Chandni Chowk: Medieval, Mughal, Magical
Chandni Chowk, home of Mughals, Mirza Ghalib and…all foodies! Chandni Chowk teaches you how to love your age old culture, heritage and most importantly food. Streets always bustling with tradesmen, tourists and vendors will definitely transport you back in time. The place with its congested and dusty lanes holds a certain charm and suffuses it with a magic that cannot be explained in words. My trip to this wonderful place always ends up being a sinful food tour and exploring the stories.
The narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk are filled with stories and an overwhelming variety of food and flavours. Purani Dilli is a maze of lanes and by-lanes with big and small shops of food, clothing, jewelry, and raw material some of which have been around for centuries. Even though it is a complicated area consisting of a myriad of gullies but one can never truly get lost here. The aroma of fried food and kebabs will always be the guiding light for all the foodies in this part of Dilli.
The love story of Chandni Chowk and food dates back to the time of the Mughals. Traditions and history is well preserved here, as one can taste sumptuous recipes which have been passed down through generations giving one the feeling of eating the secret recipes (kheer lovers will relate here) of one’s grandmother.
Finding the best street food places in the Chandni Chowk market is more of a journey of finding yourself. It’s a journey of self-discovery.
Legend has it that Shah Jahan had ordered the building of Chandni Chowk market so that his favorite daughter Jahanara could shop here freely. This famous Asian market is said to be established when the Mughal emperor was building the city of Shahjahanbad, which was to be his capital amongst the region he commanded in India.
Whenever I have the opportunity to visit this historic place, there are a few places that I absolutely cannot ignore. For starters, I never miss a trip to Karim’s—a place that originally served as the Royal Kitchen for the Mughals. Established by Haji Karimuddin in 1913, and located in the narrow streets of Chandni Chowk in the shadow of the Jama Masjid, Karim’s serves the best Mughalai cuisine. It has also been ranked as one of the top restaurants in Asia by the Times Magazine and it hardly ever has a vacant table!
And a trip to Chandni Chowk is incomplete without a visit to Paranthe Waali Galli, renowned for the staggering number of shops selling delicious paranthas (a type of Indian stuffed bread) for very pocket friendly prices. The only catch here is that most of these places are vegetarian. Nonetheless nothing can beat their “hari mirch parantha” or their sweet “kheer parantha”.
Lala Babu Chaat Bhandar, which is probably in my opinion the most authentic chaat in all
of Delhi. Their gobhi muttor samosas are to die for. Another chaat outlet that cannot be ignored at all is Bishan Swaroop outlet. It is still considered a hidden gem as its popularity is still increasing amongst people. It is located on the slightly unruly and unclean side of Chandni Chowk but the place is totally worth every effort. Their fruit chaat and aloo kulcha is quite famous and my personal favorites.
Top off the trip with a visit to the Old Famous Jalebiwala, who sells jalebis the size of your palm—plump, sugary, deep-fried goodness that is every sweet-toothed-individuals dream come true.
Chandni Chowk is also a famous religious hub housing places of worship for people of different beliefs. Most of the places are centuries old and peacefully coexist together. Sis Ganj Gurudwara, Christian Central Baptist Church and Digamber Jain Temple stand on the same road. Jama Masjid stands not too far from the three opposite to the Red Fort. This speaks volumes for this place.
Chandni Chowk was the heart and soul of the commercial activities of the Mughal era and the legend continues till today. It boasts of a wide variety of markets like Nai Sarak for stationary and books, Dariba Kalan for silver jewelry, Chawri Bazaar for musical instruments, Kinari Bazaar for its exquisite zari and zardozi work and the Katra Neel market which is basically the clothing bazaar of Chandni Chowk where you will find silks, satins, crepes and muslins, fit for a bridal trousseau of all kinds of brides.
This largest trading center of North India is famously called a moonlit square for perhaps only one reason that is truly a “shandaar” or magnificent place. A lot has changed over the years at Chandni Chowk, but the intoxicating ambience hasn’t. It is like a modern world with a medieval touch. Maybe the djinns from the Mughal era have kept the spirit of this place alive.
Ghalib has rightly said, all the streets and lamps here speak great poetry. Chandni Chowk is like living museum. Every time I visit Chandni Chowk, it doesn’t fail to enchant me.
Picture Courtesy: Joshika Saraf