Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Summer didn't come knocking at our doors this year - but barged in like a rude guest. So, as the temperature soared, we were discussing cold desserts in a bid to douse the fire that raged around us.

That was when I heard about the famous kulfiwallah of Chawri Bazar who sold the most exotic kulfis. He had a kulfi peppered with faalsey, those small berries that make excellent sherbets, a malai kulfi, made with cream, and a rabri kulfi, with thickened milk.

I was dying to have some of his kulfis, so I set out one scorching day last week to try them out for myself. I reached Chawri Bazar and went to the spot where I was told I'd find him - only to find him missing. A few questions later, I learnt that the venerable gentleman was no more.

I felt bad - not just because he had gone up to the great hunting ground of all kulfiwallahs, but because I'd never had the chance of eating his famed stuff.

But since life goes on, I decided to look up an old friend of mine in the region - a small restaurant called Shakahari.

When I first came to Delhi from Western Uttar Pradesh many years ago, one of the things that I missed the most in this big bad city was urad ki dal. This was our staple diet in the village where we lived - nearly every meal consisted of rotis and urad dal seasoned with a generous helping of asli ghee. In Delhi, I was amazed to find that few restaurants served this dal that I had grown up on.

That was when somebody told me about Shakahari. For me, there was just one great reason to go there - it served urad ki dal, and made the way I liked it.

So, when there were no kulfis to be had, I walked up to Shakahari, which is right next to the Chawri Metro station.

I went up a narrow staircase and sat down in the place where I've had a great many nostalgic meals. Of course, I asked for a plate of urad dal (Rs.42), which came with very small besan ki rotis, cooked in the tandoor and dunked in ghee (Rs.4 each).

Rare dishes

The good thing about Shakahari is that it serves all those things that we don't see in restaurants anymore. Where does one get sukha matar - a spicy dish of peas? And where does one get aloo-palak, spinach cooked with potatoes?

Shakahari has all this, and more. I always have their roasted eggplant (baigan ka bharta) or spicy bhindi (fried okra) - for Rs.40 - and a boondi raita for Rs.27.

The food is excellent, cooked the way bhabhis and chachis did in the old days. I had my lunch and then sauntered out for a sweet dish.

There was no kulfi, but I appeased my soul with a plate of cold rabri. Be happy with what you have, I told myself.


I like stories with happy endings. One day, while walking past Lal Kuan on my way to Chandni Chowk, I came across a strange sight - a shop with wooden shutters. That was surprising for a couple of reasons. One, this was certainly an oddity in a society that suffered from a siege mentality and kept itself imprisoned behind iron gates and barbed wires. And, second, those who have seen sectarian clashes in Delhi will know that the Lal Kuan-Farash Khana area used to be a flashpoint for communal violence. So, in this area, any shop without iron shutters stood out like a sore thumb.

The wooden door - painted a bright green - stayed in my thoughts till I bumped into my friends from the Walled City - Guru Santosh and Salimbhai. I described the shop to them, gave a detailed map of where it was located and finally told them that I could smell the masalas in the air. The two perked up at once. "Oh, you mean, Sharmaji's masala shop," they said, in unison.

And then they guided me to the shop with the green doors. We walked up from Hauz Quazi towards Lal Kuan. We passed Sirkiwalan, and found the masala shop at the mouth of Kuccha Pandit. Shri Niwas and sons has been in business since the 1920s. The spices are popularly known as Qutub Minar masalas. The interesting thing about the shop is that it is a little lesson in secular harmony. The shop's masalas are used by all the Muslim bawarchis of the Old City for all kinds of non-vegetarian dishes. And those making the masalas are vegetarian Hindus. Prakash Sharma, who earlier worked for DCM, represents the present generation at the shop. And though a strict vegetarian himself, he keeps creating all kinds of exotic new masalas for die-hard carnivores. I have also picked up his masalas for aloo, rajmah and dahiwade, and found them excellent.

Delicious korma

The first time I went to the shop I picked up a mutton korma and a stew masala. I followed the directions - written on the packet - to the last T and created the most delicious korma my friends said they had ever eaten. Since then I have tried out the aloo-gosht, chicken and fish masalas and have always met with critical acclaim, and, occasionally, a burping ovation.

I have been going there regularly, picking up masalas for my kitchen, and for friends. On one such visit, I couldn't stop myself from asking Mr. Sharma why his shop had no steel shutters. He replied: "Do you think people who love their food would ever destroy my place? We have a common heritage - and we are a part of the same, composite culture." He said this in his mix of Hindi and Urdu, and I can't tell you how beautiful his words sounded. Have I told you that I love happy endings?

best kebabs in town

There is one street in Old Delhi that suddenly comes to life every evening, just when dusk is about to melt into an inky night. If you are a newcomer, you'd be surprised to see mobs of salivating men emerging from various lanes and by-lanes at around 7.30 in the evening, and heading for one particular corner. If you are an old Purani Dilli hand, you will say: ho hum, there go the city's kabab lovers.

The men - life members of the great kabab fan club - silently queue up and wait for their turn to reach the head of the line. And once they are there, they get to bite into the most succulent seekh kababs this side of Lucknow.

One had heard quite a bit about this fabled buff-meat kabab, which Old Delhi friends often spoke about, and usually in hushed whispers. So, one fine evening one decided that it was time to stand in the queue to be counted. Parking the car at the Ajmeri Gate side of the New Delhi Railway Station and hiring a rickshaw to take to Lal Kuan.


Night-time in Old Delhi is completely different from its day-time ambience. During the day, the lanes are engulfed by the hectic pace of its bustling markets. In the evening, little stalls come sprouting up, some with heavy deghs selling korma, some others with coal angithis, grilling tikkas and kababs, and a few with shiny pots of the heavenly rice pudding, phirni. The lights come flickering on, blurring out the rough edges of the fast-paced, commercial face of the Old City.

The moment one hits Hauz Quazi chowk, the nostrils start twitching, set into motion by the cocktail of rich aromas that come wafting in from all corners. Everywhere, people start coming out of the shadows in search of good food.

Popular kababwallah

One was in search of Moinuddin - the anointed king of the skewer, and some say the 10th Dan black-belter in kabab-making. From Hauz Quazi, one starts moving towards Lal Kuan till one comes across Hamdard Dawakhana. Right there, at the mouth of Gali Qasimjan - where the poet Ghalib lived - sits Moinuddin Ustad.

One had the first bite of his kabab, and realised what nirvana was all about. A plate costs about Rs. 15 and consists of four kababs, a sprinkling of masalas and a few drops of lemon juice, served with onion rings and a green chutney.

One has had spicy but rubbery kababs, soft and bland kababs but this is out of the world. The kabab is so soft that the teeth don't have much work to do. And it is so delicious that the taste-buds burst into a joyous jig.

A good kababchi has to know three things: the masala that goes into it, the ratio of fat to the minced meat and when to take the skewer out of the grill. Moinuddin clearly belongs to the select group of kababchis with a golden touch. For long years, old-timers of Delhi have been waxing eloquent about the late Maseeta kababchi, whose kababs were the stuff legends are made of. One can now tell them about Ustad Moinuddin. He showed the stairway to heaven

gola kebab

Gola kababs are incredibly soft and delicious, that is, if they are from a man known as Mian Sa'ab by food lovers of the Walled City.
We were talking about gola kababs one day when I was suddenly consumed by this galloping urge. In the middle of the conversation I felt like eating a fiery hot gola kabab. It was, of course, late at night, when all good kabab-sellers were gently snoring at home. So I drank some water and went quietly to bed, too. Tomorrow, I promised my whining stomach, tomorrow would be the day.

The next evening, when the sun showed signs of calling it a day, I set out from home. An hour - and a short drive, a metro ride and a rickshaw haul - later, I was in the Chitli Qabar area of Old Delhi, in search of my gola kabab-maker, known by food lovers as Mian Sa'ab. Now gola kababs are something out of this world. This is a kabab that is so soft that they need to bind it together with a twine of thread. And that is why, in some parts of the country, they call it a sutli kabab. There are not too many gola kabab-makers in the city any more. One of the more famous kababchis is Kala Baba - but he douses his kababs with chillies, which is why I try to avoid him these days.

Mian Sa'ab has his little barbeque spot right near a mosque opposite Dujana House. He sits there only in the evenings. If you start walking from Jama Masjid towards Chitli Qabar, you will find the mosque some 200 to 300 yards down the road. But his little place is so small that you can easily miss him. I would suggest that you keep your eyes and nostrils open when you go looking for him.

Incredibly soft

Gola kabas are incredibly soft - truly the melt-in-the-mouth kind. Made of buff, the meat is minced and beaten, mixed with all kinds of special masalas, put around the skewer and then tied together with a thread. Unlike, say, a seekh kabab which stays on a skewer, a gola kabab would disintegrate if you did not tie a twine around it. When it is put into a dona - along with slices of onions and a green chutney - it comes out as little dollops of kababs, and that, I suppose, explains the name. But the moment you touch it, it breaks into succulent little pieces.

A seekh of gola kabab costs Rs.2.50. I asked for 10 seekhs, got them packed and made for home. En route, I stopped by a nan-maker and got some rumalis. This is best eaten either on its own, or wrapped in a rumali. And, of course, it is heavenly if you eat it fresh off the seekh - it doesn't taste quite the same once it is cold. I asked Mian what he did to the kababs to make them so special. He just gave me a Sphinx-like smile. Trade secrets, said the smile, are best untold

biryani 2

Last week, I started getting withdrawal symptoms. I hadn't had a dose of good biryani for almost a month, and I was breaking out into a cold sweat. Life without succulent pieces of mutton mixed with aromatic rice seemed dull and dreary. So I followed my own motto: When biryanis start to haunt you, go to Purani Dilli.

So I went. One fine evening, when all of Old City was draped in lights, I alighted at the Chawri Bazar Metro Station with a gorge-or-die look in my eyes. I walked down to Matia Mahal, soaking in the ambience of a place that was teeming with life after a day of fasting. This is the Ramzan month, so the area around Jama Masjid was humming with people who were done with their iftaar and were moving around the well-lit bazaar, buying stuff for the morning sehri - when those on fast have an early morning meal.

Festive offers too

Roadside stalls were laid out with knick-knacks such as bright and colourful skullcaps. The lane was full of little eating stalls - selling anything from pakoras, dahi vadas and kababs to kheer and sewaiyan. There were people all around, and the air was festive. Between Jama Masjid and my destination, I learned three new swear words. I did salaam to many friends and reached Mota Biryaniwala's shop.

Manpasand Chatpati Biryani Point is the official name of the shop. But if you mention this name to any local, he would look you up and down and squirt a stream of paan juice into a ditch nearby and enrich your vocabulary with some interesting additions. For the fussy reader, the address is shop no. 701, Chowk Chitli Qabar, Haveli Azam Khan. If you are walking down Matia Mahal from Jama Masjid, you will reach Chitli Qabar after some 500 metres. On your left, at the mouth of Haveli Azam Khan, you will see this huge gentleman dishing out biryani from an equally big degh. Because of his ample girth, he is called Mota Biryaniwala.

After doing dua-salaam, I ordered one kilogram of biryani for Rs.40. It was put in a plastic bag, weighed and then handed over to me. I bought a few other goodies and made my way home. Needless to say, the food was delicious. Mota Biryaniwala's biryani is cooked with buff meat. The meat was soft and the rice had been richly flavoured with the juices of the meat and a bundle of spices. My visiting brother-in-law loved it and delayed his departure home by three days. I was happy with the biryani, too - but I was happier still to be back with my people

ahmed biryani

People have been looking forward to the Metro for different reasons. Some find it fast, some think it is inexpensive. But I love it for something else altogether. To me, the Metro is an easy map to good food. Some people think that a food-writer's job is all fun and games.

On the contrary, I can't tell you what all that I have to do to get to a small shop in Old Delhi. I park my car somewhere, take an autorickshaw or sometimes a rickshaw, then I walk some kilometres, carefully making my way between a row of stubborn donkeys (I mean the real, four-legged ones).

And then I finally reach that little shop which sells the most magnificent chaat.

Of course, I love all this, but the Metro does make travelling to Purani Dilli easier for me. This week I took the Metro from Rafi Marg and got down at Chawri Bazar. It took a few minutes, and I was whistling happily to myself when I reached my favourite chaat shop. I got a lot of stuff packed, and then headed back to New Delhi where a horde of hungry marauders awaited me. But I didn't know that I'd have to stand for half an hour at the ticket counter. By the time I reached Rafi Marg, the chaat was all soggy.

So, the next day I decided I had enough of chaat and Chandni Chowk, and went to Connaught Place instead for a carnivorous meal. There was a cool breeze blowing, and my soul was crying out for some good biryani.

Way to Ahmed's

I landed up at Ahmed's Foods to see what was cooking. The address is 1, Kashmiri Market, opposite Shankar Market. It is the first shop on your right when you turn into Shankar Market. Ahmed's is basically a takeaway.

I packed some mutton biryani, mutton stew and three rumali rotis, and paid Rs.120 for the lot. The biryani was excellent - the long-grained rice had been cooked to perfection, and the tender mutton pieces were of good quality. The gravy (salan) to go with the biryani was spicy and tasty. The stew was good, too - the meat was juicy and the gravy, thick and aromatic.

It was a good meal. Now, I plan to go back to Purani Dilli one of these days to find out what my favourite bawarchis there are up to. I shall take the Metro, but will wait out the joy riders. Let them have their fun!

gyani rabri faluda

If you are ever near India Gate on a weekend, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the denizens of Delhi had all been ordered to line up there for a head count. Truly, nearly all of Delhi descends on the lawns of the soldiers' memorial on any given weekend - impervious to the effects of the skyrocketing mercury. For India Gate, after all, is one of the few places in Delhi where a family can still have a nice evening out for less than Rs.100 - spending a few odd bucks on chanachur garam, 10 or 20 for balloons for the kids, and the bulk on ice-creams. I like their spirit, but I am not much of an ice-cream man myself. I like home-made ice-cream, but we get less and less of that these days. When I was young, there used to be a Sardarji in INA market who used to manually churn out ice-cream in a wooden pail. Then he used to place a scoop in a cocktail glass, put a cherry on top of it and a thin wafer biscuit at the side, and serve it to us.

Sorry, nostalgia is like a walking stick for the middle-aged. Childhood, for us, was all about home-made ice-cream and kulfis frozen in a small earthen-ware pot. And once I get on to the subject, I get particularly nostalgic about a hot-day's dessert that I am passionate about - the rabri falooda. You get this in most sweet shops, but the best rabri falooda is sold in a shop in Sadar Bazar and one near Khari Baoli. Gyani's rabri falooda shop is on Church Mission Road - the one that leads from Khari Baoli to the Old Delhi Railway Station. If you get lost, you can ask any shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk, and you will be directed to Gyani's place. You will know you are there when you see a crowd frantically waving tokens in front of a small shop. I was there last week. I bought a coupon for a glass of rabri falooda (Rs.25) and then went berserk like the rest of the crowd, yelling "Ek glass dena" and waving my token to the two men manning the counter. They would take a glass filled with thick rabri (full of dry fruits such as pistas and almonds), layer it with a thick line of crushed ice and then top it with a fistful of falooda and some scented water. The mix would be given one passionate shake and a spoon would be added to the glass, which would then be handed over to the one with the loudest voice or the most frenetic token shaker.

Finally, my deep baritone was heard and a glass was thrust into my hands. The rabri was thick, rich and creamy, and the falooda had been cooked to perfection. It is a heavenly dessert, and one glass is so filling that you can easily forego your lunch after that.

But I am a growing boy - though, sadly, growing in all the wrong areas. So I had my rabri falooda and meandered around for some khasta kachori. And then, before I started for home, I rounded up my three-course lunch with the last item on the menu - a pink Digene tablet.

adarsh bhojanalaya

The other day, I was reading a food column in a newspaper whose circulation is in inverse proportion to its cerebral content and sniggering to myself. The column was going gaga about an elaborate buffet in a five-star hotel. There was a huge spread, by the sound of it a 700-item lunch, and it cost the same as a train ticket from Delhi to Goa. I found that hilarious - even if you have one bite out of each dish, you'd be nursing an aching jaw by the end of the meal. But what's actually funny is that Old Delhi is dotted with bhojanalayas that serve a great unlimited lunch, and very few people know about it. You pay just Rs.25 to 50 for an unlimited vegetarian thali, and the food is so much tastier than anything you get in a tony hotel.

One such place is the Adarsh Bhojanalaya. Adarsh has been a pit stop for food-loving traders for a long time. Most of the outstation traders and shopkeepers who come to Delhi for bulk purchases visit Adarsh for lunch. And those catching the late night train back home halt there for dinner. Adarsh is a neat little place in Haveli Haider Quli. You can take the Metro to the Old Delhi Railway Station and then take a rickshaw to Haveli Haider Quli, or walk down Chandni Chowk towards Fatehpuri. Haveli Haider Quli is the last gali on your right before you hit Fatehpuri. You take a chair and order a thali. And you ask for a katori of desi ghee. The ghee is heated and tempered with jeera. And you pour this over your dal and sabzi. It makes the food taste so good that you are tempted to sprinkle it over your raita and kheer, too. But don't.

Attentive gentlemen

The thali consists of a dal, a few vegetable dishes, raita, chutney, salad, kheer and papad. A gentleman stands there with a tray carrying different kinds of rotis - plain or missi, or paranthas if you want them. The rotis are done on the tawa, so they are soft and tempt you to eat even more than you wish to. Another gentleman keeps refilling all your katoris till you surrender and cross your hands over the thali to indicate a stomach that's about to burst. The food is really great - simple yet delicious.

The only problem with Adarsh is that once you have gone there, you want to keep going back for more. I made the mistake, many years ago, of taking to Chandni Chowk some of my snooty friends who otherwise yelp in fright when they see a cow on the road.

They had lunch at Adarsh. And they are still talking about it

Bade Mian's Kheer

In our vastly diverse food customs, there is one delicious dish that finds its honourable place in most kinds of Indian cuisine. I am talking about the kheer - which, with some variations here and there - is quite a pan-Indian phenomenon. In the South, it's known as payasam, and in the East, payesh. And right here in the North, this dessert made essentially out of milk, is known as kheer.

A good bowl of kheer has been a part of my childhood, and, I am happy to say, still plays an important role now that I am over-the-hill (a small hillock, really - but let's not quibble). My Bengali mother makes a delicious payesh with fresh date palm jaggery. And as a child growing up in a village in Uttar Pradesh, there was nothing that I relished more than a generous helping of some North Indian kheer.

Now, this kheer is not for the faint-hearted. The recipe itself is different - first, a fistful of rice is boiled with sugar-cane juice till the rice is done. Over this, you pour cold milk and some heated desi ghee. And `some' is an understatement; for the helping of the ghee has to be large enough to make even some of our well-developed wrestlers break out into a cold sweat. Over the years, as a diligent researcher, I have tasted different kinds of kheer - made with or without rice, with boondi, oranges, rasgullahs and even chunks of bottle gourd. At one point of time, I was such an addict that I used to time my trips to Himachal Pradesh in such a way that I reached Ahuja's in Murthal, on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway, right in time for breakfast. And breakfast started with paranthas and ended with a bowl of kheer.

Way to Bade Mian's

But the Bengali payesh was an all-time favourite of mine - till I discovered Bade Mian's kheer shop in Old Delhi. I came to hear about it one day when, as I waxed eloquent about the `khejur gurer' (palm jaggery) payesh, a few of my friends from the Walled City started sniggering. Have you, one of them asked me gently, ever tried the kheer at Bade Mian's?

I hadn't, and looked suitable abashed. So, very kindly, they led me to his shop. To get to Bade Mian's, you have to reach Hauz Quazi Chowk and then start walking towards Lal Kuan. After some time, you will see a mosque on your left called Masjid Badal Beg. The kheer shop is bang opposite the mosque. It is a very small shop, so you can very easily miss it. In that case, of course, you can ask any passer-by to direct you to Bade Mian's. And if I know the people of the area well, they will personally escort you there and look at you approvingly as you demolish your first bowlful.

Bade Mian's shop is about 125 years old. They have been making kheer in the traditional North Indian way there - the milk and rice are cooked slowly over a wooden fire till the milk thickens. The milk is cooked till the kheer turns a beautiful shade of light brown.

And I love it because it has the smoky flavour of a wood fire. The kheer is then chilled and you can have a plateful for Rs.10. The first time I was there, I remember eating one plate after another while my friends stood around me, looking as proud as Sachin Tendulkar's folks must have been when, as a toddler, he was hitting his first fours. The times have changed since then, for Sachin is no more the batsman he was. And since change can often be scary, I occasionally relish those things that remain the same.

The last time I was at Bade Mian's, I gladdened all the locals' hearts by breaking my own record of kheer-eating. So, eat your heart out, Sachin!


WAY BACK in the early 1960s, when all was well with the world and the Nehruvian vision of a vibrant India seemed just around the corner, I was introduced to the street food of Delhi. I was a small boy then, but still distinctly remember the time when I was taken to a kachori shop at Barsha Bulla near Old Delhi. I was handed over a dona - a small plate made out of sal leaves - and given a dollop of potato sabzi along with two bedmis or stuffed puris and two hot gulab jamuns.

The love affair with the street food of Delhi started then, and has been continuing ever since. I moved from one place to another in North India, the years rolled by but I somehow managed to extend my adolescence. Even now, a hot crispy bedmi on my plate makes me all moony-eyed. There was a time when I used to go Daryaganj every Sunday. I would first potter around the row of stalls that sell old books, and would then move to one of the small eateries in Matia Mahal or in the Hindu area of Old Delhi. The Barsha Bulla stall is still there, but every little lane in the area has its own bedmi or kachori seller. The kachori, as we all know, is a hard puri stuffed with a spicy masala. It usually comes with a hot vegetable dish - a thick potato or a pumpkin curry. There is one good man in Gali Anar off Kinari Bazaar who gives his kachoris with rai ki chutney.

The problem with kachoris is that most kachoriwallahs have their fixed time for selling kachoris. And because the stuff sells like, well, hot kachoris, you have to time yourself in such a way that you manage to reach the spot just as he opens his stall. One of my old haunts - the Daryaganj puriwallah - makes delicious kachoris, but only after 3 pm. If your stomach is yearning for some kachoris for lunch, you have to look elsewhere. But, for two major reasons, my favourite kachoriwalla is the one on Nai Sarak. For one, Dinesh Kachoriwallah makes some of the best kachoris in town. And two, he is there to be found - sitting at the mouth of Katra Jamun - through most of the day. You will find it easier to locate him if you approach Nai Sarak from Town Hall. The kachori stall is just 200 yards down the road.

Steady pricing

I went back there last week to see how he and his kachoris were faring. Dinesh has one tiny place and he sells kachori-sabzi there just like his father and grandfather did years ago. I ordered several plates of kachori and sabzi because I was in a good mood and felt like feeding my wife and her colleagues. The kachoris were packed in a paper bag, the sabzi went into a plastic carrier and I bid a fond farewell to Dinesh - happy to find that when the cost of everything around us is spiralling, two of his kachoris still come for a mere eight rupees. Dinesh hadn't failed me. His kachoris are still as good as they used to be: perfectly deep-fried with a mouth-watering stuffing. The outer skin is crunchy and crisp, and the vegetable that comes along with it is hot to the touch and taste. We broke off a piece of the kachori to scoop out the hot potato sabzi and then placed it gingerly into the mouth. The effect was electric: it was like seeing a thousand stars burst into tiny astrals. The potatoes were simply cooked - but I have always found that somehow one can't make this dish at home. He had added a spoonful of masalas and some chopped coriander leaves to the sabzi and then topped it with a spoonful of sliced spicy kachaloo. I suppose these are the ingredients that give the dish its own taste - without his special masalas, it would taste like one of those bland but elaborately named veggies that you get in a five-star hotel

bedmi sabzi

THE PUMPKIN is a strange vegetable. Call it what you will, the sitaphal or kaddu, it is mood insensitive. In parts of northern India, it is a must for all ritualistic meals - on happy or sad occasions. Sitaphal has to be served for weddings as well as for tehrvis to mark the dead. So, not surprisingly, the sitaphal was an integral part of my youth. And unimaginable as it may sound - the poor pumpkin, after all, has its share of bitter detractors - I have quite a fondness for the vegetable. As college students in Meerut, we visited Gokul Halwai at least twice a week for breakfast. For one rupee, we got six puris, aloo ki sabzi, some thick raita and a healthy dollop of sitaphal ki sabzi.

Delhi was an eye-opener after life in a mofussil town. All those small non-vegetarian stalls found a ready customer in me. But I also spent time scouting all the lanes and by-lanes of Old Delhi in search of vegetarian savouries. Every gali had a puri-sabzi stall or a hawker peddling his wares on a cycle. But what disappointed me was that though one could always get some good bedmis (lentil-stuffed puris), the accompanying vegetable was usually made of potatoes or chholey. So my craving for some sitaphal sabzi could only be fulfilled when a relative got married - or died!

Jain Sahab

But, one day an informer whispered into my ear that there was this small shop in Daryaganj that served sitaphal with its bedmi. Daryaganj is such a maze that I took the help of a friend who spent his childhood and most of his youth in the area. Even he needed to ask some locals for directions before we finally managed to reach Jain Sahab's shop.

Now that I know the directions, it is not all that difficult to find Jain Sahab. All you have to do is reach Golcha cinema hall, cross over and take the broad road which links up with Ansari Road at a T-junction. Just before the junction, on your left, is a small place called Arihant sweets and their bedmi counter. The locals refer to it as Jain Sahab's bedmis.

A revelation

My first time there was a revelation. I saw a large crowd of men, some sitting by a table and eating bedmis, and the others waiting for their orders to materialise. Like a true Delhiwallah, I rushed towards the owner, Jain Sahab, yelling for two plates of bedmis and waving a currency note in my hand. I was in for a humbling experience. Jain Sahab gave me a cold look and said: "This is not New Delhi. First you eat, and then you pay." I was put in my place, but knew that very instant that the bedmis sold by a gentleman steeped in tehzeeb would be great.

The bedmis - one plate of two bedmis comes for Rs.8 - were small and crisp. With the puris came a dona of aloo-chholey sabzi with one moong-dal ka kofta. The potato vegetable was delicious, and the methi ki chutney that laced the dish gave just the right taste of tartness to it. But it was the sitaphal ki sabzi - served on a separate sal leaf - that floored me. It was lightly spiced, and the sweet taste of the vegetable dish nicely balanced the masalas of the aloo-chholey.

I couldn't resist it. I ate six puris and drank a kullar of lassi. And then I rounded up a great meal with four delicious pedas. Going to Jain Sahab's was like going back home. My relatives are pretty happy that I have found the perfect place for sitaphal in Delhi. I no longer call them up, asking eager questions about marriageable nephews or nieces, or making solicitous enquiries about the old and the ailing.

Monday, June 19, 2006


streetfood: "hello,
i have started this blog for street food lovers of delhi. I think nobody knows more about delhi street food than i do. So in due course i shall guide you through the lanes and bylanes of delhi on a food tour. bye for now"

streetfood: introduction

streetfood: introduction

hello,i have started this blog for street food lovers of delhi. I think nobody knows more about delhi street food than i do. So in due course i shall guide you through the lanes and bylanes of delhi on a food tour. bye for now

Thursday, June 15, 2006


streetfood There was a time, years and years ago, when a visit to a friend's or a relative's place on a hot summer day meant a tall glass of doodh lassi or dahi lassi. For those of us who grew up in the Hindi heartland, it was one way of helping us combat the effects of the infamous loo or the hot winds of the North. A doodh lassi is a chilled drink made of milk and water. It is
sugared and iced, and then served as a light beverage when the temperature starts to soar. But I can't recall when I last had a glass of milk lassi.
If there is a good thing about summer, it's the fact that there are all kinds of fruit juices, sherbets and lassis for you to drink. My favourite is the sweet lassi. Nowadays, you will find on every street corner a dhaba or a theley-wallah with a sign declaring the vendor as Sharmajee or Guptajee Lassiwale and his lassi as the best in town. But I am a little finicky about my lassi. Having grown up in the cow belt (more a buffalo belt, if you ask me), I have doodh and lassi in my veins. And for that, the milk has to be thick and creamy.
Whenever I want some good lassi, I go to Pakodimal Doodhwala's shop in Naya Bans. Legend has it that this shop is the oldest doodh shop in Delhi. You have to go to Khari Baoli, the spice market, and walk down to the opening of Naya Bans. You'll know that you have reached the mouth of Naya Bans when your nostrils get invaded by the smell of `hing' emanating from some delicious kachoris (but about that, another day).
Directions to Pakodimal's
Pakodimal's shop is three stalls down the lane, on your left.
It's a small, unassuming shop, and many believe that the man who makes the lassis is older than Delhi. He is a cranky old man, so I am always on my best behaviour when I am there. I had heard about a shaharwallah who had made the mistake of asking the old man to hurry up. The old man returned the client his money and refused to make him his lassi. I like his attitude. When you are the oldest man around and make the best lassis in town, you are entitled to your moods.
I always ask for a burfi wali lassi when I am there. The old man puts a burfi in a vessel and then crushes it to a smooth paste. To this he adds some dahi, sugar and water. He then churns it with his scarred hands - said to be battered out of shape by the water that his hands are always immersed in. The lassi costs Rs.15. The shop also sells milk, curds and other dairy products.
People buy their dahi and often eat it then and there with some salt and masalas laid out on the side. Old-timers tell me that a poor man who wants curds worth two rupees is accorded the same respect as the rich client buying stuff by the kilos. That is, of course, if nobody makes the mistake of asking the old man to hurry.


i have started this blog for street food lovers of delhi. I think nobody knows more about delhi street
food than i do. So in due course i shall guide you through the lanes and bylanes of delhi on a food tour. bye for now