Old Delhi is an area buzzing with energy, crammed with people, food and vehicles of all sizes, including hand drawn rickshaws. One of the omnipresent narratives here is street food of all kinds.
Old Delhi (or Purani Dilli as the locals call it) has street stalls selling everything from spicy, tangy chaats (snacks) to sugary jalebi (a sweet made from fried batter) and smoky kebabs. Chaat is derived from the Hindi word "chaatna" which means to lick one’s fingers clean. It is a bite-sized North Indian Street food traditionally eaten between meals or after work. Chaats are almost always vegetarian due to their street food origins as vendors did not have refrigeration facilities. In Old Delhi there are sweets unique to the area like daulat ki chaat, a whole street devoted to Indian breads called parathas, the area truly offers a feast for the senses.
Don't leave Old Delhi without eating:
These consist of a crisp, deep-fried ball of dough filled with a savoury filling of chickpeas and potatoes, dipped in spicy tamarind water. Just punch a small hole at the centre, add boiled potatoes, sprouts, chutneys, dunk it into the cup of the tangy water (paani) and pop the fragile package whole into your mouth.
These are bready, fried lentil fritters (bhalla) with cold, fresh dahi (yogurt) poured over the top, flavoured with a host of spices and topped off with pomegranate. They make a tangy, sweet snack which is perfect to cool you down on a sunny day.
Kulle is an unusual chaat found in Old Delhi, made by first scooping out the centre of a tomato, cucumber or sweet potato. This 'cup' is then stuffed with spices, a black sulfur salt called kala namak, boiled chickpeas and pomegranate seeds drizzled with lime juice. All the ingredients in the cup are stirred to mingle the flavours before serving.
Wondering how to extract those juicy seeds? See our video guide to deseeding a pomegranate.
Jalebis are bright orange twists made from fermented batter, which is fried and then soaked in hot sugary syrup. It is crunchy on the outside and moist and gooey on the inside. The jalebi maker trickles batter in intricate whirls into a vat of bubbling oil, then scoops out the crisp jalebis into sweet, spice-scented syrup.
Near Jama Masjid, Old Delhi's most famous mosque, are shops that sell their famous spiced mutton seekh kebabs grilled over charcoal in front of the restaurant. The meat is marinated, roasted, and charred in the tandoor, yielding tender, spicy, smoky meat. A treat for meat eaters.
Try making your own... kebabs.
Naan khatais (biscuits)
Special buttery biscuits called naan khatais are baked on a hot griddle atop small hand carts. Made from flour, semolina, oil or ghee, and sugar, these brown, flaky delights with pistachio and cardamom are a perfect teatime treat.
Parathas with fillings
Parathas or Indian breads are common but Old Delhi's Gali Paranthe Wali street offers unusual stuffings like almond, cashew, bitter gourd and khurchan (caramelised milk deep-fried in ghee). The shopkeepers here have come from the state of Madhya Pradesh and every shop is adorned with photographs of politicians and Bollywood stars devouring their famous parathas. For just forty rupees, you can taste a khurchan paratha with a vegetable curry, dhal and tangy pickle, made fresh in front of your eyes.
Try our member recipe for paratha.
One of the specialties found in this area is a fruit sandwich; finely sliced layers of pineapple, cottage cheese, grapes and ruby red pomegranate seeds are doused in a special fruit sauce (kesar chutney), and dusted with sugar, between layers of soft white bread.
Daulat ki chaat (sweet)
Around Old Delhi, a common sight are mounds of white frothy sweets covered by muslin cloths and sold exclusively on wooden carts or on three-legged mobile stands called tarona. This tasty concoction of whisked milk with froth, saffron, pistachios and edible silver leaf has to be left overnight to get a dose of dewdrops and moonlight, or so vendors claim poetically. The daulat ki chaat is dusted with bhoora (unrefined sugar) and roasted khoya (condensed milk) just before serving.
Falooda is the preferred summertime beverage of Delhi residents. This cool, sweet drink in tall glasses consists of layers of either milk or ice cream, tapioca pearls, vermicelli, basil seeds and rose syrup. There are variations with dried and fresh fruit too.
Have you visited Old Delhi? Feel we've missed a dish out? We'd love to hear your favourites. For more global cuisine and authentic local dishes, visit our Travel section.
...and if this guide has got you in the mood to cook your own Indian feast, take a look at our Indian recipe collection.