Express News Service
Old Delhi, also known as Purani Dilli or the Shahjahanabad of yore, is a food lover’s paradise. If you have been brought up in Delhi or have lived here long enough, then you know that this place transforms into an even grander version of itself during the month of Ramzan. For these days every year, this messy old part of the city is not just a place; it transforms into a breathing, eclectic kaleidoscope of street food.
What always amazed me in our festivals is how age-old, heirloom recipes come alive during these times. Perhaps one of the best examples of such times is Ramzan itself—with massive simmering pots strewn along the side of crowded lanes where, somehow, no matter how dense the crowd is, everyone seems to find space to catch a bite.
When I ask some of my friends what they love the most about the food fervour of Ramzan, their answers are diverse—perhaps befitting of how Delhi is. From the kebabs and tikkas that are unmissable to hot-off-the-tandoor sheermal, the savouries are resplendent to say the least. You may wonder though, if, amid such dense crowds, all of this might be too much for one to really enjoy.
To break the intensity, you have some of Ramzan’s most important additions—mithai. There’s the quintessential shahi tukda, and one of my childhood favourite—the paneer jalebi. Cutting through all of this is the chilled Mohabbat ka Sharbat, the chilled milk, sugar, and rose syrup drink turned into a legend by Nawab Qureshi’s stall at Matia Mahal.
Through all of this, the one thing that you notice is how most of the fare is what could be cooked at home. But then, how would you feel the fervour of the festival if it wasn’t laid out as a mammoth spread?
Interestingly, the cuisine that is savoured during Ramzan is not Mughlai but Mughalia. Ask any culinary historian, and they’d tell you why you may be frowned upon if you got this wrong.
In Purani Dilli, Mughalia still survives, and comes to life during Ramzan days. Akin to an art form preserved through kitchen whispers and instincts today, the culture of Mughalia unsurprisingly began for the bawarchis to please the nobles of erstwhile society. That it continues to thrive even today in the oldest alleys of Delhi is equally imaginable—this city, after all, is the seat to our incredible country, with its united diversity in full glory. But, what also strikes you is how experiencing Ramzan festivities has remained constant.
Back in my college days, I had attended an early tryst at the concept of a ‘food walk’ during Ramzan. Our walk had begun at Chawri Bazaar and ended at Jama Masjid via the Bazar Matia Mahal. Anas Khan, who conducts some of the most interesting walks through his venture ‘Unzip Delhi’, tells me how these are important to celebrate traditions that connect us to our roots. Khan conducted his first iftar food walk in 2018 for his friends who hail from outside of Delhi and wanted to experience the festivities. It is this that encouraged him to host more walks around this theme. A resident of Purani Dilli, he proudly takes his audience around to not only the famous places, but also the not-so-known places that have been part of his childhood.
Through these walks, what has remained with me after all these years is how, despite being a vegetarian, I too found something to remember the day and this festival by. For me, it was the hand-baked coconut crusted bun that is made only during this time, and found abundantly across the area. The gur sharbat at Moholla Pahadi Imli too has lived on.
is a food writer who is known for her research-based articles through her blog ‘Delectable Reveries’