A self-guided vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk with family, on a Sunday, threw many surprises our way. The 400- year-old Chandni Chowk stretch was a rhapsody of vintage frames, divine flavours, mazy lanes, bygones dotted with bloodshed, ornate doors and a cauldron of varied beliefs and faiths. Come with me as I discover the wonderful culinary alleys of Chandni Chowk of Old Delhi in this blog post.
Disclaimer: I have not been compensated monetarily or in kind, to blog about this tour. This is just a humble attempt to help readers find these eateries on a self-guided vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk.
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A vegetarian food walk across Chandni Chowk of Old Delhi
Mist engulfed us as we set foot on the almost empty lanes of Chandni Chowk in the early hours of Sunday. The just-washed portico in front of SisGanj Sahib Gurudwara glistened, by the shaft of rays that waded its way through a blanket of thick fog. As a tonga passed by a beautifully intricate structure, I was instantly transported back to the lanes of Secunderabad around the Pot Market, that ooze with an old world charm similar to this and where I often went with family to pamper the taste buds.
For one, I have always had a love-hate relationship with Delhi. I have never been comfortable walking the streets here, strolling the malls nor for that matter interacting with people here. But, my latest self-guided vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk made me instantly fall in love with this old city of Shahjahanabad, the 7th city to be added during the Mughal times to make the present day Delhi.
I had associated this part of Delhi with non-vegetarian food for long. So, it was wonderful to discover a plethora of vegetarian food options in the lanes of Chandni Chowk
The famed vegetarian affair of an alley
Most of the shutters in this commercial area were rolled down, being a Sunday, as we made our way beyond the Fountain Chowk. A blue board read Paranthe Wali Gali and we felt as if we had found our treasure too soon! This was our first ever venture into Chandni Chowk, so, we cross-checked with a couple of others if it indeed was the famed lane that is frequented by celebrities. With an affirmation, we meandered through a curved alley which was dirty and murky yet much cleaner than the basements of glittering malls!
A strong aroma of spices combined with a waft of boiled potatoes and a musty stench of the previous day’s litter made us realize that we were in the famed ‘Paranthe Wali Gali’, a cluster of 4-5 shops( all run by the relatives and cousins of Pt.Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan) dishing out piping hot paranthas with myriad stuffings . I had expected somewhat better environs for an eatery though! The insides are kept clean while the lanes are a bit messy.
The shop of Pt.Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan was our easiest choice, as it was the only one buzzing with people on a Sunday morning, while the other outlets were still getting the raw materials ready. Grabbing a seat was a bit of a task, though, we were quite early. However, the toughest part was to choose what to eat. They had umpteen choices and stuffings beyond imagination. And, some weird ones like Banana stuffed Paratha too!
We tried not to be adventurous and opted for the mutter-parantha and the dry fruits parantha, as this was just the first stop on our self-guided walking food tour of Chandni Chowk. After all, we had a plethora of vegetarian options yet to be tasted.
Every order of paratha here comes with at least 4-5 accompaniments from varied chutneys to bhaji. The stuffed paranthas are (sadly) deep-fried in oil. Of course, this did not deter us from relishing the fare to the fullest. I am not very fond of bananas, so could not fathom the imli (tamarind) chutney with banana chops in it. The sweetish pumpkin gravy was yum and so did the green chutney.
Tip: Do try their mutter parantha and dry-fruit parantha!
Cost : Rs.60 – Rs.70 per parantha
Armed with a satisfied tummy, we headed out of the shop and took a left turn towards the Kinari Bazar to continue with our vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk. The by-lanes and alleys lead into old palatial haveli- many still occupied, a handful in a dilapidated state while a majority of them have been turned into warehouses. But one aspect that binds them all was the charming old intricately carved wooden doors. Doors of every possible colour are to be found in these ginnels that branched out of Kinari Bazar.
Food for thought at Naughara
One such alley led us into the Naughara Haveli. A street of nine palatial mansions belonging to the Jain community. This lane was unlike the other alleys of Chandni Chowk. Adorned with yesteryear havelis in row-house format and with its myriad doors and windows, it made us go silent with its brilliance.
In this fast-paced modern world with changing technology and a crunch for space, it’s become quite impossible to find such ancient residential spaces that ooze old world charm, at least in urban clusters.
At the end of this lane is a Jain temple in white marble. I was reminded of the agraharams in TamilNadu, which has a mandatory Hindu temple at the far end of the street. This is what community living was all about until the Colonials tried to create rift by bringing the caste angle into Indian society.
Devour on the scrapings
After a quick walk towards the Jama Masjid, we managed a crowd-free tour of the largest mosque in India. Then, decided to double back towards the Kinari Bazar and walk straight towards the other stretch of this Bazar that leads to Maliwara and Nai Sadak.
Enroute we did halt at Hazari Lal Jain Khurchan Wale to indulge in some Khurchan and Rabri. Though this shop hardly has any space to stand, we made sure to eat away till the last drop.
Khurchan is the leftover of boiled and reduced milk that is collected carefully. In the making of the sweet dish called Khurchan, the top layer of thickened milk are assimilated and layered one above another, pressed a bit and the scrapings are added as the topmost layer along with slivered pistachios. As sugar is added after making this dish, it imparts a gooey texture to the innermost layer while the top-most khurchan layer looks deceptively dry and particulate. It is so much like the Kalakand sweet yet different.
Rabri here is again divine as bits of khurchan too gets added in it!
Trivia: A box of Khurchan bought from this shop was gifted by Late.Shri.Atal Bihari Vajpayee (ex-Prime Minister of India) to his counterpart Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan, on the latter’s famous friendship bus-ride. And, what was gifted in return by Pakistanis? Any guesses?
Biting into crispy and spicy Kachoris
A little further is the famous Jung Bahadur Kachoriwala who doles out crispy Kachoris from his hole-in-the-wall shop. The accompaniment was too tangy and spicy even for a Hyderabadi like me who loves spicy food. Better to avoid the chopped green chillies for a more delectable experience.
Tip: There is hardly any space to stand near this shop and relish the delicious snack. We did visit this place on a Saturday(the next week again), and with over-flowing sewage and the constant vehicular traffic, the experience was quite unpleasant. Maybe, the best option would be to get the Kachoris packed and eat at ease at a distance, later, if you are not visiting the place on a Sunday.
Cost: Rs.40 for a half plate (one kachori with aloo sabzi)
Tasting the indigenously baked cookies
A divine waft of freshly baked cookies pulled us towards it, as we were digging into the Kachoris and we soon found ourselves in front of a push-cart vendor who was baking Nankhatai the indigenous way!
The Nankhatai are indigenous to India and is a modified form of the colonial cookies. A crumbly mix of sooji ( coarse semolina), flour, sugar and leavening agents with a hint of cardamom is baked to perfection and results in delectable Nankhatai.
These Nankhatais were warm and soft without any frivolous add-ons…And, trust me when I say ‘No one can eat just one’.
Tip: Buy more than a dozen of the freshly baked ones always!
Cost: Rs.40/- for 100gms
You may want to pair up these cookies with a cup of hot chai(tea), brewed and prepared the Indian way from the various tea-stalls like the one below.
A date with the rich cousin of Poori
Getting a dozen of the Nankhatais packed, we moved forward. Finding a crowd huddled around a corner shop, we peeked through and to our surprise, a new batch of Bedmi-Poori had just arrived to be placed in a huge-colander.
There was no name board to this outlet, but then it was doing brisk business for a Sunday morning. For readers not familiar with Bedmi Poori, it is nothing but a rich and heavy cousin of the usual puffed poori (deep-fried unleavened Indian bread). With ground urad(black lentil) and some grounded spice added to the wheat flour in its making, it becomes a bit more flavoursome. Often served with spicy aloo subzi (potato gravy), Bedmi Poori is the quintessential breakfast item of North-India.
We bought just a plate of Bedmi Poori to taste and it seemed average. Nothing extraordinary, I have tasted better ones in the gullies of Varanasi. Also, do let me know if there is a better home for these in the gullies of Chandni Chowk, please?
Rendezvous with an ancient richness
My son and I were excited to spot a mobile kiosk of ‘Daulat ki Chaat’. We knew about this unique ‘chaat’ through one of the food shows on television and the hubby was confused as to why his family members were excited about seeing a push-cart!
I had completely forgotten to research the whereabouts of this dessert while planning this vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk. And, through sheer coincidence, we chanced upon the winter speciality of ‘Daulat Ki Chaat‘.
For the uninitiated, this dessert is Vegetarian India’s answer to the souffle! Made from whisking cream and buffalo milk for hours together and assimilating the resultant froth, this melt-in-your-mouth dessert is what dreams of ‘people on a keto diet’ are made of…if, I may say. Because it absolutely does not contain sugar in it. Still, tastes yum!
Once assimilated, the fluffy froth is topped with saffron, slivered pistachio/almonds, and sometimes decorated with foils of edible silver. It is said that the early morning dew is allowed to set on this snowy-white surface and that is what gives this dessert an ethereal taste. I completely agree with this even if it is just a legend!
The richness of Daulat Ki Chaat gets enhanced when sprinkled with bhoora (castor sugar) and khoya flakes, just before being served. So, if you want to avoid the sugar, you may very well inform the vendor before.
For Rs.40/- per bowl, you may taste this tasty and fluffy bundle of clouds, aptly termed the Daulat ki Chaat, which leaves a rich taste and a wealth of gastronomic sensations that linger long after the dessert is savoured. Let me remind you, that this dessert is available only during the winters in the allies of Chandni Chowk and parts of Old Delhi. You may find the same in parts of UP by the name of Malai Makkan or Malaiyyo, again only during the winters.
Tip: Legend has that the buffalo milk is usually whisked under a full moon sky and the morning dew is allowed to set on the resulting froth. In modern times, with the availability of refrigeration processes, I am sure the chillness factor is taken care of! However, we did taste it twice-once in the early hours and later in the day(from a different vendor), and trust me when I say that it tastes the best in the early hours when there is still a nip in the air. So, the legend may still hold true!
Do not forget to shop in the glittery Kinari Bazar before heading out onto Nai Sarak!
Lassi for all seasons
We waded our way through the Nai Sarak and strolled the rest of the stretch towards the Fatehpuri Masjid (Chandni Chowk spans from this masjid to the Red Fort on the other end). Located squarely at the corner of the row of shops is the Amritsari Lassi wala who is quite famous for the variously flavoured lassis he churns out.
I am not a big fan of lassi but then the lassi here was not too sweetish and thus made me taste different flavours, more than a spoonful. However, the husband and son think otherwise. They prefer the Aggarwal Lassiwala in the Delhi Cantonment to this lassi!
Just then, overheard a food-walk leader nearby giving his verdict ( read diktat) to a couple of foreign tourists, that, this is supposedly the best lassi in the whole of India. The poor chap seemed to be obsessed with his Dilli for sure!
Tip: Taste the Kesar -Badam lassi.
Cost : Rs.40 -Rs.60
The biggest paratha in Dilli
As we strolled towards the Church Mission Road, bypassing the Khari Baoli ( the largest spice market in Asia), we halted at the famous Kake Di Hatti for our lunch ( Do I hear you whispering under your breath branding us as hoggers). Like every other legendary eatery in this area, this too has been around for decades and seemed to be perpetually overcrowded. We had to wait for at least 30 mins to gain entry to their upstairs seating. But, trust me when I say that our lunch was worth the wait and the best on this vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk.
Unlike the parathas of the Parathen wali gali, the stuffed paratha and naan here are not deep fried but made the traditional way in tandoor (clay ovens) and allowed to be baked to perfection. One paratha/naan serves two people easily because they are as large as the huge thalis (traditional steel plate). The Rajma and Jeera rice were again in huge quantity and that is when we realized that this outlet believes in good customer service with top-class quality and quantity at reasonable prices. And, this definitely is the USP of the Kakke Di Hatti started way back in 1942 and the owners have definitely retained the taste and quality transcending time.
Tip: Buy just one stuffed paratha(naan) first. Ask the waiters if not sure about the quantity.
The rich and creamy heady mix
Now, how could we not round up our scrumptious lunch with some more dessert? So, we ordered a rabri-faluda from the next door neighbour of Kakke Di Hatti.
For the uninitiated, Rabri is thickened and sweetened milk while Faluda is vermicelli noodles. Rabri-faluda is a combo dessert and is quite rich in calories! The Giani di Hatti definitely serves one of the richest and the creamiest rabri-faluda in this old part of Delhi. Be conscious of the quantity when ordering, as one glass may seem too much for a person to gobble!
Cost: Rs.80 per glass
Some more delicious finishers!
If you are not fond of the rabdi-faluda dessert , then, you may opt to dig into the dahi bhallas(fried lentil dumplings soaked in curds and served with spices and chutneys) of Natraj Dahi Bhalla Corner and take the lane next to it to reach the Chandni Chowk Metro station to end this vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk. But not before, you taste the totem…so, read further!
Tasting the Totem
Hot Jalebi is ubiquitous( especially in winters) across North-India. It reaches a cult status during this season and is a totem for foodies like me. I love them in every possible form and taste- thin or thick, crispy or soggy, a bit sour or sweetish, with or without its famous accompaniment-Rabri and dunked or not dunked in hot creamy milk!
If you are a devotee of these crispy, coiled and fried lentil batter steeped in sugary syrup then you must taste the ones that this almost 150-year-old Old Jalebi Wala dishes out piping hot almost every other minute in winters. The jalebi here is neither too sweet nor too sour but just perfect with a divine smell of pure ghee (clarified butter).Pure Indulgence on this vegetarian food tour of Chandi Chowk!
Tip: Avoid rabri to savour the taste of the Jalebi. Opt for the mutter samosa (Green-peas samosa) if you want to taste the samosas here. I found the samosas a bit expensive though!
Cost: Rs.50 for 100gm of Jalebi; Rs.25 for Matter Samosa
Remember to shop for spices and dry-fruits at Asia’s largest wholesale spice market – Khari Baoli, before you head out of the famed Chandni Chowk area of Old Delhi. You would find heaps of these nuts and dry-fruits stocked in a varied price range en route Kakke Di Hatti. An apt way to end this vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk for sure!
This definitely is not a comprehensive post of vegetarian outlets in Chandni Chowk. I am going to keep updating this post on Vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk, as and when I try, test and taste some more delicacies from the umpteen outlets tucked away in the alleys and ginnels of Old Delhi!
A burst of flavours, colours, texture and recipes transcending generations is what I discovered (as any other connoisseur would) across Chandni Chowk. The many shades of breakfast and snacks, churned out religiously and skillfully, day after day, in unfathomable quantities, from these hole-in-the-wall food outlets are sure to pale out the ‘so-called-certified’ five-star gastronomic experts!
You may follow the places, outlets and route as suggested in the map below. Alternately, you may also opt for varied food tours conducted by tour operators and individuals as these serpentine alleys may be overwhelming for the first-timers. Hope you enjoyed reading this self-guided food tour of Chandni Chowk. Do let me know your impressions on the same in the comments’ section.
Do’s and Don’ts in Chandni Chowk
- Wear comfortable walking shoes on walking tours. You may have to walk for 2-3 hours depending on the pit-stops.
- Always carry bottled water with you and avoid drinking water at food outlets.
- Be cautious about your belongings while walking the crowded streets.
- Better to dress conservatively while visiting the Jama Masjid and other religious places.
- Since you would be sampling too many dishes on food tours, better to buy just half a plate wherever possible and opt to share.
- Some of the dishes may be too spicy for non-Indians. Do carry some toffees and chocolates handy!
How to reach Chandni Chowk
- The best way is to take the Delhi Metro and get down at Chandni Chowk Metro Station. Exit through Gate no.1 which is nearby to the fountain chowk.
- Alternately, you may get down at the Red Fort metro station and catch one of the batteries operated rickshaws to drop you at the Paranthen Wali Gali or wherever you prefer to be dropped in Chandni Chowk. These rickshaws charge Rs.10 or Rs.20/- per head depending on the distance of the drop.
Best time to visit
- November to March is the best time to indulge in this vegetarian food tour of Chandni Chowk. Also the season for sighting the Daulat Ki Chaat kiosks!
Other nearby attractions
You may club your food tour with a visit to other historical places like the Red Fort, the religious shrines and ancient mansions in and around Chandni Chowk.
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