The Backpacker’s Food & Booze Haven in Delhi

Hi Didi/ Rinks…

It has been sometime I wrote to you both about my foodie adventures in Delhi…although the active exchange of recipes, stories, and getting nostalgic about the ‘good old days’ between you two surely makes up for the lack of communication from me..
I was surprised to see your creations from Tal…how can Tal be so cool is what I was wondering as I read through your experience of extracting & making goodies like Tal Coulis, Tal Crispy fritters or how even a spoilt cake has its new avatar as Cake Cookies…only one word for you both, Creativity!!!

But for somebody as lazy as me when it comes to cooking food, the thought of preparing such toughies is a scary one and currently the best I do is to haul my lazy ass to simply pick my wallet, hop onto the metro & reach any of the food-havens of Delhi.

And recently a few of my old friends joined me at a place which was a haven for its multiple options of foods & cheap booze joints, and which used to be our hangout spot especially during our college/1st year of our jobs…Paharganj, more popularly known for its almost infinite range of shoestring budget hotels & proximity to New Delhi Railway Station thus enjoying the patronage of travellers & backpackers from around the world is a curious mixture of the old and the new, the best and the worst of what Delhi has to offer.

Bazaars selling their wares & Gandhiji calling out for Peace!

Bazaars selling their wares & Gandhiji calling out for Peace!

You guys will never associate Paharganj with anything else except that it is one of the 2 sides of Delhi’s largest railway terminus, the other being Ajmeri Gate side, but Paharganj  is teeming with life of a different kind, than you may see any where else in Delhi.. It is infamous for the shabby & very shady quality of hotels & lodges, associated with the seedier underbelly of Delhi, the triangle of drugs, liquor, prostitution; it is dirty, noisy, a place always on the move due to the nearby railway hub, but despite that it is a place which is vibrant and surprisingly full of energy of a different kind! Bargain shops in the Main Bazaars of Paharganj jostle with each other to sell to the travellers books on new-age yoga, yogic meditation, food & travel guides for India & definitely multiple versions of India’s most famous book export to the rest of the world, the Kamasutra! Kitschy shops peddle ‘indian’ music CDs, musical instruments of ‘Indian’ origin, ‘antique’ silver jewellery and gemstones, bags, clothes, incense & ittars, ornate hookahs, statues and myriad handicrafts. Graffiti on the walls and foreign-sounding names of the hotels & restaurants, like Hotel Le Roi, Sam’s Cafe and signages highlighting that Lonely Planet recommends that place, complete the setting which is supposed to capture the attention of visitors and even us Indians with a melange of colorful & exotic sights, sounds and smells.

Check the names of the hotels….Hotel Le Roi calls out to the French, while a simple Hotel UK or USA reminds the Britisher or American of his life back in his country of origin…

The huge transit & influx of tourists naturally means that food joints within the hotels or stand-alone ones have had to cater to the palates of both Foreign & Indian tourists and with time these have evolved into Cafes & Pubs whose popularity rivals many of the fashionable eateries of Delhi. The Paharganj eateries spring out amidst crumbling buildings announcing the speciality of that particular place on the artistically designed facades of the particular cafe/bakery/bistro/pub. And you see all kinds, like Israeli, Lebanese delicacies, French pastries, German Bakeries, Korean & Thai, American breakfasts alongside the more commonly available Italian/Continental Bistro kind of foods. Indian traditional foods also make their presence felt while many of these eateries simply choose to highlight that their USP is Beer & Alcohol available at as low as INR70 (about a Euro/1.5 USD)!!

So a food exploration in these parts are always fun and a bit of food & some beers to go along with it makes half-a-sunday spent here worthwhile. So you also see the pics & get inspired to try them out…

Customers like us & the tourists relax amid a random mix of easy chairs, sofas & utilitarian tables on the rooftop restaurants. One can sit there, relishing the food, wearing what you want to and reading your favourite book, or indulge in conversations over endless cups of coffee or beer or Masala Chai or Nimbu Masala Soda(Spicy Lemonade). The restaurant managers do not pester you to order food and nor will you have customers hovering & waiting around your table to grab the seat the moment you get up to leave. This is as laid back as it can be especially in a eating joint in a place like Delhi! Once you plonk down onto the seats the ambience of the place gets to you and you don’t feel like moving. Now you know why I love these kind of places, especially in winters & the rains  :).

Throughout the day the cafes, many of which are open-terraced hangout places serve Sandwiches, Pancakes, Pasta, or other choices like include scrambled eggs, omlettes & sandwiches with ham, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese, or a typically British-style Fish & Chips.

Tuna Sandwiches which we downed with a glass of fresh Orange Juice

Banana Pancakes with Honey to be had with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, none of your fancy machine espressos here!!

We ordered Chicken Schnitzel served with hummus & Israeli salad, a steak (Buffalo, not Beef) sizzler doused in barbecue sauce, all washed down with a few mugs of beer completed a good portion of our gastronomic adventures of the day.

We thereafter proceeded towards some of the specialty Indian food shops that prove Paharganj to be a eclectic potpourri of tastes. There is this 60 year old Choley-Bhatura Shopwalla in Paharganj, named Sita Ram Dewan Chand. Bhaturas (soft, fluffy white flour flat breads kneaded with yogurt, butter and then deep-fried) and Choley (Chikpeas cooked in a spicy Indian curry) are like the most common food available in the Delhi-Haryana-Punjab belt of India and is a very hearty & heavy ‘breakfast’ kind of a food as we all know. So you may ask whats so special about this one? Also especially since the Bhaturas are fried beforehand in huge quantities and they are all stacked up and as you ask for servings, 2 pieces of the bhatura are re-heated and a plateful of choley is dunked with these and handed over to us. I think the secret is the yummy cholley and the ingredients in it that make it probably one of Delhi’s Best Choley-Bhatura! Really Didi/Rinki the Choley is to die-for….it is loaded with flavorful spices, pomegranate seeds, chunks of potatoes, slices of paneer(cottage cheese) and is served with Amra (or June Plum which is a sour fruit like raw mango), onions and pickled green chillies. All my friends wanted to take home the Choley, it was so delicious! Even though the Bhaturas are fried beforehand and are alien to the universally acknowledged image of a fluffed-up, almost like a ball kind of Bhatura, but surprisingly the taste actually was not so bad! Since each Bhatura is stuffed with shreds of Paneer (cottage cheese), fresh coriander and many other spices which I couldn’t unravel, maybe thats why even the reheated Bhatura nobody seems to mind! But I feel it is the magic of the Choley that does the trick to this super combo! It is one of those eateries that have been serving the same food using the same recipe, maintaining the same taste & quality, decade after decade, without indulging in any new-fangled notions of diversifying into other kinds of foods! A must-have whenever you guys come to Delhi next! And the best part dear sisters is that, we have been such regular visitors there for many years now,  that whenever the owner sees us walk in, he ensures that we are served freshly fried Bhaturas! So now this already deadly combo has become PERFECT!!!

Our next stop was this guy who sells a very unique concoction. Spicy Moth Daal/Green Moong Daal (Green Split Gram) in a curried form is put in a small plate, then covered with a layer of cooked white rice and finally topped with finely chopped green chillies, dry powdered masalas, raw onion rings. Now guess what is this mixture eaten with?  Its not spoons or forks, but with a Kachori!!! Yes isn’t that a very unique thing…and surprisingly its a very very popular dish amongst the locals, as it had been been suggested by a person who was eating with us at the Sita Ram Dewan Chand shop that day. And what a find it was 🙂 Interestingly each of these places we went by the recommendation of either the shop owners or a fellow-foodie directing us towards the next flavorful food that is sold in these markets.

The next stop was my favourite Khushiram’s Geela Kulche (Wet Kulcha) with Choley. These are normal Kulcha which have been dipped in the water that is leftover while boiling the Choley (Chickpeas), so theres a bit of masala leftover in this water and tastes a bit sour. It is served by keeping the wet Kulcha on a plate, topped with some Choley curry, a dash of ginger, green chilli and lime juice.

It had a amazingly subtle flavor of the spices, faintly sour because of the ‘water treatment’ of the kulcha, and for my friends this was a different, first-of-its-kind of a experience. The owner of this shop, Sachin Kochar who had seen my pictures of his creations on the DelhiByFoot page met us and treated us to many stories of the history of the area and the reasons of high usage of Choley/Green Gram in the foods being sold in the Paharganj area. Choley or chickpeas apparently helps in a good digestion, is advised for people who are diabetic and is also an wonderful food which has almost zero contribution in bad cholesterol of the heart. And wonders of wonders was that after we wolfed down platefuls of the Geela Kulcha, Sachin declined to accept any money from us! He said it was a treat from a friend to another, whom he had known only on FB till then, but since we met up, the relationship has been strengthened and thus we all were his guests. Wow cousins, can you imagine such old-world hospitality! This I tell you can happens only in India!! And Didi, although I agree with your lament about the times before FB when we had friends whom we met face to face, but truly on the other hand, I wouldn’t have met Sachin and experienced his generous hospitality without FB! Isn’t that so?

Sachin’s suggestion to us was to go to another place, Janta Sweets which sells 2 very wonderful things. First is the super combo of thick Plain Atta Poori (Wholewheat flour circular shaped deep-fried bread), Sooji Halwa(Sweet Indian Dessert made with coarse wheat flour)  and Sweet Malpuas (Indian-style palm-size flour pancakes which are dipped in sugar syrup). I tell you cousins, after the combo of Poori & Mutton Curry, this was the best Poori combination I have ever had in my life! For those who are wary of the sweetness of the Malpua or the Halwa, they had the choice of eating the Pooris with simple Aloo ki Sabzi (Spiced Curry of Potatoes), but at the end of the meal, the sabzi lay untouched by any of us…

            As a special gesture the owner of this shop, Kapil (in the Pink shirt in pic on right) himself went upto the huge cauldron of oil and fried a few Pooris for us and supervised his shop’s staff to serve us with care.

Kapil also took a special interest in explaining more about how the 2nd interesting thing that we ate here, is prepared. This is the Yellow Moong Daal(Yellow Split Gram) Samosa. Boiled & stir-fried Moong Daal, flavoured very lightly with a bit of a masala is stuffed inside the triangular samosas and then fried to the exact crunchy perfection. The rush of sensory joy when you bite into the crunchy exterior, which suddenly gives way into a soft, moist yellow daal cannot be described here…you just have to eat it to know the deliciousness of it all….

By now we all were reaching out for bottles of digestives like Hajmola and rickshaws were hailed to haul all of us back to the nearest Metro station for our ride back home, with the feeling not far from our thoughts that we need to return very soon to the Paharganj Bazaar for a visual & foodie treat!

One of the assistants for the head cook Janta Sweets poses for my camera.

The delicious Yellow Moong Daal Samosa.


3 comments on “The Backpacker’s Food & Booze Haven in Delhi

  1. […] Pushkar is like a big Backpacker’s District which dominates major parts of this otherwise sleepy town. Thus food options are galore that cater primarily to the palates of Foreign tourists, of a wide variety of cuisines from around the world. The atmosphere is similar to what I described about Delhi’s backpacker’s district, Paharganj in one of my previous posts on this Blog. […]

  2. yummiessss .. Thanks for the share…..

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