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From Sehri to Iftar: A gastronomic walk through old Delhi during Ramzan
Ajachi Chakrabarti & Payel Majumdar  26th Jul 2014

A typical view of Jama Masjid during Iftar | PHOTO: Aditya Sakorkar

strong>Sehri: 11 p.m.-5 a.m.

The coach of the Metro we take to Chandni Chowk reeks of alcohol. Everyone on board, it seems, is drunk. At INA, one kid staggers in, vertical thanks mostly to his friend who is holding him up. Horizontal once more, he begins a spirited argument with the recorded announcements. Why, indeed, can't we sit on the floor?

Our motive for this midnight foray into the heart of Old Delhi is, like with the best midnight forays, gastronomic. The Sehri Walk, organised by Delhi Food Walks, has already drawn a group of 30 or so people when we join it. Anubhav Sapra, DFW's "foodie-in-chief" and our guide for the evening, is listing the menu. Over the next five hours, we are to sample some of the best treats the walled city has to offer, the best possible way to prepare oneself for a day of fasting during this holy month of Ramzan.

It becomes clear by our second stop for omelettes at Katra Bariyan, why the whole thing will take five hours: the sheer number of people who have joined means it takes over half an hour for everyone to be served, something that will be a recurring feature of the night. The wait is worth it, though; cooked to perfection and doused in butter and melting cheese, the omelettes are divine. As we wait for everyone to finish, conversations are struck up, new friends are made.

Omelettes and lemon soda (from Pt. Ved Prakash Lemon Waale, the oldest lemon soda shop in Delhi) dispensed with, it's time for the serious business. Spread on two sides of a narrow and very busy alley, we dig into mutton nihari, dodging rickshaws, scooters and waiters carrying hot ghee. Following a brief interlude to try "Bade Miyan ki Kheer", it's off to the crowded bylanes around Jama Masjid. As we troop down the narrow alleys, one attendee excitedly pointing out the landmarks of her childhood spent here, we attract a number of curious stares. The only people who don't care are the trolley-pullers, sleeping the labours of the day away.

As we wait for our tea, "butter chicken" and phirni, someone suggests going up to the Masjid itself. Our trooping about and itchy shutter fingers soon attract the attention of the caretakers, who shoo us away after one last group photo. No matter, it's time for the main event, the sehri itself. As crackers go off inviting the faithful to the morning meal, we are confronted with large bowls of milk and sev that elicit mock horror from the group. The brave gulp it down, others decline. Either way, no one's going to be eating much for the rest of the day.

* * *

Iftar: 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.

In fluorescent twilight, we wait for the gong to sound, signalling sunset, and azaan to begin so that all people fasting can have their first drop of moisture and crumb of food for the day. Fairy lights travel all across the borders of Jama Masjid's façade, lighting up its contours. We start off with keema samosas and paneer jalebis, while dusk spreads across the purple skyline till shiny white skullcaps and crisp white kurtas are all you can see of the people assembled there.

We troop out after polishing said items down, only to face a near stampede with people trying to get in and out at the same time. There is some loud grumbling about the need to fish cameras out at this juncture while everyone pushes and fights.

It takes us 15 minutes to make our way through, and darkness has set in to showcase the glitz of the bazaar in front of the masjid even better. I look down from the stairs of the masjid and all I can see are heads of people, billions of them pressed together in miniature, as if performing an impromptu huddle. And into this sea we dive.

It is 8 p.m. now and the destination of our 50-strong group is Aslam Chicken Corner known for its butter chicken. Now, before you make the "meh" face (as I did) about eating banal food at The Mecca of Authentic Food in Delhi, hold your leg pieces. This is a parallel narrative with yoghurt, mugs of butter, salt and pepper working magic on tenderised chicken with hot roomali rotis. We walk ahead to Chitli Kabar, (which translates to "grave of a piebald goat") and on Choori Gali we have our next stop at a shop called Chengizi Chicken. Enquiries about etymological references to its namesake marauder ruler draw a blank, as do enquiries about goat graves. This is where some road blocks appear on our food walk, it being rush hour and no place to be found for a huge group. Much confusion, and everyone cooped into the tiny place, plates of achaari biryani finally appear. (Nizamuddin's or Batla house biryani is much better, the verdict amongst our lot goes.) Chicken Chengizi is ushered in, a melting mess of chicken and a treasury of spices in our mouth. We don't wait to classify, but welcome the foreign flavours of a well-known dish. Mutton nihari is the star of that evening. The waiter later tells us, "Sab khatam ho gaya. Aapne toh shaadi ke jaise aaj kha liya." Laahoul waala Kuwait scenes.

To go on a food walk with Delhi Food Walks, contact Anubhav Sapra at +91 98911 21333 or mail them at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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