Bedmi and Nagori Puris and Paneer Bhatoores and more deep fried love star in this Old Delhi Breakfast Trail


Nagori halwa and bed puri at Shyam Sweets, Old Delhi 



Highlights:

  • Old Delhi is the favourite haunt of food lovers in the capital city of India. It is equally popular among locals and tourists 
  • The New Delhi Metro has made it more accessible to those in based in New Delhi compared to before
  • I went to Old Delhi for breakfast in end November 2017 and this post is about what I experienced there
  • What I enjoyed the most there were a variety of vegetarian North Indian dishes. Examples would be Shyam Sweets and its the bedmi puri and Nagori halwa, Shiv Sweets and its chhole bhatoore and Chaina Ram for the Karachi Halwa. Most of these eateries are more than a hundred years old and are still going strong
  • It was not all rosy that morning though as the post will tell you. There are lot of pictures so do keep scrolling down


The early bird catches the kulcha


While I had been twice before to old Delhi to eat, those trips were for dinner. I’d never gone there for breakfast. During my recent trip to new Delhi, I thought I’d take advantage of being based at a hotel in Connaught Place this time, and go to old Delhi in the morning. It helped that I had good company for this. My friend and budding food writer, Amit Patnaik, was most game when I told him that I wanted to go to old Delhi for breakfast and even offered to come over early and take me to there before he went to office and in time for me to back to the hotel and to the Fast Food Convention there, where I was slated to speak that morning. Amit’s enthusiasm was infectious and I didn’t grumble even though the plan meant that I would have to wake up at 6.30 am! The last time I had done so was to go to the rather disappointing Chinese breakfast market at Tiretti Bazar of Kolkata. The trip to Old Delhi ended a lot more satisfactorily I must say.



I was up dot at 6.30 am and ready well in time for Amit who came over and picked me up at the hotel. We drove down to Connaught Place where Amit parked his car before we took the Delhi Metro from Rajiv Chowk to Chawri Bazar. Chawri Bazar is the Metro station to get off at if you are headed to old Delhi. Amit told me that the Delhi Metro had suddenly made Old Delhi a lot more accessible to those from New Delhi compared to before. This has been a boon for the city's food lovers from what I gathered. “It's a lot easier to come here now. That has reduced the mystery of old Delhi in a way though,” said Amit. 

I knew what he meant. I remember wanting to come to old Delhi to eat when I used to come to Delhi as a market researcher in the early 2000s. However, the travel seemed daunting and we never made it. My first trip to old Delhi to eat actually happened after the Metro came up. On that trip,I had driven down from Gurgaon to CP with the reader of my blog, and then taken the metro to Chawri Bazar.

A flipside of this last mile connectivity, Amit told me, is that you will find multiple food walks happening at old Delhi these days. In a way this had changed the social composition of the place he felt. On the one hand, this helped pump up business for smaller, previously unsung places here. However, I wondered if the prices had gone up at these eateries too after their clientele became a bit more posh. If it was so, this would affect the locals here who depend on these street-side eateries for sustenance. Progress is always a complex concept I guess and it is best when everyone can thrive from it, but then life is not all black and white is it?

Earnest food walkers in mid week at old Delhi
Good old Amit is in a suit as the poor fellow had to
go to work after that

Amit told me that this was the first time that he was actually living and working in Delhi. He had lived in Mumbai and Chennai for a while before this, for his studies and then work. 

This also meant that Amit is not an Old Delhi regular yet. However, he had hooked up with Vipul Yadav soon after he moved into Delhi. The two ha vegone on a few food hunts in Delhi together already, including to Old Delhi. Vipul is a Mumbai boy who loves sports and food. He is possibly the one who had come to the highest number of food walks conducted by me in Mumbai. He had once taken me across to Matunga in Mumbai to eat. Vipul then moved to Gurugram and later to Delhi on work  He now explores the food here and often writes about it on Instagram under the handle @foodie_baba. Armed with Vipul’s advice and with GPS directions, Amit took me across old Delhi. Completing the food circle of love in a way, you could say.

We got off from Chawri Bazar and walked down narrow lanes on a wintry, reasonably sunny morning. I saw folks sell tea from stalls set up on the pavement. The pavements also housed carts where folks were toasting pre-made parathas on tavas and selling them. These were not where we were to stop said Amit, as he referred to the Google Maps. we walked on and passed by assorted food walk groups which crawled through the streets on a week day. Unlike the rest of us who were here for breakfast in jeans and sweatshirts and sneakers and sweaters, Amit was in a suit as he had to go to work after this and he works in a government office, on what seemed like a very interesting assignment to me. 







Deep fried wonders of Shyam Sweets 


We soon reached our first stop. This was a sweet shop called Shyam Sweets. We hadn’t come here for the sweets though as I found out. What we ate here, was the freshly fried bedmi puris served with a nice potato curry. The puri had an interesting crunchy texture to it. A mix of udad dal and flours were used in the dough, said Amit. I had heard about bedmi puri earlier from folks who write about the food of Varanasi where this seems to be a bit of a speciality. I had wanted to try it for a while and I quite enjoyed my first taste of it, even though it was in Delhi and not in Varanasi.


Bedmi puri with Alu and vegetable pickle
Shyam Sweets, Old Delhi


The other dish that we had at Shyam Sweets, was the nagori halwa. These are small puris, which were pre-fried and kept on display.  The Nagori puris were served with a semolina based sugary hot halwa and the same potato curry as served with the bedmi puri. Amit told me that Vipul had told him to stuff a bit of the spicy potato curry and the sweet halwa together in the crunchy and savoury puri, and then eat it. The combination seemed weird in concept, but didn’t taste bad actually with the salty and sweet elements combining very well. 

What left a deep impression on me at Shyam had to be be the halwa though. The puris were served resting on the halwa which was possible one of the nicest halwas that I’ve ever eaten. Sweet, but not overly so. It was served hot, which was welcome on a wintry Delhi morning. It didn’t seem to have any additional or excessive food colouring, unlike the psuchdelic oranges of the halwa puris of Mahim in Mumbai and the crimson of the halwa at Kanha Sweets in Amritsar. 

The dough in the Nagori puri is made with a mix of sooji (semolina) and flour. This is also the base for pani puri/ phuchka etc. This possibly explains the crunchiness that the puris had and the practise of making a hole, adding in food and then popping in the puri into ones mouth just the way one days in a phuchka/ pan puri/ gol gappa. The size of the Nagori puri was a bit larger those though. 

Nagori halwa


The stop at Shyam Sweets turned out to be glorious start to our breakfast trail and this is definielty a place I’d love to come back to.






Kulcha with chhole and some ratatouille on the side


The trail went a bit downhill from there for a while though. We went down a tiny lane in search of a famous kulcha chhole place. All we had to do was to follow the various food walk groups going towards it. It indeed seemed like a 'legendary' place.  Amit stopped occasionally to get directions from bystanders and everyone knew the place. 

I knew we had arrived, when I saw a huge crowd that had formed on the pavement at the end of a narrow gulley that we had entered. Seated on the pavement was a man serving chhole to people. The kulcha that he gave was the flat, toasted, refined flour Delhi version which is different from the tandoor baked Amritsari kulcha. Amit gallantly went into the crowd and paid up, while I waited at a distance. He came back to me with two empty plastic glasses and a stick of Amul butter, said “chhole water” with a grin, gave me the glasses and the stick of butter and went back in to the crowd. 

He came back a bit later with two paper plates filled with a fiery and red looking split pea curry. This was the chhole. He took the two empty glasses back from me, and went back into the crowd. He returned a bit later, gingerly carrying two glasses filled with what looked like a cloudy  and muddy, translucent, liquid.






The water in the glass, I figured, was obtained from boiling the chhole. You were supposed to add the butter to it. They give one stick our person but the two us, one a Bengali, the other an Odiya, decided to share a stick as we lacked the larger than life spirit of the local Punjabis. The idea was to make a spicy, fatty elixir on a cold morning with the chickpea broth and the slated butter. The taste that I got was of a fierce and near noxious shot of chilli darting through a butter oil slick. 

The red colour of the chhole, Amit explained, was a result of chilli oil. This is a rare addition to chhole in Delhi though. Unlike in Sichuan cooking, chilli oil is not used much here in food.  The only taste that I got from the chhole was that of chillies which made me cough in a way that the pollution of Delhi hadn't. 

The kulcha tasted like plastic which had been soaked overnight. 



Kulcha chhole with choke water

At this point, I must admit, that I could be a bit biased. While I had waited for Amit to get the food, I’d seen three small mice run down the pavement, Then ran past the hungry breakfast crowd and then down the chholewala’s vessel. The fact that the rats were much smaller than the rats of Mumbai didn’t offer me much comfort.

The crowds around the chholewala were nonplussed by his rodent fans though and they kept crowding around him. One gentleman waited for a rat to run away and then placed his plate down at the same place and ate. The fact that was in the morning, made everything  visible. 

In case you were wondering, my tummy remained pretty good well though through the rest of the day despite what I ate here. So it is really up to you if you want to still go and check out this Old Delhi landmark. Just don’t expect me to join you though.

The whiff of royalty...daulaat ke chaat




In the lane leading to the chholewala was someone seeling daulat ke chaat from a cart. I was most excited when I first saw that. This is before I saw the rats darting down the next lane you see.

I had first read about Daulat ke chaat in Pamela Timm’s blog, Eat and Dust, and later  in her book, Kheer, Korma and Kismet. I had learnt that it was a winter dish which you get only in old Delhi and that too in winter mornings.  it is made with milk whisked at night and under the morning dew. I’ll leave the description to Pamela though and here’s what she had to say in her blog, Eat and Dust:

“According to Old Delhi legend, Daulat (which means ‘wealth’) ki Chaat is made only during the cold winter nights (preferably by the light of a full moon) when gallons of sweetened milk are whisked for hours into a cloud which is then set by the dawn dew.  The top layer is touched with saffron and decorated with vark (silver leaf) and  by morning the Daulat ki Chaat is just solid enough to be spooned into plates and sprinkled with  chopped pistachio nuts, khoya (condensed milk) and bhoora (unrefined sugar) before gradually collapsing in the heat of the day.”


I’d wanted to try daulal ke chaat ever since I read about it on Pamela's blog, so evocative was her writing. I’d had the Indian Accent version of it since then but that didn’t really excite me. I later went to old Delhi on a wintry night, but I didn’t find it as you get daulat ke chaat  only in the morning.

I was keen to not let this opportunity go and wanted to try the dish. Amit stopped for me to do so though he warned me that the cart in front of us was possibly not one of the more famous ones around. 


Daulat ke chaat...rather meh


I ordered for a plate of daulat ke chaat and tasted it with bated breath. Well, can’t say that I became a fan. It tasted like sweetened milk foam and that’s all. I couldn’t  feel the the romance in it or the magic to be honest. Perhaps the memory of the rats that I had just seen still had me in a shock or maybe my expectations had been set too high. 

When I put a picture of the dish on Instagram, loads of folks from Lucknow wrote in saying that the daulat ke chaat of Delhi is not the real deal and that one should try the makhan malai of Lucknow instead. The Parsis too have a version called doodh ni puff. I have come across folks who give daulat ke chaat as an example of an indigenous Indian answer to the molecular gastronomy of the west. I must confess that I am not a fan of foam or spherification in general as I find it texturally incomplete. Which is why I feel that the daulat ki chaat school might not be up my street. However, if I am ever in Lucknow during winter then I will give the makhan malai a shot.

I later heard that not all the daulat ke chaats that one sees in Delhi today are no longer made the way that they used to be. That there is apparently a synthetic element to it. This  is why they last longer and don’t ‘collapse’ by noon. I bought a pack (Rs 120) and took it for my brother and I saw that it held its shape even though he opened it at night at Gurgaon.

Sindhi memories of Karachi in the heart of old Delhi...Chaina Ram


Fateh Puri Masjid
The Town Hall



We then got onto a cycle rickshaw as our next stop was a bit far away at a place called Fateh Puri Masjid. Amit was a bit unsure about whether I’d be able to get on a cycle rickshaw so I had to remind him that I grew up in Kolkata where it was the norm.


Sohan Halwa
Chaina Ram



Our first stop, once we reached the end of the road, was a sweet shop called Chaina Ram, which is located beside the Fateh Puri mosque. It was established in 1901 and is a Sindhi shop. I saw they were making chhole bhatoores there, but Amit told me that this is not what we had come for. He got me to buy sohan halwa instead and Karachi halwa for home . I was introduced to Karachi halwa as a kid in Kolkata by my mama (uncle) who knew of it from his Delhi days. The halwa at Chaina Ram, as I later found out, was filled with nuts and was doused with ghee . I loved its gelatinous goodness and had all of the cubes that I bought, after I returned to Mumbai, one a night and without sharing with anyone else.

I tried to show off my knowledge of Sindhi food by asking one of the workers at the shop if one got dal pakwan, the Sindhi breakfast favourite there.

“No,” he replied. “You get barfi.”

The epic Halwa Karachi at Chaina Ram


Which was as random as going to New York and asking whether one gets Hot Dogs at a cart and being told ‘no, you get brownies!”

A final bhatoore flourish at Shiv Sweets


Our last stop was Shiv Sweets which was in the road leading to the Fateh Puri Masjid. The thing to have here is chhole bhatoore Amit me. We also got nice profile pictures shot on our respective iPhones by each other while there as you can see below!

Amit Patnaik
Kalyan Karmakar

The bhatoore at Shiv sweets, was fried fresh once we place the order. There was a small dingy room to sit inside in the shop and the choke bhatoore was served there. Both our phone cameras, as well as us, preferred the brightness offered by the entrance though and we decided to have our bhaoores there. 

The bhatoora was huge. We were quite full by then and couldn’t finish the two that were served each plate. The taste and texture of the bhatoore was interesting and unique. The bhatoore (deep fried fermented refined flour flat bread) was dual textured. It was crunchy at on the surface then soft and pillowy below. This was in contrast to the crisper bhatoore one has had elsewhere in Delhi. The bhatoora was well seasoned and had an interesting, near cheesy and smoked taste to it. When I asked, the cooks told me that this could because they add crumbled paneer and dhania (cumin) to the bhatoore dough.

Chhole bhatoora at shiv Sweets


When I mentioned this on Facebook and Instagram later, Delhites told me that added paneer was a new fad in Delhi. Well, given that the shop was established in 1901, I am not too sure about that. What I was sure of though, was that this bhatoora had a unique character of its own. I do not have clear point of view though on whether I like this more than the standard Delhi bhatoora. My brother later told me that the addition of paneer to bhatoora in Delhi threw him off them for a while. He doesn't like milk or paneer after all.

Chhole
This is where the bhatoora is fried


























The chhole served with the bhatoore was rather miniscule one could say, but the bhatoora packed so much flavour that the chhole seemed redundant. They had added pieces of precooked potato to the chhole before serving, but had not heated that. Therefore, while the chhole was served warm, the potato in it was cold, and this summed up my old Delhi breakfast sojourn. 

It had some high points, some not so much. Some moments of brilliance, some rather meh moments. Would I go for it it again? Would I recommend it to you? Most importantly, was it worth waking up at 6.30 pm for?

Well, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding yes. I am happy to have finally made it to old Delhi and to have its famed breakfast dishes. I was happy to have had good company with me. In the bedmi puri, nagori halwa and the bhatoor later, I was happy to have tasted some delicious food, and in the Karachi halwa, happy to have picked a nice gift for myself. I was happy to have finally lost my daulat ka chaat that morning and all in all, this made for a good scorecard.

I have to return one day to Old Delhi to have the Nihari for breakfast some day, though I hear that most of the good places have shut down. 

To end our trip, we hopped on to a motorised rickshaw and went to the Chandni Chowk Station for the metro. That was four means of transport in one morning apart from our walking. That's quite an average as I am sure you would agree.




After seeng the rats
After spotting the paneer

Do check out a couple of phone vides that we shot at Old Delhi that morning:

Shyam Sweets:



Chhole kulcha at lothan


Also do check these blog posts out



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