Get me a food lover from Delhi who has not explored the streets of Old Delhi in search of the rich delicacies they serve and I would promise to make him fall in love with the food the oldest part of our city serves. Every year during Ramadan our food lover group takes a walk through the famed street of Matia Mahal (opposite Gate No.1 of Jama Masjid) during Iftar time to sample the amazing food the people of the area have to offer.
Venue : Food Walk around Jama Masjid area, Old Delhi
Duration : Ramadan
Time : Iftar
Now, this experience is neither very innovative nor is it that the first time anyone has done it. Consequently countless blogs, food walk pictures, opinions and write ups are available online. In fact I did a blog post too one year ago with a lot of tempting pictures and added to the sea of other posts about Old Delhi food walks, which are already floating in the cyberspace. So I asked myself, “What was the point of keep on adding to the similar (sometimes identical) posts?” And, the point is that the hangover, from the food, hospitality and the passion to serve you, is so high, that even after a week of experiencing it, I cannot get it out of my system unless I document it.
The best time to start for me has always been around 7.30 pm, just after Iftar when the fasting Muslim community breaks their fast at sunset. More so, because the festival mood is setting in, the shops getting ready for their shoppers and the fresh smoke from the recently flamed charcoal of the food stalls. The imposing architecture of Jama Masjid against the twilight greets one majestically as one walks to the famed eateries housed in the by-lanes of this mosque.
This time we went in for full on Non-vegetarian fare and took to some not so well-known eateries branching out in the by-lanes from the Matial Mahal lane or as one of my foodie friends fondly calls it the Food Gully. The food has always amazed me but the large hearts of the men cooking and serving is something which will always touch a cord with you. The warm hospitality and their welcoming nature would make you feel as if you are a guest in their own home, which is actually true. These are the real torch bearers of the age-old Mughlai cuisine and for them this everyday fare has become a second nature. The tastes, textures, use of spices and the smoothness of their cuisine has remained consistent and no matter which restaurant or street side stall you walk into, you would want to come back for more.
The best part is that there are no NO pretentious servers, NO unnecessary waiting in lines, NO fancy cuisines with complicated names & no paying through the nose for a meal. This is where it gets as real as possible and when you experience real food from the “heart” you would not prefer it any other way? Also, surprisingly we observed that the lanes were very clean and even though people worry about the hygiene issue, we were surprised that this did not even concern us standing on the side of a road eating a hearty meal.
The food as always is the best part of going to Jama Masjid and walking up to Matia Mahal, you would not be able to resist the flavours emitting from Lalu Kababee’s charcoal grill. If you have no qualms about eating buffalo meat or buff (commonly known as bade ka meat in the area) then the Seekh & Boti Kebabs here are a definite yes for you. The meat in the Seekh Kebabs is like butter, melting in your mouth and leaving an exceptional after taste to savour. Grilled to a dark brown colour and burnt at some places this is the real deal. With a combination of well-done Boti Kebabs next to them and served with Onion and mint chutney, the whole plate for a cost of Rs. 50/- each is a much more than a steal.
With some food in our bellies we had that extra spring in our step and the muggy weather along with the heat could not deter us, though the Sharbat wala down the Matia Mahal road (20 meters ahead of Aslam Chicken) was a life saver. We started with a wonderful concoction of the Watermelon-Roohafza-Milk-Ice cooler and then tried the Apple-Kesar-Milk-Ice. Two glasses each and we were “Eating fit” once again. Two sizes of glasses for Rs. 20 and 10 are available, and you would be offered a spoon in the end to eat the fruit leftover from the Sharbat.
Turn around and you will spot the cycle wale bhaiya, who has set up a stall now and I finally got to know his name. Nadeem Bhai and his brother setup the assortment of food in huge utensils full of some great mutton dishes. They start around sunset to finish much before sunrise every day in Ramadan. Specialties from Nadeem Bhai’s kitchen are Keema … Mirch Keema … Daal Ghosth … Brain Curry. One better than the other, devoid of any singular/ master gravy and the Bheja (brain) took my heart away. Polished it all off with the Moti roti and a couple of Roomali roti (Indian bread as thin as a handkerchief). The love and hospitality they showered is definitely worth a mention. From arranging a make shift table in the middle of a busy road, to asking us to eat more and not stop, the welcoming nature was heartfelt and devoid of any vested or business interest. You cannot miss him on the Matia Mahal, Chitli Kabar chowk and you should not miss him.
Nadeem Bhai’s stall did upset one thing and that was that we ate more than we anticipated and for the rest of the evening we had to tread carefully. But No complains here and our next stop to Pehelwan Biryani was a good and sweaty walk, which helped us work up an appetite. The Biryani is one of the best I have tasted and Pehelwan Miya sits at the Degh himself and serves you a plate full with chunks of meat for just Rs. 50/-. The man again would insist you sit and eat, but you cannot help standing next to him, chatting with him while you eat and listen to his stories. A big man, with a large heart and a lot of character on his benign face, arguably one of the most flavourful biryani I have had in my city.
A short hop from there is the Haji Shabrati Nihari Wale and if you don’t mind buff Nihari, then come directly to this place. The Nihari served with smooth gravy was soft and so smooth that it came apart by a single touch of fingers and melted in the mouth. The Magaj (brain) masala is something which I can promise you have never tasted before. An innovative way, which is not for the faint hearted, but if you are a fan of the brain curries around the city, there is no way you can miss this one. I still thank my friend who introduced me to this joint and you can obviously thank me when you visit it. Stand out and eat and you would be treated to the locals coming in to collect their fare, much to your amusement and entertainment. Good food and great people. This is a place I would be going back again and again.
We had decided to stop by at Aslam Chicken and then Karim’s on the way back, but after this carnage were so full, that we skipped Aslam and finally landed up at Karim’s to park ourselves in the air-conditioned dining halls and sip some Thumbs Up. Sadly, this time the standard at Karim was not upto our liking, though fortunately we had stuffed ourselves already and did not miss much. Last year my experience at Karim had been much better, but might go and try them again soon.
This much stuffing of the stomach requires a digestive and what better way to do it than to try the Paan at the corner of the road. Walking back out I wanted something cold and could not resist the Ganne ka ras (Sugarcane juice) at one of the many stalls outside Jama Masjid.
Having eaten so much in these bylanes, the food never disappoints but what elevates the experience is the warmth and “mehman nawaazi” (hospitality) of these people who serve you from the heart and insist that you eat not only to your but their heart’s content too.