The Kismet of Jamaluddin and a Recipe for Kheer

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So finally Korma, Kheer and Kismet – the product of years of joy (in Old Delhi) and heartbreak (at my desk) – is here. Although I still can’t quite believe it and do a double take every time I see it in a shop – my little book out there trying to make its way in the world.

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The response to the book so far has been incredibly cheering, particularly in Old Delhi itself.  As soon as I got back from my holiday in Scotland I went straight there to give copies to the vendors who feature in it.

First stop was Bade Mian’s shop in Lal Kuan.

The Siddique family’s kheer shop is a stone’s throw from the Chawri Bazaar metro and I always start any Old Delhi jaunt there – sitting at one of the tables at the back with a cup of chai and a tiny square metal plate of kheer. Jamaluddin is a wonderful character who is always ready with a colourful story – many of which I can’t understand because he seems to speak in Urdu rhyming couplets.

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Your Weekend Starts Here: Egg Paranthe in Katra Bariyan, Old Delhi

IMG_5185   Old Delhi in July is not everyone’s idea of fun. In fact, most people would probably say that Old Delhi in the middle of a north Indian summer is the last place they’d want to be.  When the temperatures are pushing 50ºC and monsoon humidity is looming,there is a huge temptation to simply find the coolest spot possible and not move if you can avoid it.  But sometimes I feel the need to shake my fist at the iphone weather app and head into Old Delhi. Not least because I know there will be something great to eat and that always improves the mood – whatever the weather. A couple of weeks ago, I did just that and stumbled on a wonderful egg parantha stall on the corner of Naya Bans and Katra Bariyan.  I must have walked past it a thousand times because Khan Omlet Corner is no newcomer.  The Khans’ stall is hugely popular little eatery at breakfast time when the Naya Bans morning market is full swing. safe_image.php The breads are crisp, the spiced egg filling has just the right amount of green chilli and coriander to kickstart the day and the mango pickle on the side sets the whole thing alight.  There’s even a little shady ledge to sit on to get out of the sun and watch the market commotion. IMG_5141 IMG_5142 IMG_5145 I returned exhausted and sweaty but well fed, triumphant at having conquered the weather and ready to take on the world again. Get your weekend off to a great start with the Khans’ wonderful egg paranthe.  You won’t regret it. Having said all that I’m off to cooler climes for a couple of weeks to see family in London and Edinburgh.  We’ll also have some time in Corfu so brace yourselves for Instagrams of blue seas and cold beer. By the time I get back at the beginning of August, the monsoon will be in full swing and I’ll be itching to get back into Old Delhi for all the food that tastes so good in the rainy weather – jalebis, pakore, samose and ghewar – and a visit to Ram Swarup which for some reason I always associated with puddles. IMG_5150

Chikki Market and Gupta Chaat Wallah, Old Delhi

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As we cling onto the last few cool days here, it’s a perfect time to take a leisurely wander around Old Delhi and enjoy some some of the winter specialities that are still available.

One of the never-ending delights of walking in Old Delhi is coming across the tiny markets within markets, the little lanes devoted to one commodity. This winter I discovered a market tucked away in Kothi Shri Mandir near the Khari Baoli spice market and devoted almost entirely to Chikki – a type of nut brittle made from jaggery in the winter months.

Kothi Shri Mandir is so narrow there is hardly any daylight and it almost feels like walking through a secret underground passageway where your path is lit on either side by piles of magical sugar.

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There’s chikki everywhere you look made from sesame (also called gajak), peanuts, cashews even dried rose petals which come in all shapes and sizes – bars, rolls, discs, slabs, golf balls, tiny coin-sized pieces and hearts.

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This is my favourite shop, Lal Chand Rewri Wale – beautiful fresh chikki and I love the way the owner is practically wearing his merchandise.

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There are also some namkeen shops in the street like Pappu Caterers who sell everything you could possibly wish for to put a bit of crunch into your chaat – the spinach matri was particularly good.

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You can  see the chikki being made in some of the shops – these guys are pounding slabs of sesame and jaggery

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And this is the peanut brittle being shapedIMG_4570
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As you come back out of Kothi Shri Mandir, take a minute to appreciate Gali Batashan itself – a whole street devoted to all things sugary, pickled and candied – like these carrots, ginger and amla.
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The gali is also home to some excellent snacks. The Bombay Sandwich wallah often makes a stop here and there is a chana puri stall doing a roaring trade on the corner of Kothi Shri Mandir.  But my new favourite chaat is made by the Guptas who told me they had been in the gali for 45 years – verified by a happy customer who said he’d been visiting their stall for over 40. They run a hugely popular, very spic and span cart from which father and son dish up all kinds of fresh and flavoursome chaat.

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Finally, on the corner of Gali Batashan and Khari Baoli there is a  seasonal vegetable stall – look at all these gorgeous black carrots, fresh green chick peas, star fruit, sweetcorn, lotus roots and fresh turmeric…

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Gali Batashan runs between Khari Baoli and Naya Bans.  If you’re coming from Khari Baoli, Kothi Shri Mandir, where you’ll find all the chikki wallahs, is the last turning on the left before reaching Naya Bans. Gupta Chaat wallah is on the left of Gali Batashan before you turn into Kothi Shri Mandir.  Here’s a map of the exact locations.  Go soon, though, the hot weather is on its way!

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z5yQqd-1sTFU.kwW3uh74zD_M

Kishan Lal Halwai – the rock god of Old Delhi sweet makers

Narender Lal, rock god

I’ve been putting off posting about this recent Old Delhi find because the pictures I took are so terrible. Like this…

Not an illegal poker game, a sweet shop

and this…

Literally throwing money at the guy

Then it occurred to me.  The reason the pictures are so bad is that the food is just so good and the crowds so mental that it’s impossible to get a shot without  being trampled in the crush.  How could I not pass on such treasure?
The chaotic scene you see above is played out every evening on Chandni Chowk and if you didn’t know any better you’d think it was a high-stakes illegal poker game.
In fact it’s possibly Old Delhi’s most popular sweet shop.
Actually, it’s not even a proper shop, more of a nightly pop-up event in the doorway of what during the day is Bishamber Dass Prannath Jewellers.
Whatever you want to call it, Kishan Lal Halwai make some of the best sweets and samosas you are ever likely to taste.  The proof:  the trays of freshly made Sev ki Barfi, Karachi Halwa and samosas which are carried in at about 7pm are gone within an hour.
As you can see, above, people are literally throwing money at the poor guy whose job it is to weigh the sweets out.
Despite its seeming impermanence,  this is no fly by night operation.  The family have been in  business for over 50 years; the founder,  Kishan Lal, used to sit outside the Mercantile building on Chandni Chowk.
The business is now run by the founder’s son Narender who I imagine must feel like the rock god of halwai  every night in life.
They also have a shop in Sitaram Bazaar  which I later remembered visiting a couple of years ago  during monsoon when they make stunning ghewar.  I didn’t manage to get any good shots then either…

A sweet maker at Kishan Lal in Gali Shankar

Ghewar, although not Kishan Lal’s

The sweets I sampled, Sev ki Barfi and Karachi Halwa, are some of the best, and certainly the freshest, I’ve ever eaten.  Sorry there are no drool-inducing close-ups – you’ll just have to take my word for it.
A huge thanks to my high-energy companion for the day, Surekha Narain, for pointing out Kishan Lal’s spot in Chandni Chowk.
How to find Kishan Lal:  The stall is at 1210 Chandni Chowk and is directly opposite landmark shop  Chhabra 555 which is roughly halfway down Chandni Chowk on the Gurudwara side.
Arrive before  8, though!
To find their Sitaram Bazaar workshop: from Chawri Bazaar metro walk almost to the end of Sitaram Bazaar, then turn right into Gali Shankar.  Ask for Kishan Lal Halwai

Gorgeous Goddesses and Lashings of Aloo Puri in Old Delhi

Saturday was Ashtami, the 8th day of the nine-day Hindu fasting period known as Navratri  (literally, ‘nine nights’) during which the goddess Durga is honoured.

Food, as ever, plays an important part.

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A Western Disturbance and a Winter Lunch at Khan Hotel, Old Delhi

As the temperatures rise and Delhi-ites rush to get their ACs serviced and start to dread the long, sweaty slog ahead, we have been granted a few days’ reprieve in the shape of unseasonal chilly squalls.  This, we are informed by every daily newspaper,  is thanks to the ‘Western Disturbance’,  a term used in this part of the world to describe a sudden cold snap caused by extratropical storms in the Mediterranean.

The cold winds and swirling leaves are making  me think back to some of the lovely book-related  Old Delhi outings  of the past few months that I never got round to blogging about.  Winter is such a great time for Old Delhi pottering, when the city is  warm and cheering  rather than exhaustingly hot.

Back in January, for instance, on the day of the Lohri , I went for a stroll in the area which specialises in gajjak – a jaggery/nut brittle  eaten and gifted during this winter harvest festival. The gajjak shops turned out to be not too far from Chawri Bazaar metro towards the Khari Baoli end of Lal Kuan, and seemed to  envelop the area in a tantalising nutty, jaggery aroma.

In Frashkhana, there was a cluster of shops overflowing with nutty delights and doing a roaring trade.  It was a street I hadn’t explored before and  was keen to keep going but Rahul my rickshaw driver stopped after about 100 yards and said it wasn’t safe to go any further as the end of the gully marked the beginning of G.B. Road, Old Delhi’s red light district.

I wanted to linger, though. Luckily I spotted a busy food stall snuggled up to an old Mughal archway. Bathed in the soft winter sun, Khan Hotel was crowded with workers in their cosy woollen tank tops, an old man was making bread and all seemed well with the world.

The shop’s young proprietor, Chaman Khan, looked astonished  when I strolled up and ordered a plate of mutton and potato – I suppose not many foreigners stray into these parts.  One of the workers ushered me to a bench in the gully under the arch where I sat and dipped my fresh tandoori roti into the gravy, studiously ignoring Rahul’s rising twitchiness. The meal was simple and homely with none of Old Delhi’s signature spicy pyrotechnics –  also on offer was potato and spinach and dal, each served with the freshest of bread for 20 rupees a go.

Eventually, I gave in to Rahul’s constant reminders that this was not a good area and got back on the rickshaw.  Returning via Lal Kuan, we stopped at Lal Ramkrishan Das and Sons where a huge crowd was blocking out a beautiful display of gajjak. I sampled a few – a perfect chaser to the savoury meat – then watched sugar being spun at the back of the shop. (unfortunately I’ve managed to delete a video I made of this!)

Just looking at these photos makes me feel winter is already a distant memory but if the Western Disturbance troubles us for just a little bit longer, we can enjoy a few more leisurely Old Delhi strolls.

Khan Hotel, about fifty yards up on the right of Frashkhana coming from Lal Kuan

Lal Ramkrishan Das and Sons, gajjak shop, on Lal Kuan next to the opening for Rodgran Gali 

Gulabi Chikki – Coming Up Roses In 2012

Happy New Year everyone – wishing you all great things in 2012! One  of my wishes for the year ahead is  to spend more time here on my poor neglected blog. Thank you to everyone who wrote to find out if I’d dropped off the face of the earth – I really appreciate all your messages.

The truth is, I wouldn’t let myself do any blogging until I’d made some serious headway with the book.  I spent most of the autumn in Old Delhi, taking part in all the festivals, soaking everything up and filling dozens of notebooks but as soon as Diwali was over I knew I had to just sit down and try to make sense of it all. For a while I seriously doubted I could do it (I still have my doubts actually).  How could I possibly do justice to my beloved Old Delhi? How would I ever get beyond my journalist’s comfort zone of 1500 words?  Was my spine , and sanity, going to survive sitting at a desk for months on end?

Eventually I gave myself a good talking to,   strapped myself to a chair, switched off the internet and vowed to do no blogging or  excursions to Old Delhi until  I’d made significant progress.  It worked, sort of, and  it was a massive relief when  I sent off the first chapter a day before Charlie arrived back for the Christmas holidays.  Baby steps, but still an achievement.

My back’s still killing me but at least I’d earned a trip to Old Delhi. So last Friday, Dean and I left the kids sprawling on the sofa and headed out into the chilly morning. When we  arrived  in Chawri Bazaar  the streets were still thick with cold winter fog so we decided to warm up in Standard Sweets, a few steps from the Metro station.   We ordered two plates of Chhole Puri, a soft and comforting chick pea dish served with piping hot deep fried breads.  The Standard version of  this ubiquitous Delhi  dish is the addition of   potato, paneer and an extremely tasty kofta (a creamy vegetable dumpling).  We parked ourselves at a table to watch the shop and street get ready for the day.  A huge platter of carrot halwa was set on a stove to keep warm while young men in mufflers trooped in bearing trays of freshly made samosas and balushahi. Our breakfast, washed down with sweet spicy chai was delicious – I particularly enjoyed the kofta.  All round, a perfect winter warmer. From Standard Sweets we decided to wander through  Gali Peepal Mahadev where several temples were doing a brisk trade in early morning pujas.  Here, on the left,  we spotted the young owner of Standard Sweets making his offerings

We came across  an embroidery workshop and a dyeing shop

From Ballimaran we headed towards Kinari Bazaar and found a Daulat ki Chaat vendor.

I say ‘found’ but they’re not exactly difficult to come by these days.  Has anyone else noticed the multiplying of  Daulat ki Chaat wallahs in Old Delhi this year?  A happy renaissance to be sure but I’ve noticed some of them, particularly those clustered round Chawri Bazaar metro station,  taste a bit synthetic – cutting corners perhaps? The one we ate in Kinari Bazaar, however, was top notch.  The vendor, a serious young man in a Nehru waistcoat, was almost hidden from view in a side lane.  He took great pains to make sure each plate was just so, waited for us to finish then folded up his stand, put the platter on his head and disappeared into the main bazaar.

Dean stopped for a haircut, which as cruel friends have pointed out, never takes that long

From Kinari Bazaar we turned into Paranthe Wali Gali, not for paranthe but for sweets at Kanwarji which is at the end of the street on the corner with Chandni Chowk. Here I bought the beautiful rose chikki you can see at the top of this post. Chikki are like  nut brittle –  usually  nuts, seeds or puffed rice set in sugar or jaggery.  In the winter months, when the roses are at their best in India, the sweet shops sometimes add rose petals to their chikki.  Delicately rose-flavoured and beautiful to look at, they made the prettiest of new year gifts.

We also popped into the historic Ghantewala sweet shop a few doors up on Chandni Chowk to try their Habshi Halwa, a dark sugary, nutty, spicy sweet which, it turns out, both looks and tastes like Christmas pudding.

Then, just as we were about to head home, we decided to  take a peek in one of the lanes between Chandni Chowk and Kinari Bazaar. And in that little detour  we found  this lovely little place;

this young man with his thriving knife-sharpening business. Can you see the sparks flying from the scissors he’s sharpening on a stone that he’s turning by pedal power?

an old abandoned desk;

and a happy doggy  soaking up the winter sun…

It’s not just the food of Old Delhi  I’ve missed over the past few weeks, I’ve also missed  these endless discoveries.  It doesn’t matter how often I go to Old Delhi there’s always something I haven’t seen before; a doorway, a clock, a shaft of light, someone making something or fixing something, the boy with one blind eye  watching the crazy foreigner have his hair clipped.

Here’s to a year of discovery!

Standard Sweets, Gali Hakim Baqa. From Chawri Bazaar metro station   turn into Chawri Bazaar and take the first little turning on the left and you’ll see the shop on the left.

Ananda Mela or The Gorging Puja

The festival season is well under way here in Delhi and with so many celebrations overlapping and coinciding, it can be tough to keep up. I’m doing my best – for my book, I’m trying to make sure I  at least catch everything in the Old Delhi calendar – but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s happening when.

So if there’s anything you think I might miss, please drop me a line – for example I hadn’t realised that  the Bengali festival of Durga Puja was celebrated in Old Delhi until new Bengali friend Surya took me in hand.

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It turns out the Kashmere Gate Durga Puja (also known as the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti) is in fact Delhi’s oldest, dating back to the time many Bengalis came to Delhi to work for the British when the government moved from Calcutta.  In the early days, the Puja was held in the heart of Old Delhi in Nai Sarak, then Fatehpuri.

The Puja’s new home is the Bengali Secondary School on Alipur Road and last night Surya, her husband Sean and I met at Civil Lines metro to check it out. As I frequently find myself lost in Hindu traditions and rituals, Surya first of all sat me down to explain some of the Durga essentials, calling her Mum in Siliguri a couple of times for clarification.

Durga Puja coincides with Navratra, which began last Wednesday, and both are linked to the start of winter and harvest time.   Navratri, which literally means ‘nine nights’, a nine day fasting period for Hindus,  is observed several times a year but the most significant is the Maha Navratra (‘Great Navratra’)  at the beginning of autumn.

The Goddess arrives on an elephant, leaves on a palanquin

The dates of Bengali festivals and pujas are determined by the annual Panjika almanac, compiled by astrologers and priests; it also determines auspicious days for weddings, business ventures etc. according to the lunar cycle.  The Panjika also details how Durga, along with her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh, and Kartik will arrive,  by  horse, palanquin, boat etc.   If she arrives by elephant, as she did this time, it’s going to be a good year ahead. Although not such good news for her departure:  she’s leaving on a palanquin, signifying epidemic.

The Kashmere Gate Durga Puja is a traditional and low-key affair compared to many in Calcutta the Goddess was radiant without being too flashy and the music was ‘Rabindro Sangeet’, the beautiful music and words written by Rabindranath Tagore; songs of ‘love and revolution’ according to Surya. Today is the start of three days of religious rituals then Durga’s earthly visit will be over for another year and she’ll go back to heaven via an immersion  in the Yamuna river on Thursday.

Ananda mela: the gorging puja

But of course I was itching to get on with the food side of the things and I had already noticed lots of women pulling stoves, pressure cookers and platters out of bags.   Which could only mean one thing –  the Ananda Mela was about to start. The Ananda Mela is a wonderful tradition of local women sharing their family specialities on the evening before the puja begins (which this year is today).

We tried almost everything on offer: Luchi Chola (chick peas with puri), Jimikand (also known as ‘kochu’ or ‘taro’) Cutlets, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Korma ‘Rashmoni’ Kheer (‘kheer surprise’), Malpua (sweet, fried fritters), and Patishapta (a sweet pancake stuffed with coconut)  and the excitingly-named Bonanza Chilli Chicken with Lemon Rice.  Wonderful, lovingly-cooked homestyle dishes, a grand start to the glorious Delhi eating season.

A Delhi Street Food Feature For Feast Magazine

Here’s a link to a feature I wrote for the Australian food magazine ‘Feast’. Photographer  Alan Benson and I did this in May when it was boiling, boiling hot and even I was finding it hard to eat huge amounts of deep-fried food!  At Dilli Haat craft market we were literally the only people at the food court.

Alan’s  photos are gorgeous though – Old Delhi never looked better and happily, there are no shots of my red, sweaty face in there!

Feast Feature

Kites, Pakoras and Life in a Beautiful Haveli: Independence Day in Old Delhi

On India’s 64th Independence Day on Monday I woke to a text message from Old Delhi friend Amit: “Rain has played spoil sport”.  I looked out to see the Monsoon rains sheeting down and felt his pain.

Normally rain  is met with joy and relief  in North India. In Old  Delhi, though, Independence Day is celebrated by flying  paper  kites, a symbol of freedom – rain means the festivities will be a wash out. (There’s a nice piece here on the tradition of kite flying in Old Delhi, with pictures by my friend Simon de Trey White.

I was particularly disappointed because this was the first time I’d been invited to take part in not one, but two kite flying parties in Old Delhi.

Happily, by noon the rains had petered out and I headed off.  The first stop was the beautiful haveli owned by Dhruv and Richa Gupta in Sitaram Bazaar. Continue reading