Delhi’s Must-Have Streetside Vegetarian Treats That Are Yet to Make It to Any List
Akbar had nine jewels who adorned his court; Delhi’s street food universe has many more, beyond the done and dusted favourites of Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid. The city’s walking chronicler Anubhav Sapra shares his list of ten vegetarian haunts you cannot afford to ignore.
ANUBHAV SAPRA, who moved to Delhi in 1999 as a student of Political Science at Ramjas College, turned his passion into a business when he started organising ‘food walks’ in 2011, while still working for former IAS officer and civil rights activist Harsh Mandher’s NGO, Centre for Equity Studies.
He could have stuck to the done and dusted trails crisscrossing the historic by-lanes of the Chandni Chowk-Jama Masjid neighbourhoods, but as you’d expect from a quintessentially curious traveller, he has continually been extending his orbit and discovering hidden street food gems strewn across the city. No one, at least to my knowledge, knows Delhi better than Sapra (check out www.delhifoodwalks.com to know more about him), and luckily for him, the city’s food lovers seem to be more than ever keen to dive into their culinary heritage.
Delhi is a city of an everyday wave of migrants and many of the new vegetarian foodie pit stops listed here reflect that fact. Jain Poha Wala of Laxmi Nagar, the gateway to the Delhi beyond the drain that used to be the Yamuna, is one such instance. Operating out of Mangal Bazar Road, in the shadow of the State Bank of India branch, the pohawallah, selling the delicacy associated in the public imagination with Indore’s ‘Khau Gali’, owes his success to his discovery by a generation of migrant students in the late 1990s.
Today, Jain’s poha is as popular among a new generation of students, as he’s with those of his old admirers who have grown up, got jobs and moved to other parts of Delhi-NCR. His story is similar to that of Fateh ki kachori on Raj Niwas Marg, which successive generations of Xaverians grew up on.
The same is true of Vikas Biswas, whose jhalmoori, a Bengali delicacy made with puffed rice that goes best with lemon tea (a sweet-and-sour antidote to the jhalmoori’s tanginess), brings back memories of Kolkata in Chittaranjan Park. Biswas’s day job is that of a cook in people’s homes, but he’s well-known locally for his jhalmoori, which he starts tossing up in the evening, in time for people returning from work.
Then there are the real undiscovered jewels, such as Krishna Sweets at Ram Nagar Extension (Shahdara), which is better known locally as Lala Mithanlal Halwai. The shop’s lauki ki lauz (barfis made with bottle gourd, which are normally had to break fasts) and doodh ki mithai, whose kalakand-like texture has a committed fan following.
Another go-to place in this category is Hakikat Nagar’s dal kachoriwallah — the man who established the legacy more than 30 years ago, Jugal, is no more, but his son carries forward the tradition of making crispy khasta kachoris stuffed with a soft filling of moong dal boiled with just turmeric and salt. Look out for the kachoriwallah opposite Gate No. 2 of the Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar Metro station.
From Hakikat Nagar, let’s move to Kamala Nagar, the backyard of North Campus, Delhi University. The place to check out there is the Trishul Chaat Bhandar, a khomcha-turned-almirah-sized-shop near the local post office, that’s been famous for its matra-kachori and chhole-kulcha in the neighbourhood for 70-plus years.
The matra-kulcha gets its distinctive taste, according to Sapra, because of its present owners Krishan Lal and his son Pawan’s refusal to use thinly sliced onions, tomatoes and radish as garnish-cum-taste enhancers. A helping of chhole, says Sapra, is mixed with masalas, saunth, green chutney, roasted jeera, ginger and coriander to be served with buttered kulcha. The matra-kachori combo is topped up with ginger, coriander and sweet-and-sour amchur chutney. A brilliant interplay of textures and tastes.
My idea of a day begun on the right note is a breakfast of doodh (piping hot milk, boiled continually till it acquires a caramel-coloured tinge) and crunch jalebis dripping sugar syrup. And no one does this better than Makhan Lal Tika Ram, which has been operating close to the old St Stephen’s College in Kashmiri Gate since 1923. The shop is also famous for the Old Delhi favourite, bedmi-poori, but its doodh-jalebi is better-known because of the following it commands among the devotees who throng the neighbouring Hanuman Mandir.
Now, should you just stop going to Chandni Chowk because you think you’ve been there done that? No way, says Sapra, at least not until you checked out the following:
* The aloo subzi (the potatoes are roasted before they are cooked) accompanying the kachoris served by Sharmaji, who sets up his corner stall every evening at 7:30 at the point where Dariba Kalan intersects Kinari Bazar.
* The toffee-like milk cake sold at Hemchand Ladli Prashad at Kucha Ghasi Ram, the narrow lane next to the Fatehpuri Masjid, Chandni Chowk, by its fourth-generation owner, Anup Gupta.
* The daulat ki chaat at the only permanent shop in the city selling the cloud-like dessert — it’s sold on push carts everywhere else — at Gali Arya Samaj, Chawri Bazar. In the summer, people throng the shop for its flavoured kulfis.
* And the flavourful fruit cream at Deepak Diwan‘s cart parked at Gali Piaowali, Dariba Kalan. A veteran of 35 years in the business, Diwan uses jam toppings to give his fruit cream and soft-serve ice-cream a distinctive taste that makes people come back for more.