Apparently I instinctively took the right staircase at the Chawri Bazar metro station. Although I actually have no choice: The crowd that the train spits out drives me upstairs. I am welcomed by a chaos of cycle rickshaws, mopeds and people. People who transport something or who can be transported. There does not seem to be a millimeter of space to find a way on foot. In the distance I can see the white onion domes and the red walls of the Jama Masjid. The Friday Mosque is next to the Red Fort, the most striking building in Old Delhi and my goal. If I want to get there, I have to immerse myself in this chaos.
Street Food Delhi: The Food is in The Air
After just a few steps, I start coughing, my eyes get wet. The air is thick with hot spices and billows of smoke from the innumerable food stalls that line the roadside. If you want to look into the soul of Delhi, you have to try the Shahjahanabad kitchen. Shahjahanabad is the original name of Old Delhis, which by the way is not Delhi’s oldest district at all, but was built in the middle of the 17th century and is still called that by many Delhites today.
Chawri Bazar: Through Courtesan’s Street to Jama Masjid
Through the jumble of power cables that are bundled up in thick balls over the street, one can only vaguely imagine the former elegance of the havelis in the market street Chawri Bazar. These palatial mansions, from whose balconies the courtesans of Delhi used to praise their services, have long been converted into workshops and shops. Brass and silver household utensils and paper goods are mainly sold. I circumnavigate the delivery carts packed meters high, the tea sellers and paan sellers. And at some point actually reach the wide entrance gate of the Jama Masjid.
Delhi: Magnificent mosques and water rituals
What a soothing calm there is in the courtyard of India’s largest mosque. If I had more time, I would climb one of the minarets. The view from above of the Red Fort and the maze of alleys of Old Delhi is said to be unique. But I have an appointment. So I only spent a few moments in the magnificent mosque built under Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, which was built between 1644 and 1658 during the heyday of Islamic architecture in India. We also owe the Taj Mahal to Shah Jahan, the most glamorous of the Islamic Mughal rulers who ruled northern India for centuries. I watch the rituals at the water basin and the attempts of an elderly gentleman with a long beard and prayer cap to photograph himself with his cell phone in front of the impressively decorated pointed arches of the prayer hall.
Culinary paradise in the Chandni Chowk bazaars
I enjoy the view of the sea of houses in Old Delhi from the roof of a havelis that has regained its old shine. The Haveli Dharampura houses a luxury hotel and is my oasis to breathe deeply. I wait for my friend Alka over a fresh lime soda, who will let me in on the secrets of the street kitchens of Shahjahanabad. Later I follow her through the alleys, called Galis, which are so narrow that daylight almost never falls. Alka, who I met on one of my trips through India, is a real Delhite and knows every corner of this labyrinth.
Street food Delhi: Alley of deep fried, filled breads
Our “Food Trail” leads us through the bazaar district of Chandni Chowk. Through the Kinari Bazar, where Delhi’s brides buy their wedding jewelry. Past the gold and silversmiths of Dariba Kalan and the perfume sellers of Attar Bazar. Deeper and deeper into the belly of Old Delhi. In the Paranthe Wali Gali, the “alley of deep-fried, filled bread”. Paratha World offers more than 30 types of Paratha, both savory and sweet. The business has been family-owned since 1889, explains Abish, who runs it in the sixth generation and lets us try it generously.
Street food Delhi: potato balls, donuts and a Delhi belly
The Golgappas are also a must. The spicy water, in which the balls filled with potatoes and chickpeas are dipped and which you drink with, makes you sweat once more in the hot temperatures. When asked whether the water was filtered, I get laughter. The “Delhi Belly” is still missing. The crowning glory is with Natraj Dahi Bhalla Wala. We serve a kind of donut here, deep-fried, spicy, with creamy yoghurt that melts in your mouth.
The culinary journey through Chandni Chowk can continue near the Fatehpuri Mosque:
- Giani’s di Hatti has the best faluda, thin rice noodles with a paste for which milk is boiled down with dried fruit and rose water.
- Shiv Mishtan Bhandar is famous for sticky-sweet jalebis, fried dough spirals, and aloo bedhni, a potato curry with fried bread.
There are also some jewels in Chawri Bazar:
- Kuremal Mahavir Prase is considered the master of Kulfi, the Indian ice cream. Pistachio is highly recommended.
- The Jain Food House is hard to find in the courtyard of an old haveli, well worth the search. The “Signature Dish”: Toast slices topped with pineapple, apples, guava, grapes, pomegranate seeds and paneer. Sounds strange, tastes great.
The Delhi of hipsters:
Hauz Khas Village and Shahpur Jat. Even if the younger Delhites now consider it chic to eat traditionally in Chandni Chowk and buy wedding invitation cards in Chawri Bazar – the hipster heart of “Dilli” beats elsewhere, in South Delhi. In neighborhoods like Greater Kailash, Defense Colony, Lado Sarai near Qtb Minar, Hauz Khas Village, and Shahpur Jat.
Street food Delhi:
Cafés for those keen to experiment with culinary delights
When the sun sets over the park, the alleys of Hauz Khas Village fill up. People come here from all over Delhi on weekends to eat, drink and party. Particularly popular: the Social, the Bulldogs, the Coast Café, The Toddy Shop with specialties from Kerala in southern India, and the Kunzum Travelcafé.
My special tip for those keen on culinary experimentation:
The Hauz Khas Market with the Dzükou Tribal Kitchen is only five minutes away by rickshaw. Here, the owner, Karen, cooks traditional dishes from her native Nagaland in northeast India. Over a red wine, smoked pig, pumpkin curry with rose petals and black peas with bamboo, she will be happy to tell you more about her childhood in the land of the headhunters. By the way, your family belongs to a headhunter tribe …
Delhi, city of poets and mystics
If you don’t just want to read Sufi poetry in cafes, but want to meet real Sufis, you can go to Hazrat Nizamuddin. In front of the police station across from the Humayun mausoleum, one of Delhi’s main tourist attractions, I wait for Mohd Asif Ali from Adventure Trail. He will take us into the mysterious world of Islamic mysticism, which found its way from the deserts of Rajasthan to Delhi a good 700 years ago. The Nizamuddin district is named after the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, to whose grave hundreds make pilgrimages every day. They come to the mausoleum, called Dargah, to get rid of their desires and worries. To sing and dance to the trance-like, poetic, religious chants – Qawwali.
Delhi: With the Sufis by Hazrat Nizamuddin:
We walk past stalls with rose petals and incense sticks, hidden tombs of well-known Sufi poets like Mirza Ghalib, neon signs advertising Sufis with “Spiritual treatment for the solution of any kind of problem – business, marriage, love.” A mobile number is also indicated Sufism in the 21st century. I would never have found my way out of the winding corridors that lead us to the Dargah on my own. Despite the crowds, we find our date – Syed Sadiq Nizani, a direct descendant of the Sufi Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. In Urdu he initiates us into the principles of Sufism. Tells why Sufism is still popular today. Mohd Asif Ali translates. It’s getting dark, the air vibrates with ecstatic music. Qawwali period. The lulling chants linger, even after an Uber driver drove me home through the nocturnal Delhi in a car filled with loud Punjabi rock.
Last but not least: Delhi to live, read and watch
Living: Prakash Kutir, Bed & Breakfast in Hauz Khas with family members, rooms with a terrace and a view and a delicious breakfast.
Read: “The City of Djinns – one year in Delhi”, the ironic-amusing-informative travelogue by the award-winning Scottish author William Dalrymple.
Watch: “Delhi 6” with the Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor and “Dilli, Dilli”, the video blog of the ARD correspondents in New Delhi.