[Old Delhi] Wandering through the narrow streets of Old Delhi is an adventure that engages all the senses.
The sights are a reminder of the bygone era, whereas the jarring sounds of the traffic form a unique medley that is out of tune and overpowering at the same time.
However, it is also in these streets that one comes across the most enchanting of smells.
If the desire for business is what drives the people of Old Delhi, food is the lifeline that gives them the energy to go about their daily routine.
Old Delhi’s historical importance reflects through its many buildings and gastronomic offerings that have satisfied cravings of the most ardent gourmands.
Places like Karim’s are iconic, often written about in books, but there’s a whole lot more to the culinary delights of Old Delhi, especially in the area around Chowri Bazaar and Jama Masjid.
Here are 10 outstanding haunts that welcome food lovers from near and far with their exceptional preparations, promising insight into Old Delhi’s gastronomic heritage that in some cases, is centuries old.
Kuremal Mohan Lal
Shop No. 526, Kucha Pati Ram, Sitaram Bazar Rd, Chawri Bazar, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Kuremal Mohan Lal
Old Delhi’s Most Famous Kulfi
The sign above Kuremal Mohan Lal states that it is “Old Delhi’s Most Famous Kulfi”, and there is no debating that.
In fact, it is safe to say that you won’t find a more enjoyable kulfi in the whole of Delhi.
Their speciality is the stuffed Kulfi (Rs 250, SGD4.90). An exclusive fruity pleasure that includes stuffing a mango, orange, or pomegranate with kulfi to give it a natural flavour.
There’s a refreshing lightness to the Kulfi served here that calms the mind and makes for the perfect respite during hot and humid days.
Operational since 1906, Kuremal’s mango stuffed kulfi is a winner during the mango season, however, do try the orange one which I found to be a lot more interesting in terms of taste and texture.
Old Kheer Shop
2867, Bazar Sirkiwalan, Chawri Bazar, Chandni Chowk, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Old Kheer Shop
Silky Smooth and Creamy Kheer
The quaintly named Old Kheer Shop has no menu. It sells only one item – Kheer which is a type of rice pudding (Rs 30, SGD0.60).
Silky smooth, creamy, perfectly sugared, and having a slightly thicker consistency than the usual kheer found elsewhere, Old Kheer Shop has been serving this sweet obsession since the 1880s.
The charm of eating at the shop is its no-fuss atmosphere, very much like most eateries in the area. The kheer is simmered overnight over a wood fire, giving it a distinctive smoky tang, and it’s worth having it early, for once the daily batch it over, there’s nothing available till the next day.
Another exciting aspect of the shop is its location. As the birthplace of India’s iconic actress from the yesteryears, Madhubala, there’s a sense of cinematic nostalgia to the place, even if it doesn’t come across in the shop’s modest appearance.
House No. 112 Chowk Barshahbulla, Chawri Bazar, New Delhi, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Shyam Sweets
Gratifying Muttar Ki Kachoris
The rush at Shyam Sweets on a weekday morning speaks volumes. As a favourite local breakfast joint, its Muttar Ki Kachori (Rs 40, SGD0.80) is always in demand and simply fabulous.
Kachori, a commonly eaten fried snack, is characteristically stuffed with ingredients such as onions and potatoes, but here it is packed with peas into a delicious eat with a flaky exterior.
As for the story behind their bestseller, it was India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru who suggested that Shyam Sweets should make kachoris filled with peas.
The rest, as they say, is history, and now people from all parts of the city descend here to savour in the slightly spicy but truly gratifying Muttar Ki Kachoris served with aloo ki sabzi (potatoes in gravy).
Shop No. 4 & 5, Matia Mahal Road, Opposte Jama Masjid Gate No. 1, Matia Mahal, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Kallan Sweets
Famous Paneer Jalebis Sweets
An Indian sweets shop at a prime location opposite Jama Masjid, Kallan Sweets is famous for its Paneer Jalebis (Rs 50, SGD1.00) made especially during Ramadan.
Thicker than the average jalebi, and having a softer composition, Paneer Jalebis are quite sugary and filling. While okay as a one-time eat, I do much prefer the traditional, crunchier, jalebis over these.
Kallan’s keema samosas are also recommended; however, it comes wrapped up in a gunjiya and not in the standard triangular shape of a samosa.
Urdu Bazar Rd, Jama Masjid, Old Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Lalu Kababee
Tender Buffalo Meat Kebabs
The residents of Delhi take their kebabs seriously, and whenever a place gains notoriety for its kebabs, you can be sure there’s something special about it.
Lalu Kababee has the softest, melt in the mouth, buffalo meat kebabs (Rs 50, SGD1.00) I’ve ever had in my life.
Served with raw onions, it was the butter “gravy” alongside the kebabs that surprised me the most.
A relatively recent trend, the butter makes the kebab lighter on the stomach and along with the mint chutney gives it a distinct taste.
Sharbat E Mohabbat
Shop No. 1125, Matia Mahal Road, Opposite Jama Masjid Gate No. 1, Matia Mahal, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Sharbat E Mohabbat
Refreshing Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa
Food and drinks are often about novel ideas that seem to click with the masses. Eating out during the summer months of Delhi can be tiresome, and it is for this reason, Sharbat E Mohabbat is such a hit with the locals.
The tiny eatery is known for concocting the refreshing Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa (Rs 20, SGD0.40), a mixture consisting of Roohafza and milk along with sugar syrup, for that extra bit of sweetness, and pieces of watermelon to add some crunch and fruity flavour.
Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa is mostly available during summer or around the time of Ramadan as a favourite drink to have after iftar.
Haji Mohd. Hussain Fried Chicken
No.113, Matia Mahal Rd, Bazar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Haji Mohd. Hussain Fried Chicken
Crispy Jama Masjid Fried Chicken
On the one hand, there’s the famous international brand KFC, whereas in Old Delhi they have what is now popularly recognised as JFC – Jama Masjid Fried Chicken (Rs 100, SGD2.00).
The most amazing deep-fried chicken cooked in three steps, Haji Mohd. Hussain’s restaurant has become a significant stop for any food trail through Old Delhi.
The chicken, first marinated in spices and chickpea flour, is then shallow-fried to give the outer skin some colour. Cut into smaller pieces; the chicken is finally deep fried once the order comes in. As a result, the final pieces are hot and tender from the inside and crunchy from the outside, every single time.
Besides the crispiness of the chicken, it is the finger licking yellow chutney, another in-house speciality, that accentuates this dish to a whole different level, making it the best fried chicken you will ever have, guaranteed.
Haji Sharbati Nihari
722, Haveli Azam Khan, Jama Masjid, Matia Mahal, Chandni Chowk, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Haji Sharbati Nihari
Slow-cooked Meat In Tasty Stock
Nihari is a rich and intensely flavourful dish that comprises of overnight, slow-cooked meat in a tasty stock. Generally, nihari (Rs 100, SGD2.00) is a breakfast dish, and most restaurants run out of their stock around breakfast time.
During the month of Ramadan though, Nihari is also available in the evening and makes for a wholesome dinner after breaking of the fast – iftar.
Legend has it that there are still shops in Old Delhi that take some of the day’s stock and add it to the next batch. This would mean that their present stock has flavours that date back years, possibly even decades.
Haji Sharbati Nihari is an underrated corner shop in one of the tiny side lanes opposite Jama Masjid that serves one of the most delicious versions of the nihari. The rotis that come along, to dip into the gravy, are fluffy and soft, complimenting the meatiness of the dish.
Dil Pasand Biryani Point
887, Kalan Mehal, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110002
Google Maps – Dil Pasand Biryani Point
Fragrant Biryani Rice with Marinated Meats
Situated close to Haji Sharbati Nihari’s shop, in an even smaller street, is Dil Pasand Biryani Point. Just like the locals are particular about their kebabs, they are equally possessive about the Niryanis they like, and Dil Pasand ranks amongst the best in the area.
The slow-cooked Biryani rice has a beautiful fragrance to it, whereas chunks of marinated meats add to the wholesomeness of this royal dish.
Biryani goes well with raita, but Dil Pasand’s Biryani is equally tasty when eaten on its own.
While it’s possible to eat at Dil Pasand, most patrons prefer to get their chicken, or lamb biryani (Rs 160, SGD3.15) packed to take home and eat.
Cool Point – Purani Dukan Zene Wali
972, Bazaar Matia Mahal, Opposite Jama Masjid Gate 1, Jama Masjid, Delhi 110006
Google Maps – Cool Point
Delectable Shahi Tukdaa
Cool Point might have a rather modern name, but it has been serving the most delectable Shahi Tukdaa, which is deep fried bread topped with cream, and homemade mango ice-cream (Rs 60, SGD1.20) for close to four decades.
It is a small shop with no seating, situated in front of a staircase, because of which it is famously known as Purani Dukaan Zene Wali (The old shop with the stairs).
The best way to go about making the most of your visit here is to have the shaahi tukdaa and mango ice-cream together.
This combination of hot and cold makes the dish a year-round favourite and definitely one to have after a lovely meal consisting of some biryani or fried chicken.
* Written by DFD’s India Correspondent @tickereatstheworld. Raghav is a travel and food writer who enjoys the thrill of discovering new places and writing about them. When he is not working, he can be found driving around his two kids from one birthday party to another.