Tag Archives: Old Delhi

Capital Rambles

Delhi: Unknown Tales of a CityDelhi: Unknown Tales of a City
By RV Smith
(Roli, ₹295)

Among the contemporary crop of Delhi’s flâneurs and society chroniclers, Ronald Vivian Smith is a tall figure. The septuagenarian arrived from Agra in the late 1950s, and his regular columns in The Statesman and The Hindu span the decades of wandering he has done in his adopted home city since then. Many of these columns are available online—rich inspiration for the first generation of city bloggers— and have also periodically been published in books such as The Delhi that No-one Knows (2005), Capital Vignettes (2008) and Delhi Rambles (2014).

The newest such edition is Delhi: Unknown Tales of a City, comprising columns from between 1990 and 2011, and brought out by Roli Books. Through anecdotes and encounters with Dilliwalas, both past and present, Smith explores myriad facets of the capital. As a raconteur, it is Smith’s “sense of delight in histories discovered over the years,” as Narayani Gupta wrote in her foreword to The Delhi that No-one Knows, that anyone who has had even a passing flirtation with Delhiyana will be able to identify with. As Smith talks about festivals, monuments, rulers and poets, the feeling of discovery is familiar; accessible. Yet Smith’s distinct personality only flashes through sporadically: in his attraction to a beautiful face, his self-deprecating awareness of the meandering nature of his own writing.

The journalist Mayank Austen Soofi, in a way one of Smith’s successors, notes in a profile in Mint Lounge that “Unlike other celebrated writers on Delhi, Smith remains as invisible as the people and places he writes about.” Particularly jarring in this book is the use of the neutral third-person, which results in awkward phrases such as “one stumbled” and “as one looked up with a start, one found a female form in white…” A more intimate first-person narration from Smith, if not a proper memoir, would be welcome.

And as far as compendia of vignettes go, this one could have been better shepherded. While The Delhi that No-one Knows has Smith’s writing grouped by geographical area and Capital Vignettes has thematic sections, the columns in Unknown Tales of a City seem somewhat arbitrarily organised, almost in a slightly muddled alphabetical order. Related columns—such as those about Diwali, or Bahadur Shah Zafar—could for example have been combined into longer chapters by an invested editor. An index would have been helpful, too.

Unknown Tales is still an enjoyable dip, in part because Smith is clear-eyed about his hobby. “Legends are more enchanting than factual history,” he writes. Concluding one particularly juicy tale, of a rumour about kebabs made of human flesh, Smith writes, slightly tongue in cheek, “Where exactly the tikka seller sat in the Mori Gate area is difficult to say now… Ask Mullaji, if you can find him, and he will confirm that this is true.”

In Smith’s tales of an old but rapidly changing city, facts are less important than the stories people tell. Some of the most interesting entries deal with the evolving names of places: Chandni Chowk, for example; or the names of places that no longer exist, such as a list of dry or covered-up wells. As one haunted well disappears under a new colony, it becomes, like so many other landmarks, “part of the gossip of old fogeys.”

Particularly poignant is Smith’s description of a deserted sentry tower in the cantonment near Naraina, which evokes thoughts of  “the futility of maintaining a watch over something which will eventually need no vigilance and harbours only vagabonds at night. It’s most distressing to think like that. You come back to the fishmongers…Perhaps the fishmongers may move out too and the sentry tower will be demolished. Then only memories will remain.” One could say Smith’s writing mirrors the city itself: rambling; extending, a bit haphazardly, in many directions and many layers; but with snatches of beauty and nuggets of history hiding just under the surface for those who go looking.

Originally published in Outlook Traveller, August 2015.


Published: August 3, 2015

A Weekend in Old Delhi

A budget weekend in purani Dilli ♦

The top of Fatehpuri Masjid, facing towards the Red Fort.

The most difficult decision I had to make while packing for a weekend in Old Delhi, was what sort of attitude I ought to carry with me to this contigu­ous yet discrete part of the capital city. Many travellers have written about how home can only be un­derstood once one leaves it for the world; and how the world becomes known to us through what we find familiar in it. But who would ad­vise me about ‘travelling’ to a part of the city that I had been flitting in and out of for years?

New Dilliwalas have a complex relationship with Shahjahanabad, which is not just the historic capital of the Mughal emperor for which it was named, but also the last of Delhi’s great citadels; and it has been almost continuously ruined and rebuilt since it was founded in the mid-17th century. We read books about it, raid its kuchas and its katras for perfumes and precious metals, write blogs about it, fill city magazines with descriptions of its flavours and scents. Us new Dilliwalas bemoan the loss of puraani Dilli’s history because it is also our history. But the volume of trade that pumps life into the rattling, breathing sheher is mostly irrelevant to us; we don’t really live there.

Two nights of sleeping in the old city would at least be a different kind of adventure, and the Hotel Tara Palace seemed a promising start. The budget hotel with an incredible view is tucked away on an offshoot of Esplanade Road, the wide thoroughfare created by the British after 1857 to separate the city from their military encamp­ment at the Red Fort — a sliver of which was visible from the bal­cony of my alley-facing room. Tara Palace rises above the other build­ings in the cycle market around it, and the hotel, with its rooftop view of the Red Fort, the Jain Lal Man­dir, the Gauri Shankar Mandir, the Gurudwara Sisganj, and the Jama Masjid, has apparently been used for several film shoots, including Chandni Chowk To China (the lane outside was turned into a facsimile.of Parathewali Gali), Black & White and Delhi-6.

Rather than zooming in on the landmarks though, the fun of actually staying in the old city was the freedom to keep glimpsing these monuments in my periph­eral vision. So, just on the way to purchase a replacement for a forgotten toothbrush, I stopped by the Old Famous Jalebiwala for a sugar rush before ducking into Dharampura, the area east of Esplanade Road and south of Chandni Chowk. The historic dharamsalas in this Jain-dominat­ed area are a bit difficult to find, not least because there are nearly a dozen of them scattered about, but worth a visit for their colourful wall paintings, intricate marble in­teriors and golden daises crowded with wide-eyed tirthankaras. The prominent Naya Mandir, built in 1807 is generally open in the morn­ings, but the smaller Panchayati Mandir, originally built in 1745, is a peaceful stop in the evenings.

Emerging out of the tinsel-strewn Kinari Bazaar and bypass­ing the greasy plates in Parathewali Gali, I loitered at the Northbrook Fountain intersection, also called Bhai Mati Das Chowk after a dis­ciple of Guru Tegh Bahadur; their martyrdom at this spot is grue­somely reconstructed next-door at the Bhai Mati Das, Sati Das Sikh museum and commemorated by the Gurdwara Sisganj. Besides me, the only other people not in a rush to eat, pray and shove were a couple of boys on the terrace of the 18th-century Sunehri Masjid opposite me, watching the occa­sional Mercedes barrel out of the gurdwara gates and scatter the stream of human traffic before get­ting mired in a glut of electric- and cycle-rickshaws. Above the green­ish bronze domes of the masjid and the gleaming golden domes of the gurdwara, a full moon rose into the sky, its light opalescent behind the hazy veil of summer pollution.


A view of Jama Masjid from the top of Tara Palace hotel.

The heat was oppressive. I was tempted to head down the ‘moonlit avenue’, luminous with sequined garments and neon signage, for a nimbu-soda banta from its supposed inventor, Pandit Ved Prakash Lemonwale. Instead, I headed back to Tara Palace for a stiffer drink. A few friends joined me on the roof, where the staff accommodatingly laid out a plastic table and brought us strong beer and vegetarian snacks.

Eventually, the Jama Masjid, twinkling with tastefully re­strained fairy lighting for Ramzan, beckoned, and we headed to­wards it for some proper grub. We ascended above the snacking and socialising crowd in bazaar Matia Mahal to the top-floor of Al-Jawa­har Hotel, to dine on kebabs and kormas in its peach-and-saffron painted family room. Outside, the sweetshops selling multi-coloured blocks of halwa, vats of shahi tukda, matkas of phirni, and piles and piles of fried pheni and khajla, did brisk business.

Back on Esplanade Road, la­bourers were unloading a couple of trucks, or stretched out across their handbarrows, taking a load off themselves. I was struck by how quickly the hotel’s alley had become familiar — probably because there was a bed waiting for me at the end of it. For a few minutes, I stood on my balcony, looking over a patchwork of roofs, unable to imagine them as once-spacious courtyards. The earliest account of a past I could think of that resonated with the present moment was just seventy-five years old: Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi. “But the city lies indifferent or asleep, breathing heavily under a hot and dusty sky,” Ali wrote, himself describing a time eighty years before his own. “Hardly anyone stops the flower vendor to buy jasmines or opens a door to satisfy the beggar. The nymphs have all gone to sleep, and the lov­ers have departed.”

I was pleasantly surprised by my first organised rickshaw tour of the old city the next morning; the three hours with When in India, a tour company founded by sisters whose grandparents lived in a haveli, passed by quite fast. The sites covered — mostly masjids and markets — were not off the beaten track, but a steady narration of an­ecdotes and an album of historical photos kept things interesting.

An early stop was the Khazan­chi, or the treasurer’s haveli, one of several mansions that have fallen into ruin relatively re­cently. The sky-blue walls of the junk-cluttered courtyard set the tone for the rest of the morning. The sun dappled toppled pillars, dilapidated arches, and a door to nowhere — as well as the rough ad­ditions, bricked up windows and scattered furniture of the people living here. I was reminded of a let­ter Ghalib wrote around 1859. “If you want to know how things are in Dilli, read this,” he said, quoting his own verse:

What was in my dwelling that your devastation could destroy it?
What I used to have is here yet — just the yearning to construct.

“What does this place have now for anyone to plunder?” he added.

The poet’s question echoed as we trundled past the landmarks of Chandni Chowk: the E.S. Pyarelal Building, which once housed the Fort View Hotel; the SBI building in front of Begum Samru’s palace; the Central Baptist Church; the Allahabad Bank building; Ma­havir Jain Bhavan; the erstwhile Town Hall, which began life as a cultural hub and may soon become one again; and the sprawling, still majestic haveli of Lala Chunna­mal. Even if you don’t take a guided tour, a cycle rickshaw is the best way to admire the avenue’s last bits of marble latticework and wrought iron, hanging, like tattered lace curtains, between the shuttered shops on the street level and the concrete additions on top.

Standing on the cupola-corned roof of Gadodia Market, a partially enclosed quadrangle in the Khari Baoli spice bazaar, I shielded my eyes against the intense glare. Below me the tingling heat of a million red chillies wafted from gunny sacks, above was a searing, cloudless sky. I noted the crowded Coronation Building, on the site of the notorious Namak Haram haveli, and on the other side of the Fatehpuri Masjid, the tower­ing Crown Hotel — a hippie trail landmark famous for its rooftop parties in the early seventies, that now looks quite tame.

Winding through Lal Kuan and Bazaar Sitaram, the tour ended at the company’s own simple haveli, which was built in the 1860s. Old museum photographs lined the walls, and there was a spread of bedmi-aloo, samosas, jalebis, tea and coffee and, best of all, a creamy kulfi from the local sweet-spot, Kuremal Mohan Lal Kulfi Wale.

I got dropped off at Ajmeri Gate, opposite the Anglo-Arabic Girls’ School, but it was too hot to hop across to the 17th-century mosque within its premises. Men lay draped across their rickshaws, spread-eagled on any patch of dirt or pavement; I considered inves­tigating the ‘Purdah Bagh’ to the north of Daryaganj, but decided instead to check in to Casa Home­stay to recuperate.

Quiet, residential Daryaganj, which was set with riverfront mansions when the Yamuna still ran along it, is an ideal base for exploration. A little before sunset, I walked to Delite Cinema, a sixty year-old hall that used to also stage plays, including by Prithvi The­atres, in its heyday. It was divided into two refurbished auditoriums, Delite and Delite Diamond — com­plete with cushy loos, hand- painted domed ceilings, and Czech chandeliers — several years ago. I watched half of Dawn of Planet of the Apes (Hindi) and half of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, with the theatre’s obligatory ‘maha sa­mosa’ in hand (they also sell chuski at the concession stand).

More grown-up delights were in order afterwards at Thugs, the pub in the boutique Hotel Broadway down the street. The Mogambo Margarita was sadly unavailable (a broken blender), but a solid Kaalia (rum and cola), complete with paper umbrella, made up for it. Then to Moti Mahal, the decades-old restaurant that claims to have brought butter chicken to India during Partition (let’s leave aside the hotly contested debates of authenticity around this estab­lishment). Dinner was tasty, and imbued with the sort of pleas­ant bathos that seasons all such exercises in consuming nostalgia. The small musical troupe churned out a timid rendition of ‘Kajra Mohabbatwalla’, the chicken was swimming in buttered tomato pulp, the breads were large, the spiced onions plentiful — all was well with the world and my air-conditioned bedroom was just five minutes away.

The next day the city itself seemed to have been skew­ered and slapped into a blazing tandoor, but I forced myself to walk out into the Sunday book bazaar that lines the main arter­ies of Netaji Subhash Marg and Asaf Ali Road. Between biology study guides and sex manuals from the 1980s, I picked up a couple of books of poetry, before crossing back towards the quieter area around Ansari Road, Delhi’s traditional publishing hub. I paused at Jain Saheb’s (one of a couple of popular bedmi-puri breakfast joints in the area), which is renowned for its pumpkin sabzi, before trudging along the city wall — rebuilt here by the British — towards the Zinat-al-Masaajid, or ‘ornament of mosques’.

Also called the Ghata Masjid, the mosque was built in 1707 by Zinat-un-nissa, one of Aurangzeb’s daughters. Zinat-un-nissa was a poet and a spinster (the mosque’s third name is ‘Kumari Masjid’, it was supposed to have been built with her dowry). Poets, including Mir Taqi Mir, apparently met here in the early 18th century; and one can imagine it must have been a pleasant spot at the time — a gilded building overlooking a river. Today, the mosque is spartan but pretty, with three striking black-and-white pinstriped domes and minarets that seem, in proportion, to soar up­wards. Zinat-un-nissa’s tomb was removed by the British after 1857, but its Persian epitaph, composed by the pious princess, read: “It is enough if the shadow of the cloud of mercy covers my tomb.”

Indeed, clouds were now amass­ing above the old riverbed, and the sky had darkened with the promise of rain. A strong wind blew across Delhi, heaving through the trees and taking with it my daydreams of this other city. Fat drops began to splatter the cracked sandstone around me. The minarets seemed to pierce the sky.


The domes of Gurudwara Sisganj.


The information

Getting there
Old Delhi is 22km from Indira Gandhi International Airport, and about 4.2km from the New Delhi Railway Station. The Old Delhi Railway Station is next door. A taxi from the airport costs about Rs 375.

Where to stay
Hotel Tara Palace
(from Rs 1,800 plus taxes, includes breakfast and airport pick-up; tarapalacedelhi.com) is a welcoming, spic-and-span hotel with all the amenities, plus a 24-hour restaurant. Another great place to stay is the Casa Homestay (from Rs 3,000, includ­ing taxes and a hearty, homemade breakfast; casahomestay.com) is a posh yet warm suite in a historic Daryaganj mansion. It is run by Colonel Abhimanyu and Reva Nayar, who live downstairs and provide all the amenities with a personal touch.

Getting around
The Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk metro stations are practi­cal links to other parts of Delhi. Cycle rickshaws are the best way to get around (anywhere from Rs 20 to Rs 100 per trip; more for a tour). Several companies provide walking and rickshaw tours; When in India (wheninindia.com, from $50) tours are professional and com­fortable, with branded rickshaws, uniformed drivers (some of whom speak English), cold drinks in chill­ers under the seats, and unobtru­sive wireless headsets through which the guide gives informa­tion to the group. They average 1.5-3 hours and can be tailored for groups or individuals.

What to see & do
Red Fort
, the Jain temples in Dharampura, Jama Masjid, Fateh­puri Masjid, Khari Baoli, Delite Cinema, Zinat-al-Masajid, Darya­ganj book bazaar on Sunday and the local mansions

Eat, drink & shop
Old Famous Jalebiwala
serves overpriced (Rs 50 per plate), oversized jalebis at the entrance to Dariba Kalan. Al-Jawahar hotel (about Rs 500 for two) is an airier alternative to the more-famous Karim’s next-door and worth a stop for the nihari at breakfast; likewise Moti Mahal (about Rs 900 for two) for butter chicken and ghazals at dinner; and Thugs (hotelbroadwaydelhi.com; cocktails from Rs 175) for drinks.

Fancier than the stores around it in Khari Baoli, Mehar Chand & Sons (facebook.com/mcs1917) sells well-presented blended powder masalas (from about Rs 200), special teas and spices. Harnarain Gokalchand (facebook. com/harnarains) has its local brand of khus, kewda, rose and other sharbats further down the street. Gulab Singh Johrimal on Chandni Chowk (gulabsinghjohrimal.com) is a charming old attar and incense shop (from Rs 12 for 2.5ml vial) with retro-packaging and old-fashioned cabinetry. In Daryaganj, Aap Ki Pasand (aapkipasandtea.com) is an oasis-like tea shop.

Top tip
The Archaeological Survey of India’s free monuments app isn’t completely comprehensive, but it maps the major attractions. Download ASI Delhi Circle from the Google Play store. INTACH’s Delhi: 20 Heritage Walks (intach­delhichapter.org) includes two very informative booklets on the built heritage of North Shajahanabad and South Shahjahanabad.

Originally published in Outlook Traveller, August 2014.

Published: February 15, 2015

Haunted Delhi

The bhoot is out there ♦

From the haunting of 10 Janpath to Gef the singing mongoose – not to mention djinns, headless sepoys and Certified Leading Paranormal Investigators – this Time Out Delhi cover package from October 28, 2011 chronicles the capital’s ghost stories. Read the full story below, download it as a pretty PDF here, or find it online at Time Out Delhi.

Published: October 28, 2011

Spirit uprising

Once upon a time, the Old City was besieged by ghosts ♦

Read this article as part of Time Out Delhi’s “Haunted Delhi” cover story.


Illustration by Tara Sapru

“No native ghost has yet been authentically reported to have frightened an Englishman,” wrote Rudyard Kipling in a short story from 1888, “but many English ghosts have scared the life out of both white and black.” Kipling understood the distinction between the gothic Christian notion of once-living souls trapped between this plane and the next (your basic bhoot) and our more colorful native procession of djinns, yakshis, churails, vetalas and other spirits and demons.

With its concentration of defunct nineteenth-century Christian cemeteries, Mughal tombs, crumbling walls and abandoned gates, the Old City is the natural haunting ground for the ghosts of real people. And if ghosts in general are the spirits of those who died violent, untimely deaths, it’s not surprising that many of Delhi’s archetypical ghost stories – still just about in circulation – are rooted in the twilight of the Mughal empire and the bloody months surrounding the Uprising and siege of 1857.

In the years just before 1857 though, there were stories of restless white ghosts wandering the galis and gates of the Old City. The most famous is that of British Resident William Fraser, who was murdered on the orders of Shamsuddin, a young nawab of Ferozepur, on his way home from a nautch in 1835. He’s said to lurk around Hindu Rao hospital, formerly his residence in the northern Ridge.

That area, between the Ridge, Civil Lines and Kashmere Gate, was the locus of most of the action during the siege, and it has its share of apparitions too. In May of 1857, after the rebel army attacked, the enthusiastic editor of the Dehli Urdu Akhbar wrote that “Some people even swear that the day the horsemen came here, there were she-camels ahead of them, on which rode green-robed riders. Then they instantly vanished from sight; only the troopers remained, and they killed whichever Englishman they found, cutting  them up like carrots or radishes.” Some of these julienned Englishmen may not have vanished quite so quickly: Delhi chronicler RV Smith recalled that in the early 1900s, a headless horseman soldier would be seen riding on Lothian Road, and another “sar kata bhoot” in Tees Hazari.

Civilians wander the battlefield as well. Like George Beresford, the manager of the Delhi Bank on Chandni Chowk, who had written a Delhi guidebook just the year before. He passed up his chance to escape the city and was butchered, along with his wife and five daughters on a roof in the complex on May 11, and possibly left unburied until the end of 1858.

There’s the deep Khuni Jheel in the Northern Ridge, which became a mass grave for British civilians and Indian sold­iers. It’s almost gentrified and pleasant now, but in the aftermath of 1857, dead soldiers, women and children would be seen there.  The actual graveyards in the area – the Lothian, Nicholson and Mutiny (Rajpura) cemeteries – were of course haunted too. Brigadier-General John Nicholson, who was mortally injured in September 1857 while leading the crucial push to recapture of the city, is still said to haunt the hallowed ground where his remains are interred. Though no one in
the area – least of all the caretaker’s family – wants to talk about it, we have it on good authority that the warrior’s ghost appears atop a white horse, brandishing a naked sword.

When British reinforcements wrested control of Delhi, it was the turn of Mughul royals and aristocracy to suffer execution and murder most foul. Both the prison of Salimgarh Fort and the execution ground at Khooni Darwaza had histories of previous haunting, and the events following the Uprising helped entrench their reputation. Salimgarh Fort, where Bahadur Shah Zafar was incarcerated briefly after trying to escape via Humayun’s Tomb, has a haunted past thanks to Aurangzeb, who supposedly kept his ghazal-writing daughter Zebunnisa (pen-named Makhfi) here. She died single, and her ghost is said to haunt the prison. Perhaps she consorts with the ghosts of the minor princes of the late Mughal period, allegedly raised captive in jail-cells here to make sure they were incapable of revolt. Flash forward from 1857 to the next war of Independence, and Salimgarh was used to incarcerate members of the Indian National Army, some of whom died and can be heard rattling their chains.

Prisoners and royals haunt the Red Fort too. In the 1960s, the Hindustan Times sent a photographer to spend the night in the diwan-e-khas, after the caretaker heard eerie sounds and saw ghosts. And while the Uprising was long over and Bahadur Shah Zafar far away in Rangoon when he died in 1862, people who lived around the Lal Qila said they would see him, his wife Zeenat Mahal and a retinue of his dead family members, circumambulating the fort on Thursday nights. How awkward if they were to encounter the restless spirits of the British soldiers, who still prowl the tunnels below the Fort, seeking Mughal loot.

A day before Nicholson died, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons and grandson were shot at the “Bloody Gate” and are said to haunt it still. Khooni Darwaza is near the graveyards behind the Indian Express building and was used by other capital punishers, including Aurangzeb, who mounted Dara Shikoh’s head here. The Khooni Darwaza is one of the few sites that retains its ghostly notoriety, partially perhaps due to the rape of a medical student here in 2002. But in general, the commonly held belief in ghosts around the ruins south of Shahjahanabad has petered out. Writer Sohail Hashi remembered that even as recently as his father’s youth, it wasn’t considered safe to mill about around the area. “But many of these ghost stories have died with the expansion of the city,” he said.

It’s difficult to now find old Dilliwalas who believe or even know the stories about the phantoms of 1857. Mostly, they’re found just wandering down the memory lanes of people like RV Smith, who know the Old City well but have studied its history too. There are still a few haunted spots around – an abandoned house near Turkman Gate, a white lady who smokes cigarettes at Kashmere Gate – but these are just a fading part of the fabric of daily life, nothing much to talk about.  Maybe the stories of these specters will return some day. Smith certainly hopes so. “Everybody loves ghost stories,” he said. “There was a time that it was fashionable to read them. Now they’re making a comeback, especially on TV shows.” Or perhaps it’s only fair that those old ghosts of old Delhi be allowed to die, at last, a natural death.

Read more about the city’s ghosts in Time Out Delhi‘s “Haunted Delhi” cover story.
Originally published in Time Out Delhi, October 2011.

Published: October 28, 2011

Windows in the city walls

Two Old Delhi buildings are waiting to be reborn as city museums ♦

This article is part of a longer story on Delhi’s museums.

ochterlonyIn a miniature watercolour from 1820, Sir David Ochterlony lords over a nautch, dressed in Mughal garb with hookah in hand. That portrait shows Delhi’s first British Resident in his home – a building which still architecturally reflects the life of the famed “White Mughal”, as well as the many-layered history of the Kashmere Gate area.

It’s a popular belief that the building, which dates back to 1637, was once prince Dara Shikoh’s library. Ochterlony had it remodeled in the early 1800s, mixing soaring British columns in with the hunkered Mughal arches. Later it was used as artillery barracks; then for various government schools and colleges. Since the 1980s, it has housed the state government’s Archaeological Department, which wants to turn this capsule of the city’s past into the future site of a Delhi City Museum.

There couldn’t be a better location than Kashmere Gate, a neighbourhood that is itself a spread-out, crumbling urban museum. The Dara Shikoh Library is surrounded by city walls, churches, graveyards and historic markets, all sundered by multi-lane traffic and modern construction. The Delhi City Museum might be the key that unlocks all of Kashmere Gate.

Or it might not. Delhi already has a city museum, less than three kilometres away at Lahori Gate. The defunct Walled City Museum opened in 2004, intended as a cultural shot-in-the-arm for Shahjahanabad. Vijay Goel, a history-dabbler, former area MP and General Secretary of the BJP, gave 50 lakhs of MPLADS money, as well as objects from his own collection, to the new institution. But the three-courtyard 1929 haveli is now derelict: broken stone and pigeon shit is all that’s on display. Goel’s association is, unfortunately for him, engraved in stone above the entrance. The MCD failed to maintain it, he explained. “Us ka haal he behaal. All the exhibits have been stolen or destroyed, so I took out whatever was left there.”

Goel is still urging the MCD to revitalise the Walled City Museum. It has received a proposal to restore and restock the place from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. INTACH’s preliminary proposal envisions technology superimposed over history, using the kind of gizmo-kiosks that are ubiquitous in Delhi’s newer museums. Ajay Kumar, senior project manager in INTACH’s Delhi Chapter, described the Museum as a potential “interpretation centre” for the traditions of trade, food and lived heritage of the area.

Meanwhile, the Archaeological Department has also received proposals about the Dara Shikoh Library from – no prizes for guessing – INTACH. As with their plans for the Walled City Museum, the proposal seems to have sprung from INTACH’s search for a permanent home for its Delhi: A Living Heritage exhibition from last year. Kumar explained the special appeal of the Dara Shikoh Library. “It’s near the university, it’s near the Metro station, it’s near the old part of the city,” he said. “Whenever any tourist comes to Delhi, they visit Old Delhi. You could say that locals don’t prefer to go that side, but we want to develop the site as an interaction. Why do people go to Dilli Haat, and not this place?”

So far, most of the “interaction” with the surrounding community has involved professors of Ambedkar University Delhi, which is shifting into historic buildings on the same compound. Anil Persaud, a professor of Liberal Studies, believes that the Delhi City Museum could be one “that exists even outside its walls”, linking together Mughal, British and modern urban history. Referencing the Museum of the City of New York, a paragon of its type, Persaud dreams of bringing the city into the museum, via cultural programming, or even a camera obscura that uses a periscope to refract views of the city into the museum’s interiors.

At this point, however, predicting the museum’s facilities is not unlike squinting through a periscope into the future. The Department of Archaeology, accustomed to counting out years in the thousands, seems in no rush. “We’re calling for an Expression of Interest again,” said Keshav Chandra, the Secretary for Art, Culture, Languages, and also Special Secretary to the Chief Minister. “It is at a very premature stage.”

Until then, the Dara Shikoh Library is filled with the echoes of Persaud’s wry comment: “When an archaeological department starts talking about a museum, it’s time to get suspicious.” The front hall of the library holds a ramshackle museum-repository, all dusty display cases littered with late-Harappan potsherds or ornaments excavated from Mandoli, Bhorgarh and Jhatikara. The centrepiece is a half-buried hominid skeleton, surrounded with pieces of pottery. Its caption – simply, “The Pit” – could easily describe the building around it, or the current state of the Walled City Museum.

Rather than setting a gloomy precedent, the failure of the Walled City Museum should provide a lesson for the Delhi City Museum. Meanwhile, after the closing of Delhi Town Hall at Chandni Chowk last month, there have murmurs about a potential city museum there as well. If we’re very lucky, the city could have two, maybe three, illuminating museums, within cycle-rickshaw distance of each other, creating connections between Delhi, old and new. Though there’s no Commonwealth Games urgency behind them, they could do far more for city pride.

Read more about Delhi’s museums.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, September 2011.

Published: September 30, 2011

Shahjahanabad coolers

Street the heat ♦

Feeling a bit parched in puraani Dilli? Quench your thirst at these local institutions. Read the Time Out Delhi (July 2009) story as a PDF, find the text reproduced below, or download it here.

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi street food.)

Amritsari Lassi Wala

The thickest lassi we’ve found in old Delhi is available at this wellknown neon-yellow shop. Very much of the heartland, the lassi is served with a spoon and plenty of malai chunks. It’s also ice-cold and available in flavours like banana, jeera namkeen, mango and rose. Amritsari Lassi Wale has been around in Delhi since 1974 and is conveniently located next to a number of chhola bhatura walas. 295 Fatehpuri Chowk, at Chandni Chowk (2394-2260). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 8-20.

Bikaner Sweet Shop

Compared to some surrounding vendors, this namkeen shop is a newbie, having been established only 27 years ago. That certainly doesn’t stop passers-by from availing of the shop’s convenient location in Dariba, just out of the sun of Chandni Chowk. A bucket of ice holds bottles of kaju milk, pista milk and badam milk. 255 Dariba Kalan, off Chandni Chowk (2328-1971). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 20.

Jain Coffee House

Perhaps better-known for his fruit-and-cream sandwiches, Pawan Kumar at the Jain Coffee House also whips up some sweet milkshakes. Available in seasonal flavours, the whole milk shakes are frothier than the little-girl party frocks on Chandni Chowk. Mango, apple and coffee were the choices when we visited. Raghu Ganj, Chawri Bazaar (2391-8925). Metro Chawri Bazaar. From the station, take the main road towards Jama Masjid. You’ll walk past a big shop called Gujarat Namkeen Bhandar on your left. Watch for an iron gate on the left side that says Raghu Ganj. Go through this to a courtyard – JCH is on the left corner. Mon-Sat 9am-7.30pm. Rs 25. If you’re closer to Chandni Chowk, try Kamdhenu Family Corner, which has mango, chocolate and other seasonal shakes. 5469 Nai Sarak, corner of Chandni Chowk, opposite Town Hall (2394-4386). m Chandni Chowk. Daily 9.30am-8pm. Rs 20.

Murarilal Inderjit Sharma

The crowd outside Murari’s lassi, dahi, milk and paneer outlet in Kinari Bazaar is relentless. Established about 60 years ago, the dairy stall uses two of Delhi’s classic “Sultan” machines to churn creamy – but not excessively thick – lassi in kullars and steel glasses. Some of the area’s merchants bring their own silver cups to be filled. A squirt of kewra is added and the glass is topped with a thin, creamy-crisp slab of malai before serving. A namkeen version is also available. 2178 Kinari Bazaar (2327-1464). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 20.

Oberoi Sindhi Lemonade

This neat little stall stocks shikanji masala powder, bottles of banta and neat little bottles of jeera masala soda. The concept is identical to Pandit Ved Prakash (see p38), but this stall is a little quieter, cleaner and almost next door. Nai Sarak. Turn left on Nai Sarak off Chandni Chowk and the stall is on your right. Metro Chandni Chowk.

Pakodimal doodhwala

This little lassi stall isn’t marked, but it’s across the road from a few others that are (Jain Bengali Sweets among them). What sets Pakodimal’s stand apart is his barfiwali lassi, in which a piece of khoya barfi is mixed in with the yogurt. According to food writer Rahul Verma, this stall might be one of the oldest doodhwalas in town. Sadly, the old man wasn’t there when we visited, and the barfiwali lassi had finished for the day. But we’ll definitely be back to try it. From Khari Baoli, turn left on Naya Bans and stop at the third or fourth stall to your left, opposite Jain Bengali Sweets. Metro Chawri Bazaar. Rs 15-20.

Pandit Ved Prakash Lemon Wale

The Pandit’s progeny claim that their ancestor popularised the nimbu-soda banta. The family has been in the cold drinks line for about 150 years, according to Chinibhai, one of the brothers who runs the stalls in Dariba Kalan and near the Town Hall. Until the British introduced the Codd-neck bottle to India (it was invented by Hiram Codd in 1872), the family was in the sharbat business. In the early 1900s, they began focusing their efforts on banta, mixed with their own house masala. They also sell their own jeera masala soda. 5466 Chandni Chowk (2392-0931); 266 Dariba Kalan (2325-5259). Metro Chandni Chowk. Rs 7-9 per glass.


Finding the rainbow connection in Khari Baoli

If, on a hot summer day, you happen to visit Harnarain Gokalchand’s murabba and pickle shop, you’ll be offered a cup of bright green liquid, with a scent like rain over dusty leaves. Khus (vetiver) sharbat is just one of the elixirs stocked at this store, that is now more than 70 years old. Though many of the murabba-achaar stores along the wholesale spice market stock sharbat, Harnarain is one of the few that still manufactures it. Of course, the manufacturing process has changed a bit since the shop first opened (it used to have a branch in Connaught Place as well). Though the line of sharbats is manufactured in the dusty industrial area of Lawrence Road and despite the fact that most of the ingredients listed involve preservatives, the objective of this implausibly coloured arsenal of mixers remains the same: to cool you down. The Arora family, which owns the store, manufactures bel, amla, kewra, chandan (sandal), khus and rose sharbats as well as mango panna – all priced under Rs 75 per bottle. Perhaps the snazziest sharbat line on the market, though, is the Shri Guruji brand, also available at a few shops in Khari Baoli. Founded in Kolkata in 1970, the company drew its inspiration from family patriarch Shree Jagdeeshprasad from Shekhavati, Rajasthan. The guruji is said to have once held a 16-day satsang, during which he served 16 different cold drinks. The company – now based in Indore – makes kesariya thandai; sharbats in flavours including badam kesar, chandan, kesar pista, kesar, khus, rose and “panchamrit” (intriguingly, the bottle only lists gulab, kewra, chandan and kesar: what is the mystery fifth ingredient?); squashes like amla, bel, jamun, lemon, lemon barley, lemony ginger, litchi, orange, and pineapple; and fruit cordial. Harnarain Gokalchand 6678 Khari Baoli (2399-2590). Metro Chawri Bazaar. Mon-Sat 11am- 8pm. Sharbat Rs 65-75. Ram Lal Om Prakash (For Guruji sharbats) 6542 Khari Baoli, Fatehpuri (2396-7853). Metro Chawri Bazaar. Mon-Sat 10am-7pm. Sharbat Rs 85-140. 

Pink drink

Before Campa, there was kewra

If Delhi can claim any drink as its own, it’s Rooh Afza. The sharbat, almost synonymous with sweetness in our city, has an intriguing family story behind it. In 1906, Hakim Abdul Majeed, a Unani medicine practitioner who had studied under Ajmal Khan, started his own clinic in Lal Kuan. The next year, he started selling bottles of the rose-red concentrate. His son, Hakim Abdul Hameed, expanded the Hamdard Dawakhana and popularised his father’s summer sharbat beyond the walled city. After Partition, his brother Mohammad Said went to Karachi to take care of Hamdard’s operations in Pakistan. The brothers kept in constant touch and the Indian and Pakistani companies grew together. They both set up universities and Said did a turn in politics as well. Eventually, he was assassinated and, within a year, his brother in Delhi also passed away. The company is still in the family’s hands, with Majeed’s greatgrandsons Hamid Ahmed and Asad Mueed working on revamping Rooh Afza’s image with Juhi Chawla ads and new jingles. The taste of the drink, however, remains the same, just as the Hamdard Dawakhana still stands as a major landmark in Lal Kuan. A lot of components go into that indescribable flavour: sugar syrup; pineapple juice and orange juice; extract of dhania, gajjar (carrot), khurfa (bara lunia or purslane), tarbooz (watermelon), palak (spinach), pudina (mint), hara ghia (luffa), kasni (chicory), munaqqa (raisins), sandal, khus (vetiver), chharrila (stone flower lichen), gul nilofar (waterlily), gaozaban (borage or starflower), citrus flowers, kewra and rose. Available at general stores across the city. Rs 90 for 700ml.

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi street food.)

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, July 2009. 

Published: July 24, 2009

Stirring the pot

Delhi’s culinary melange ♦

Part of a Time Out Delhi food cover story, this is a short history of Delhi food, plus a guide to eating in the old city (published in 2008). Read the story as a PDF, find the text reproduced below, or download the PDF here.

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi drinks.)

Great cities are defined, at least to some degree, by great cuisines: either through an easily available and intrinsic tradition, or through making choices available that draw the culinary traveller from far and wide. Paris and Shanghai are examples of the former, London and New York perhaps of the latter. We’ve checked off the monuments and the Metro in our own Delhi, we’re well-stocked with netas, bade baap ka betas and SUVs, but what do we have to offer in terms of a culinary narrative? In a city as old as ours, surely our food isn’t only about butter chicken, qorma and kababs?

Some of the earliest accounts of food in Delhi come from the fourteenth century traveller Ibn Battuta’s writing. In her The Essential Delhi Cookbook, Priti Narain (who is herself from a Kayasth Mathur Delhi family) paraphrases Battuta’s descriptions of Sultanate feasts. She writes that these rulers brought with them the habit of communal dining, with people seated hierarchically. Battuta also describes beginning the meal with a sharbat and ending it with paan. But then, written traces of “Sultanate food” pretty much disappear.

According to educator and activist Sohail Hashmi, Delhi court cuisine was an amalgam of Central Asian (Turkic, Persian etc) and local techniques. As he said, “In Central Asia, most food is cooked on spits or in ovens and in animal fat. You have very limited use of spices. The chunks of meat are large and not as soft as we cook them. When the Central Asians came, the tradition of bhun-na, using ghee as an agent, was added. These two mixed to create what we know today as Mughlai food.”

While most scholars and foodies claim that what we call Mughlai is possibly more influenced by Awadhi or Nizami cuisine than what the Mughals ate, there are references to food and cooking in various Mughal documents: the Baburnama, the Ain-i-Akbari and other, less formal sources. A section of the Baburnama describes how Babur brought certain fruits like melons and grapes to India. (It appears the ruler missed these so much that he once became teary-eyed upon cutting open a melon.) It also talks of the local edible flora and fauna and describes concoctions like murabba. The Ain-i-Akbari has a section with price lists for various foodstuffs, as well as full recipes with measurements of several dishes.

Much of the variety of these ingredients has disappeared. Hashmi told us how many saag varieties are no longer cooked, or indeed, aren’t even available anymore. The Ain-i-Akbari’s regional specifications of goat and lamb varieties seem unimaginably exotic today. Other ingredients, which we take completely for granted, are newer additions. Narain writes that potatoes only came to North India by about 1830. Tomatoes came only about 20 years after that. Chillies were introduced to South India by the Portuguese in the 1500s, but probably took longer to reach Delhi, as they are not mentioned in the Ain-i-Akbari.

While Muslim cuisine is perhaps the best recorded, Delhi cuisine was and is made up of the traditions of several communities. Delhi’s sizeable Kayasth community were scribes and officials in the imperial courts and, as such, their food habits were heavily influenced by Muslim ones. There was also an inventive vegetarian tradition: Narain mentions several dishes that featured vegetables masquerading as meat. Kayasth recipes and menu plans could be found – along with Muslim ones – in Urdu cookbooks that were possibly originally put together by housewives. Indeed, Mathur found some of her recipes in these unfortunately no-longer-available treasure troves.

Banias, particularly Marwaris, and Khatris are chiefly responsible for Delhi’s vegetarian traditions. The hallowed tradition of Delhi chaat may have come from the Bania community, according to several sources. Hashmi is of the opinion that khomchawalas (gents carrying their wares in baskets on their heads) would hawk their kulfi and chaat from store to store, and the storekeepers would call them over to keep the snack train going. Or, the khomchawalas would be called home for family feasts. These street traditions continue alongside their non-vegetarian counterparts in the walled city. The newer tradition of Punjabi and frontier food and the attendant popularity of chicken and tandoori items have been added to the mix since Partition.

Uniformly, every food-lover or scholar we spoke to said that the best examples of any of Delhi’s cuisines – whether from the “traditional” resident communities of the sheher or newer migrant ones – can be found in people’s homes. We can’t provide you with a list of people’s phone numbers, obviously. But if you start in the old city, a quick course in the evolution of our city’s khana is possible. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best, most authentic, most inventive or just most popular places to eat out in purani Dilli, as well as a list of caterers and bawarchis to start with. Happy exploring.


Al Jawahar Jawahar’s new and old branches serve “Mughlai” (kababs and oily curries) in a slightly more laid-back fashion than Karim’s. According to Hashmi, Jawahar was founded by a family of butchers; food critic Marryam Reshii holds that their cuts are better than Karim’s. 65 Bazaar Matia Mahal, opposite Gate 1, Jama Masjid (2326-9241); metro Chawri Bazaar. Daily 7am-midnight. Meal for two Rs. 300.

Kallu Nihari Beloved nihariwala of Delhi foodies (and their patron saint, writer Rahul Verma) – but you’ll have to get there early; this stuff runs out fast. Verma suggests Haji Noora ki nihari at Bara Hindu Rao for a spicier version of the dish. Kallu: 180 Chhatta Lal Mian, Jama Masjid, approach via Churiwalan and ask for Tiraha Behram Khan; Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 5-7pm. Haji Noora ki nihari: 3576 Bara Hindu Rao, Thelewali Gali, Sangtarashan; daily 6-8am, 6-9pm.

Karim’s Hotel The classic, if only by virtue of reputation. While Charmaine O’Brien mentions in her book Flavours of Delhi that the Karim progenitor was an Arabian soldier-turned-personal cook for Babur, Hashmi told us that “Karim has very cleverly invented himself. It is in Gali Kababian – this is a family of kababchis who then said, ‘shahi hain’.” Whatever the true story, it won’t make a jot of difference to the popularity of the famous burras. 16 Gali Kababian, Bazaar Matia Mahal, opposite Gate 1, Jama Masjid (2326-9880); Metro Chawri Bazaar; Daily 7am-midnight; Meal for two Rs 300.

Super Meat Stall Avtar Singh’s family used to sell swords in the underground market at gurudwara Sis Ganj. In 1966, Singh’s grandfather and father set up Super Meat Stall, popularly known as “Super Meat Wale”. Try their hot, spicy curries of mutton pieces or keema with phulkas, or the mutton pulao with gravy. 937 HC Sen Road, Chandni Chowk, near Fountain, next to HSBC ATM (6990-2920); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10am-9pm.

Ustad Moinudeen Rahul Verma’s pick of the kababchis. He vouched that “the seekh kabab is very soft, not rubbery like you get in most places”. And it’s not made of mutton. Gali Qasim Jaan, Lal Kuan, in front of Hamdard Dawakhana; Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily noon-8.30pm.

Vegetarian meals

Adarsh Bhojanalaya The few sit-down places to eat ghar ka khana out in the old city are Marwari-style bhojanalayas. Verma recommended Adarsh to us, despite its lack of good seating. Order the separate special tadka along with your unlimited thali. Verma also recommends nearby Annapurna. We also like New Soni’s thali of unlimited dal, aloo-tamatar and phulka and limited daily sabzi, raita and sweet. Adarsh: 483 Haider Quli Corner, below Andhra Bank, Chandni Chowk (2398-7576); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10.30am-6pm, 6-11pm. Annapurna Guest House: 680 Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri (2396-6680); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10.30am-3pm, 6.30 -11pm. New Soni: 5568 Nai Sarak (2393-6143); Metro Chandni Chowk; Mon-Sat 11am-4pm, 7pm- 11pm.

Chacha Di Hatti This chhole-bhatura wala staple is not strictly within the old city, but according to Verma, Kamala Nagar was where the first generation of migrants out of purani Dilli shifted to in the 1950s. Limited supply, so get there early. 32 Bungalow Road, Delhi University, behind Kirori Mal College; Metro Vishwavidyalaya. Daily 9.30am-3pm.

Kake Di Hatti This nondescript but famous eatery was started about 63 years ago by owner Gurdeep Singh’s great-grandfather. Kake’s lunch thali is minimal but memorable, the rotis simply enormous, the dal makhani legendary, and the 11 kinds of stuffed paratha less greasy than the ones in Parathewali Gali. 654 Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri (98109-09754); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 7.30am-12.30pm.

Makhan Lal Tikka Ram This one is the place to try a Delhi breakfast favourite: bedmi-aloo. Almost before you enter the old city from the north, in the midst of the auto parts market opposite St James Church, is a little shop whose board reads “Makhan Lal Tika Ram – mltr”, but which has for years been known as Mitthan Ki Bedmi (despite the fact that the gentleman at the counter insists that Mitthan’s sweet shop closed down circa 1975 and all that remains of it is Mitthan Motors three shops down). Strictly speaking, it’s a sweet-shop, but it has a tiny balcony into which you can cram yourself (along with about seven other people) and eat fantastic bedmis (Rs 7 a plate). Served with a mixed aloo-chhole ki sabzi and khatte aam ki launji, two of these are a meal. Try their matthri and nagori-halwa as well. If you’re in the Chawri Bazaar area, try Ram Swarup’s or Shyam Sweets for more of the same. If you’re closer to Chandni Chowk, head to Shiv Mishtan Bhandar – an institution as much for its bedmi as for its political celebrity client list. MLTR: 1259- 60 Bara Bazaar, Kashmere Gate (3255-9415); Metro Kashmere Gate; daily 5.30am-10.30pm. Ram Swarup: 3284 Bazaar Sita Ram (2395-5569); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 6am-10pm. Shyam Sweets: 114 Chowk Barshabulla, Chawri Bazaar (2326-8087); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 6.30am-10pm. Shiv Mishtan Bhandar: 375 Kucha Ghasi Ram, Chandni Chowk (2392- 1406); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 6am-10pm.

Nirmal Restaurant Try this alternative to the famous fried breads at Pandit Babu Ram Devi Dayal and its ilk in Parathewali Gali. “Asha Ram ke parathe” (named for the original owner three generations ago) are richly stuffed and include some of the best paneer parathas (Rs 16) around. Even better, there are three large rooms to eat in – with a view across the Town Hall chowk. 756 Chandni Chowk, opposite Town Hall; Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 6.30am-midnight. Pandit Babu Ram Devi Dayal Parathewali Gali, Chandni Chowk (98116- 02460); Metro Chandni Chowk; Daily 9am-midnight.

Snacks and chaat

Ashok Chaat Bhandar This award-winning chaatwala (as opposed to the other Ashok across the road) has kalmi vada and kachalu chutney to make the chaat pop with flavour. 3611 Hauz Qazi Chowk, entrance of Bazaar Sita Ram (2382-7740), Metro Chawri Bazaar, daily 11am-9pm.

Natraj Café Known locally as “bank ki pakodi”, the dahi bhallas (Rs 20) served here are well-known beyond the walled city as well. The dahi is the winning factor: it’s perfectly balanced between sweet and tangy. They do aloo tikkis in desi ghee as well and have a full menu and upstairs seating every day but Sunday. 1396 Chandni Chowk, next to Central Bank of India (6576-4631, 98111- 67400); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 10am-7pm.

Padam Chaat Bhandar Caterer Gunjan Goela’s favorite golgappas, served, as she put it, “with nakhra”. Usually stationed nearby, just outside Naugharana, is another golguppa cart with colourful palak and chukandar golguppas. Outside Baraf Wali Gali, Kinari Bazaar, Metro Chandni Chowk; Mon- Sat noon-8pm.

Sultan Kullewala Kulle is a true Delhi snack invented about 50 years ago. Today, Sultan’s grandson Sanjay sells the chaat in a busy gali. The chaat itself is a basket of peeled potato, filled with anardana, boiled channa and fine strips of ginger, and the whole sprinkled with a number of homemade masalas. Be warned though, when Sanjay asks you how spicy you like your kulle, say medium, unless you’re readying for a blast. Cheera Khana, Roshan Pura, Nai Sarak (2328-2848). m Chawri Bazaar. Mon-Sat 1-6pm. Rs 20 for eight.


Afreen & Zayed Sweets One of a couple of shahi tukda walas around the Jama Masjid/Matia Mahal area. Delhi’s most unholy triumvirate: bread, cream and a swimming pool of ghee. Near Hussain Chicken Corner, Jama Masjid (93502-17460); Metro Chawri Bazaar. Daily noon-midnight.

Daulat Ki Chaat No, not chaat, and it isn’t sold by a man named Daulat, but this soft whipped milk topped with kesar-flavoured whipped milk, ground brown sugar, pista and varq is the Chandni Chowk foodie’s holy grail. Monu Singh and his khomcha can be found Mon-Sat 9am-7pm at Dariba Kalan; Sun 9am-7pm at the intersection of Parathewali Gali and Kinari Bazaar (98731-32271/98738- 41912). Rs 10 per plate.

Deepak Dewan Fruit Cream This sweet little red cart can be found floating around Dariba and Kinari Bazaar. Within it is the most delicious thing: pieces of banana, pineapple and apple sunk in soft cream. Daily noon- 8pm. Rs 10 per cup.

Giani Di Hatti Started in 1951 by Lyallpur immigrant Giani Gurcharan Singh, this rabri falooda joint soon expanded to shakes, moong dal halwa and ice cream. Pretty soon it expanded to other parts of the city as well. Church Mission Road, Fatehpuri (2393- 6174); Metro Chandni Chowk; Daily 11am-midnight. Also caters.

Hazari Lal Jain Stop by here for all your khurchan, malai roll and malai laddoo needs. 2225 Kinari Bazaar, Chandni Chowk (2325- 3992); Metro Chandni Chowk. Mon- Sat 7am-midnight.

Lala Duli Chand Naresh Gupta Across the street from better-known and older Kuremal’s kulfi dukaan. According to the attendant at Duli’s, these two shops (and a few others in the area) supply much of Delhi with kulfi. Duli supplies to the Ashok Hotel, the Taj, Bengali Market and Sagar and is 40 years old, he told us. There are 76 items on their menu card – not bad for a room with a freezer and a couple of plastic chairs. Don’t miss their fantastic stuffed kulfis (apple, orange, mango, kiwi and more). Duli Chand: 934 Kucha Pati Ram, Bazaar Sita Ram (2323-5926, 98102-02990); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily noon- 8pm. Kuremal Mohanlal Kulfiwale: 1165-66 Kucha Pati Ram, Bazaar Sita Ram (2323-2430, 98105- 40105); Metro Chawri Bazaar; Mon- Sat noon-8pm.

Old Famous Jalebiwala The name speaks for itself at this century-old counter. They also have samosas, but it’s the rope-like jalebis (even bigger jalebas available on request) that steal the show. 1795 Chandni Chowk, corner of Dariba (2325-6973, 98110-20546); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 8am-10pm.

Halwais Shahjahanabad boasts of several historical sweet shops – from well-known Ghantewala (established in 1790) on Chandni Chowk itself to Shireen Bhawan tucked away in Chitli Qabar. In between are Annapurna Bhandar (the second Bengali sweets shop in sheher, established after Kamala Sweets closed in 1940), Chaina Ram in Fatehpuri, Kanwarji’s (from 1830, known for its dalbiji) and others. Traditional Delhi sweets that are commonly available are pista or kaju lauj, habshi halwa (brown, burnt-milk halwa), gond halwa and laddoo, sohan halwa and ghee ghewar (in the winter). Ghantewala: 1862 Chandni Chowk (2328-0490); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 8am- 9pm. Shireen Bhawan: 1466 Chitli Qabar, Jama Masjid (98187- 93124); Metro Chawri Bazaar; daily 8am-9pm. Annapurna Bhandar: 1463 Chandni Chowk (2396- 2050, 2386-8466); Metro Chandni Chowk; Mon-Sat 8am-8.30pm, Sun 8am-noon. Chaina Ram Sindhi Halwai: 6499-6470 Fatehpuri Chowk, Fatehpuri (2395-0747); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 7am- 8.30pm. Kanwarji’s: 1972-73 Chandni Chowk, corner of Parathewali Gali (2326-1318); Metro Chandni Chowk; daily 9am-9pm.

Catering and cooking

Besides the fact that several of the chaatwalas and halwais that we’ve listed above will cater events (just call and ask), there are a number of bawarchis and caterers who cook for parties. You’ll have to go once to discuss your requirements – you’ll be given a shopping list and you’ll have to come back to pick up your food. We’ve been assured the effort is worth it.

Babu Khan South Delhi’s old standby for biryani, supposed to be descended from Shahjahan’s bawarchis. Good in a pinch. Matka Pir, next to Pragati Maidan (2337- 1454); Metro Pragati Maidan; daily 8am-8pm.

Gunjan Goela Daughter of an old Delhi family, Goela caters sheher ka khana for weddings and parties. She can also arrange khomchawallas for chaat and desserts from the old city. Call (98113- 49055, 92120-35323).

Hakim Bawarchi Makes excellent biryani and qorma and comes recommended by both Goela and Verma. Rodgran, Lal Kuan. Head past the Hamdard Dawakhana, reach a corner with a man selling gajak, turn left and ask; Metro Chawri Bazaar.

Idris Sohail Hashmi recommended Idris’ qorma and biryani to us. Churiwalan, opposite Metro Guest House, 639 Churiwalan, near Jama Masjid; Metro Chawri Bazaar.

SM Zaki Based in Civil Lines. Recommended by Goela. Qorma, biryani and nihari for under ten people. Call (98991-06206).

(Pairs well with this story on old Delhi drinks.)

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, November 2008.

Published: November 14, 2008