Old Delhi's best eats: 10 tasters under US$10

Old Delhi's best eats: 10 tasters under US$10

Eat yourself sick (in a good way) on this plate-by-plate street food tour of the old city
Food on the streets of old Delhi is hot, oily, spicy or sweet -- or sweet and spicy together -- and often served up in yesterday's newspaper.

The streets of old Delhi are a maelstrom of activity, and one of the most important narratives is the one concerning food.

I’ve walked these lanes with my friends from the nearby Delhi University, eating parathas while they collected costume supplies for the Shakespeare Society from their most trusted vendor.

I’ve walked these by-lanes with my grandmother who insisted the best jalebi was on a particular corner, and with my grandfather who insisted the best chai was on another. 

When I re-visit it this time I have a mission to dispel and to reaffirm -- in the steam of the best chai and the oil of the best puris -- the traditional eating advice for old Delhi. Travel guides are so dusty on the subject you could lose your appetite.

So I roll up my sleeves and begin asking everyone -- and they’re all ready to chat -- about the best, most secret, favorite, famous and historic food haunts in these parts.

The result is this guide, not of eateries but of eats.

How to get to Old Delhi

By metro: Yellow Line to Chawri Bazaar or Chandni Chowk

By road: Park at Gate 3 of the Jama Masjid mosque


1. Mohammad Nadim's classic bread-omelet

An honest breakfast of bread and unda (egg).The simple green-chili omelet, bubbling in oil on a pan then smoothed between two slices of buttered bread, is an Everyman’s favorite.

For some, it’s a cheap (Rs 10), efficient catalyst to start the day. For others it ensured many a hangover-free morning.

“Bread-omelet was my staple after a night of drinking -- it’s like sex on toast,” says Thomas Mathai, an alumnus of St. Stephen’s College.

And vendor Mohammad Nadim's frying pan is hot 24/7.

Mohammad Nadim’s bread-omelet stand, neighboring Jawahar Hotel, 66 Bazar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid, New Delhi

A basic Indian masala omelet with tomatoes and green chili.

2. Puri-aloo-halwa at Haji Tea Point

Start the day with prayer and sugar and semolina suji. For a "special" version of chai, made entirely in milk without a ratio of water, Haji Tea Point is opposite Mohammad Nadim’s eggs. 

They call it "dood-ki-patti", or milk-leafed tea, which costs a dear sum of Rs 15.

The atmosphere of puris frying and the Jama Masjid rising up ahead is a re-affirming one, and a bowl of suji (semolina) halwa and a potato curry eaten with four fried puris (Rs 20) makes for a rich and historic brunch.

Haji Tea Point, 924 Bazaar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid, New Delhi

Open 5 a.m.-5 p.m.

Puris deep-fried in oil provide a salty counterpoint to the halwa.

3. Paaya Nahari curry at Karim's

Can you stomach this for breakfast?Nahari is a lamb shank and paaya is a goat’s hoof. Paaya nahari, the sound of which is reminiscent of a nomad and his only pet, are cooked for hours into a rich curry and served with a fluffy, hot tandoori roti for Rs 180 (full plate) and Rs 8, respectively.

This dish is traditionally eaten, however, in the early hours of the morning at Karim’s.

Karim’s was established in 1913, and is so famous for this robust protein breakfast that this dish is usually sold out by noon.

If this is the case, ask for Mohammad Habib, unanimously magical waiter, who won’t let you leave disappointed.

Phirni, for Rs 25, this is an antidote to all the meat and oil.

Served in a terracotta cup with pistachio crumbled on top, Karim’s phirni is like the comic relief in a theater of very intense eating.

The cold rice-milk-sugar combination of one of India's best traditional desserts is a palette cleanser, as well as a cooling desert to re-instill in you the lightness required to float through the weight of time outside.

Karim Hotels Pvt. Ltd. Jama Masjid, New Delhi;  +91 (0)11 2324 3343; www.karimhoteldelhi.com

Open 9 a.m.-12:30 a.m.

You could call phirni India's almond pudding.

4. Lime and aloo parathas at Babu Ram Devi Dayal

The lime and potato paratha from old Delhi's Parathewali Gali. Sixth-generation owner Ravi Sharma swears by the lime paratha on this famous bylane actually named Parathewali Gali (or sometimes Gali Parathein Wali) after the city's best stuffed fried bread dish that's made here.

This paratha (Rs 35) is lined with potato and stuffed with twists of sweetened lime and a subtle spice.

Established in 1889, these parathas (other fillings include cashews, bananas, mint and rabri) are perfectly textured.

How to get there: Walk towards Ballimaran, where the Urdu poet Ghalib’s Haveli still stands, and ask around for a shortcut to Parathewali Gali.

Pt. Babu Ram Devi Dayal, 1974 Parathein Wali Gali, Chandni Chowk. +91 92506 87752

Open 9 a.m.-11 p.m. 

5. Gol gappas at Haldiram's

Haldiram's sanitary, self-service chat stand. If you’ve just now used most of your hand-sanitizer, this is where you should eat.

Though this branch of Haldiram’s is the oldest, it was established in 1983, and has since been refurbished.

Though lacking the flavor of the street, Haldiram's is the best place to eat gol gappa’s, psychologically speaking.

The staff wear gloves and serve each element -- spiced water, a potato and chickpea mixture stuffed in thin, fried dough balls -- in clean white bowls for Rs 40.

Their self-help ethic means you make it yourself, and at the risk of spilling the spiced water everywhere, it’ll be memorable and a brief -- insert Bollywood track from the 1980s -- interlude from the hollering horns on the road outside.

Haldiram’s, 1452/2, Chandni Chowk Fountain, New Delhi; + 91 (0)11 2883 3008; www.haldiram.com

Open 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. 

6. Rabdi-falooda at Giani's

Falooda: A kulfi ice-cream in its melting position. Established in 1957, Giani’s is famous for its rabri falooda (Rs 50), made fresh every day.

“It is kulfi (an Indian ice-cream) in its melting position," says Giani, when asked exactly what a rabdi falooda is. 

At the bottom of the "melting position" are rice noodles. The texture of the combination comes close to a milkshake with tapioca.

Shop 651/52 Church Mission Road Fateh Puri, Church Mission Marg, Fatehpuri, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi; +91 92103 18644

Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Giani's is owned by a Sikh family who pride themselves on their milk-based products.

7. Jalebis at Old And Famous Jalebiwala

A kilo of jalebi will cost you Rs 300.Kailash Jain started this corner store in 1884, and the queues for his jalebis, fried in real ghee, trail past the bend.

Jain's jalebis are large, hot, crispy and Rs 300 for a kilo.

If you need spiral-shaped dough soaked in sugar to help raise your spirits, this corner is where it’s at.

Old and famous jalebi wala -- the shop name says it all.Old And Famous Jalebiwala Shop 1795, Dariba Corner, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi; +91 (0)11 2325 6973

Open 8 a.m.- 10 p.m.

8. Seekh kebabs at Karim’s (again!)

Mouth-watering seekh kebabs at Karim's. Beware, the seekh kebab at Karim’s is so soft, it might break in your hands before your tongue touches it.

But when it does, it feels like eating cream cheese on the sly.

One plate of four pieces for Rs 165, is a generous serving eaten with romali roti.

But you might order more as you lose yourself in the epic-ness of this gastronomical experience.

Karim Hotels Pvt. Ltd. Jama Masjid, New Delhi;  +91 (0)11 2324 3343; www.karimhoteldelhi.com

Open 9 a.m.-12:30 a.m.

Karim's is owned by Hafiz Karim Uddin. Established in 1913 it is one of New Delhi's most famous restaurants.

9. Dahi bhalla at Nataraj

Nataraj's dahi bhallas topped with tamarind sauce. At Nataraj, a corner man famous for dahi bhalla and aloo tikki, the yogurt is cold, fresh and poured over soft pakoris in a host of spices and topped up with pomegranate.

Don’t try to eat the dahi bhalla (Rs 35) on the counter, however, as the owners will protest: the spanking clean black granite is only for the laying down of money.

Clearly, their cash counter is more sacred.

Nataraj, 1396 Chandni Chowk, New Delhi; +91 98111 67400

Open 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

10. Chole bhature at Oberoi Maidens hotel

The Curzon Room at the Maidens Hotel. The wooden floors, leather chairs and imperial columns of the Oberoi Maidens Hotel reminds you that this area of Delhi, close to the center, was influenced by the British rule.

The colonial decor and black-and-white portraits of maharajas, their vintage cars and their elephants sets a royal tone to what you’re about to order: chole bhature.

A traditional dish from north India, chole is chickpeas cooked for a long period of time, and bhature is a thick fluffy mozzarella-like bread that soaks in the spices from its counterpart.

As opposed to the oily version on the street, this dish will allow you to indulge in one of the areas richest dishes whilst imagining an India of horse carriages and gin and tonics and top hats and tweed coats.

Maidens Hotel, 7, Sham Nath Marg, New Delhi; +91 (0)11 2397 5464; www.maidenshotel.com

Open 1 p.m.-3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.-11 p.m.

With inputs from Zain Rahimtulla

Himali Singh Soin is a poet and art writer living in New Delhi.

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