Mostly I go to Old Delhi in the evening when the city’s hardworking day is done, the kebabs are smoking and the Biryani pots are beckoning. But recently a sudden craving for pukka Aloo Puri opened up a whole new daytime world of foodie avenues to explore.
Of the many wonderful breakfasts on offer in India, from the South Indian idlis, appams and dosas to the Amritsari meal of a lifetime Chole Kulcha (probably the most heart-stopping dish I’ve ever eaten), Aloo Puri holds a special place in my heart. When we first arrived in Delhi just over four years ago, we stayed for a couple of weeks at the Master Paying Guest House in New Rajender Nagar. A warmer welcome to a country you couldn’t wish for – hosts Ushi and Avnish work tirelessly to make sure your stay is memorable and comfortable.
Their homely cooking is right up my street and I was especially taken with their puffed and fluffy puris, potato curry and sweet lassi which I devoured for breakfast. It couldn’t have been further removed from the daily porridge of a Scottish autumn. Every morning I pinched myself at this proof of the dramatic change in our lives: “we’ve really done it,” I thought, “we’ve moved to India!”
I don’t eat Aloo Puri so regularly these days but every now and then it’s the only thing that will do. So one day last week after dropping the kids off at school, my foodie friend Laura and I headed straight for the Metro and onto Chawri Bazaar. We emerged into an unfamiliar scene: it was about 9am and the newly-swept streets were quiet, shops still shut and pavements free of ‘encroachments’ – in fact it was the first time I realized there were pavements in Old Delhi.
We didn’t have far to go for breakfast – about halfway up Chawri Bazaar Shyam Sweets was already doing a roaring trade. We ordered our Aloo Puri and Lassi, dived in and devoured the lot, sighing happily at the crisp puris, the more-ish potatoes and the thick creamy lassi. So other-worldly was our contentment, we completely forgot to pay and had to be hauled back in shame.
We decided to go for a stroll in Chitli Qabar, where in the evening the kababchis do a roaring trade for the menfolk. The daytime atmosphere is completely different: burqa-clad ladies are out in force, thronging the vegetable carts, scrutinizing meat and fish. I wanted to follow them home to see what they were cooking. There was an awful lot on offer that I didn’t even recognize – this is definitely the time and place if you’re looking for a bucket full of goat brains.
About halfway down Chitli Qabar, we came across a tiny bakery where production of European style loaves was in full flow. The young proprietor of Diamond Bakery told us the shop had been there since British times which gave me hope of a new lead for my British food in India project. We snapped up a couple of still-warm loaves and tore into them as we continued our walk. The bread was delicious, but not very British. The Diamond loaf tastes more like a French Brioche, which is difficult to be disappointed by – I can think of all sorts of occasions for brioche eating as well as lots of puddings in which it might feature. Sadly I couldn’t persuade them to make a daily delivery to Nizamuddin – more reasons to keep crossing town, I suppose!
Shyam Sweets, 112 Chawri Bazaar, Old Delhi
Diamond Bakery, 971 Chitli Qabar, Old Delhi
By the way, on Saturday I’m going on an Eating Out in Delhi trip to Karol Bagh – if anyone has any suggestions for that neck of the woods. drop me a line