, perfected over years, served hot off the girdle in most cases. On the few occasions that I have been to Chandni Chowk, I have regretted being limited by the quantities I can eat. From mini kachoris called nagoris served with a delectable aloo sabzi and sooji halwa to the extremely popular rabri falooda at Gianni di hatti, there is nothing that’s worth missing.
This is a food guide to the vegetarian fare on offer in Chandni Chowk, complete with recommendations for dishes and eateries. Chandni Chowk is also famous for its non-vegetarian food – the details for the best non-vegetarian eateries are in this post on the Jama Masjid Kebab Trail.
Some pointers to keep in mind while visiting Chandni Chowk for a gastronomically delightful food binge:
- Where you’re about to go is the ‘India’ that they show in Hollywood movies. It is every bit as old and crowded, and there’s hardly any place to walk on the street. Wear comfortable, walking footwear.
- Park your car in Rajiv Chowk and take the metro from there to Chawri Bazaar. Parking is difficult to find anywhere in Chandni Chowk.
- As with any food trail, go in a group of 5 or more like-minded foodies who don’t mind sharing food. There’s lots of interesting food to try and you don’t want to be full at the first food stop you visit.
- Sunday morning, 10 AM onwards is a good time to visit. Most of the shops in Chandni Chowk are closed and the crowds are not as intimidating.
Here are the some of the popular eateries followed by the dishes.
A 70-year-old establishment owned by Mr. Padam Singh, Ashok Chaat Corner is located just outside the Chawri Bazaar Metro Station. This tiny chat corner is known for its kalmi vada chat and its aloo masala. Kalmi vada is deep-fried pakoda made of chana dal, gram flour, coriander and a spice mix. The vada is crushed, topped with curd, a tangy-sweet tamarind chutney and a fresh coriander chutney.
Must Have: Kalmi vada chat, Aloo Masala
Following the road towards the Jama Masjid, this establishment falls on the right on Barshabulla Chowk. Make sure you go in the morning to try their nagori halwa¸ which is one of the traditional breakfast dishes made in Old Delhi. The nagori is a smaller, crunchier poori made of a mixture of suji and maida. Somewhat similar to a pani puri, it is slightly bigger in size. Nagoris are typically served with a spicy, finger-licking good aloo sabzi and sooji halwa.
This 100+ year-old sweet shop, located just outside the Fatehpur Masjid, was established in 1901. All its sweets are famous but perhaps it is most well known for its badushahi and karanchi halwa. It’s best to go to Chaina Ram early in the day since they often run out of a large part of their selection. Its kesari bhog is another one of its specialties, a sweet halwa flavoured with saffron and loaded with dry fruits.
Must Have: Kesari Bhoj Also Available: Karachi halwa
On Church Mission Road, a little ahead of the Fatehpur Masjid, the Giani’s here is the original branch of Giani’s Ice Cream outlets that can be found all over the city. The chhole bhature is absolutely fabulous: crispy and perfectly spiced. The lassi is creamy and thick, churned carefully with finesse making it one of the best you will ever have.
Must have: Chhole Bhature, Also Try: Rabri Faluda, Lassi
Right next to Giani’s di Hatti, this place is great for paranthas that are really larger than your average person’s face. Most of these paranthas are stuffed with a number of options, and is served with a thick pudina chutney and onions. They are soft, amply, and equitably stuffed so that you don’t encounter patches of just fried atta, and the spice mixture of the stuffing goes great with the chutney.
Must try: Any of the cheese paranthas
Located on Chandni Chowk, this small establishment has only two dishes, and they make them so well, they’re always crowded. Their dahi bhalle is wonderfully balanced and one of the best I have ever had. The bhalle themselves are light and spongy, and the tamarind chutney doesn’t over power all the other flavours. Interestingly, they add pomegranates, which I was worried about, because I thought it would take away from the dish, but the addition actually complements the dish really well.
Possibly the most renowned place for jalebis. They are so large and served steaming hot, you can only bask in their warm, sweet comfort. The best thing is that they’re not excessively sugary as jalebis often turn out to be, and the syrup that they are fried in is well tempered, I could eat the syrup all by itself.
Daulat ki Chaat
There isn’t any specific establishment for this. You can find many vendors on the streets of Chandni Chowk. There is one right outside Natraj. This chaat, made of beaten malai, is soft and fluffy, and a great balance of sweet and savoury.
Kachori and Aloo Tikki
Come evening and the narrow lane of Dariba comes alive with vendors selling all manner of chaat, jalebi,sarbat, etc. Just at the Dariba and Kinari Bazaar junction, you will find a man selling kachori chaat. It is quite spicy (so those with weak tongues, beware) but with a surprisingly lemony twist. Also try the aloo tikki.
No street food trip to Purani Dilli is complete without paani puri. A vendor a few minutes away from Jalebiwala makes some great ones, but you can also find many near the Fatehpur Masjid. You don’t need me to tell you how awesome paani puri is.