Thursday, August 11, 2016

The sweet culinary heroes of Old Delhi

          In the streets of a city lives its soul. Whenever I am travelling, I try to imbibe the culture of the city through its streets. Some Indian cities are treasure troves of secrets and stories that are hidden in its streets. Old Delhi is one of them. Ghanteywaala halwai and Ashok Chaat shutting shop was a shocker to all foodies. It’s sad that 200 years of history just got washed away in the tide of modernisation. That’s why it’s important for all of us to know these stories and pass them down to keep interest and conversations alive about these spaces. Let me walk you through some of these lanes and tell you some such stories. 

           Opposite Badal Begh Masjid, below the erstwhile residence of the famous Indian actress Meena Kumari in a small shop sits Jamaluddin a 60 something gentleman, who has only one thing on his mind and menu, Kheer. This 150 plus year-old kheer shop has been frequented by commoners and bureaucrats alike after an evening of spicy food in Old Delhi. Jamaluddin is happy selling what he has and going home and has no interest in opening another shop, his next generation has no interest in kheer or the legacy, so visit Bade Mian kheer in the next couple of years before it gets lost in the annals of history. 
           All is not that gloomy though, take the example of the Dareeba Jalebi shop in Chandni Chowk. Abhishek Jain is a 30 something enthusiastic entrepreneur, whose family has a jalebi shop started by his grandfather in 1940s. Abhishek takes great pride in the family legacy and is seen every day at the shop in the evenings. He talks about his grandfather with great passion and pride and puts as much passion in talking about how he has not changed the recipe of the sugar syrup by even an ounce. 
           Then there’s the iconic Chaina Ram Halwai, Sindhi confectioners, who migrated to India and continued to do what they did best in their shop in Karachi, make the world sweeter. The long lines for poori-sabzi in the morning are a testament to the finesse of the kaarigars and their recipes that have come from Sindh and are still held as close to the heart as they were in the yesteryears, Chaina Ram is not going anywhere for sure. Then there are the old corner chaatwallas who will make you Kulla chaat — an Old Delhi legacy on request, the fruit sandwich wale Jain sahib, the fruit cream-waale sardarji and the many more milk and lassi shops that tell a story of yesteryear glory. All waiting to be discovered. 
Next time in Delhi enjoy a metro ride to Old Delhi and make these food heroes feel important, you will help ensure that they are interested and proud owners of a food legacy unparalleled.