In the holy month of Ramzan, Muslims from all over the world fast from dawn to dusk to come closer to God. Abstaining from food and drink during the day, the faithful Muslim may eat two meals a day - the pre-dawn suhoor and iftar at dusk.
During iftar, Old Delhi becomes a paradise for food connoisseurs. The lane opposite Jama Masjid - Bazar Matia Mahal - is filled with heady aromas from big heaps of keema samosas, vats of buffalo biryani, grilling botis and kebabs and hot paneer jalebi. To cool down, there are drums filled with Rooh Afza sherbet and dishes of dahi vada.
But with so many choices, where will you find the best feast? Here are 11 of my favourite iftar joints (some essentially nameless and known only by their specialities) in Bazar Matia Mahal.
1. Kallan Sweets
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Studded with framed newspaper cuttings of visits from India's biggest chefs, Kallan Sweets overlooks one of the gates of Jama Masjid. Started by Mohd. Shaan in 1939, its doors stay open from 7am until midnight, with a break at 2pm to prepare a fresh batch of sweets and snacks for the evening. One of their specialties is the bright orange and thick paneer ki jalebi, which uses a cottage cheese paste in lieu of much of the flour that goes into the more common jalebi. It is extremely popular in Ramzan, along with other festive delicacies such as khoya samosa, keema samosa (shaped like gujiya and stuffed with minced meat) and paneer ke pakode.
Address: Shop no. 4-5, Jama Masjid, Gate no. 1, Matia Mahal.
2. Haji Mohd. Hussain Fried Chicken
Established 40 years ago, this shop has been dishing out fried chicken in Delhi far longer than KFC. I call it JFC - Jama Masjid Fried Chicken. The chicken is first marinated in different spices and chickpea batter, and then half-fried. For maximum crispness, the chicken is cut into small pieces to be fried in huge pan of boiling oil. The end result is crunchy outside, moist and tender inside. It comes served with rumali roti, onions and special tangy masala chutney.
During Ramzan, Haji sa'ab also sells keema goli, which are small balls made out of minced meat, and served with onion and chutney.
Address: 113, Bazar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid.
3. Aslam Chicken Corner
This eatery is famed for its unique interpretation of the butter chicken, and has been a Walled City favourite for 18 years. The cooking technique includes a stint in the tandoor for the chicken before it is bathed in creamy gravy. The chicken pieces are first marinated in a special (and top secret!) combination of spices. A separate chulhas is used to heat large blocks of Amul butter which is then combined with curd and poured generously over the scrumptious chicken pieces. The melted butter seeps into the chicken thereby softening it and the curd lends a tangy taste to the dish and cuts through the butter. The chicken is served in a steel container with a basket of rumali roti.
This Ramzan, Aslam Chicken Corner has also started offering chicken seekh kebabs, with a nice flavour of green chillies and Amul butter.
Address: 540, Bazaar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid.
4. Kebabs at Qureshi, Lallu Kebabi, Bhaijaan And Kale Baba
The iftar feast is incomplete without kebabs. Right opposite Gate No. 1 Jama Masjid are two well known kebabchis famous for seekh and boti kebabs - Qureshi Kebab Corner and Lalu Kebabe. Both of them make excellent kebabs of buff smeared with Nutralite, onions, and spicy chutney.
The new entrant, Bhaijaan Kebabs in Chitli Qabar sells fibrous shammi kebabs deep fried in oil. Another kebab shop in Sui Walan, Kale Baba ke Kebabs, is popular for their sutli kebabs - these are so soft, they have to be held together with a twine of thread. You actually have to hold the thread tied over the kebab from one end, and it spreads on your plate, when unfolded. Sutli kebabs are served on a green leaf, with radish and mint chutney.
Addresses: Qureshi Kebab Corner and Lalu Kebabe, Opposite Gate No. 1, Jama Masjid; Bhaijaan Kebabs, Shop No. 2202, Bazar Chitli Qabar, Opp. Flora Bakery; Kale Baba ke Kebab, Sui Walan, Chitli Qabar.
5. Changezi Chicken
Originally established as Hotel Maidah in 1986, the name of the shop was changed to Changezi Chicken in 1990 after their signature dish. Changezi chicken is served in a tangy gravy of yogurt, tomatoes and onion. The chicken is roasted separately in a roast machine by l-Halabi, a brand established in Dubai, and then shredded into boneless pieces by hand before it is put in the gravy. This dish is the brainchild of the founder of the shop, Mohd. Fazil, the Mr Delhi of 1971! You can also have beef biryani, paya, nahari and a multitude of chicken preparations at the many branches of Changezi Chicken. The restaurant occupies a long stretch on Churi Walan Gali and buzzes with customers during Ramzan as it remains open from 6pm-midnight.
Address: 2614, Churi Walan Jama Masjid, Delhi-06 and 3614, Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj.
6. Laung Churey Kebab
A small stall outside the Hamdard shop in Chitli Qabar sells something that vegetarians are delighted by: laung churey kebab, made from besan, aata and onion. There are three varieties - fried, kebabs which are soaked in water after frying and long vegetarian seekhs, all of which are made in a small shop nearby. These kebabs are served with chutney of red chillies, amchur, salt and garam masala. The shop was run for 15 years by Mujahid and his son Mohd. Nurshid took over six years ago. For Rs 20 a plate, this is one deal vegetarians cannot pass on.
Address: Outside Hamdard shop in Chitli Qabar, Jama Masjid.
7. Cool Point
Established 25 years ago by Muhammad Zahid, the place is currently managed by his son, Zohaib. Cool Point is mainly famous for its shahi tukda (bread deep fried in pure ghee and then dipped in thick cream and sugar syrup) and phirni (a mouthwatering dessert of milk and crushed rice served in clay containers). Cool Point is also known for its kesar milk, badam milk, lassi and mango and vanilla ice cream.
Address: 973, Bazar Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid.
8. Nawab Qureshi's watermelon shake
A much frequented food cart or thela belongs to Nawab Qureshi, originally from Uttar Pradesh, who sells a refreshing drink during the hot summer months (he sells fruit in winter). Fondly called "Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa" (affection, love, fun), this drink costs just ₹ 10 per glass, and is indeed filled with love and fun. The pink concoction is made from fresh Amul milk (cartons of which are stacked on top of each other in his cart) and Rooh Afza, a typical drink of the summers. Qureshi adds a twist to this by adding freshly cut watermelon cubes for crunch and a fresh taste.
Address: Pyaar Mohabbat Mazaa is available all summer long at Nawab Qureshi's stall in front of 1149, Matia Mahal, near Jama Masjid, Delhi-110006.
9. Ameer Sweet House
Ameer Sweet House, decorated with pictures and framed articles about its founder, has been selling sweet and savoury food for about 100 years. Managed by Haji Zafruddin, the shop sells special dishes like keema and khoya samosa during Ramzan, from 4-7pm. You will find mouthwatering sweets like balushahi, besan ke laddu, chamcham and gulaab jamun , as well as chhole bhature and pakoras.
Address: 957, Haveli Azam Khan, Bazar Chitli Qabar, Jama Masjid.
10. Pehalwaan Biryaniwale
Pehalwaan Biryaniwale, also known as Biryani Mirch Masala, is right opposite Ameer Sweet House in Haveli Azam Khan. The owner, Haji Mohd. Anwar, opens up at 5pm and sells biryani right until 2am. He also sits outside in Chitli Qabar Chowk for an hour in the night. The meat, marinated in salt and chillies, is cooked separately and added to the rice. After adding masala, the dish is cooked on low heat (on dum) in a big tub covered with cloth. This type of biryani does not need complementary dishes like raita and the smell itself is enough to make your stomach growl.
Address: Shop no. 701, Haveli Azam Khan, Chitli Qabar, Jama Masjid.
11. Gur ka Sharbat at Pahadi Imli
A small shop in the corner of Moholla Pahadi Imli sells a novel and refreshing drink: gur ka sharbat. The jaggery is brought from Ajmeri Gate Market and is kept soaked in water in a big container. The brass spoon used to mix the two is as old as the shop itself, which was established in 1947. Akhil Ahmed, the son of a watch-seller in front of Fatehpuri Masjid, has seen the price of this drink go up from 1 paisa to ₹ 5 a glass. The shop opens at 8am and serves the drink until stocks last.
Address: Corner of Pahadi Imli, Chitli Qabar, Bazar Matia Mahal.
Pictures by: Yatin Arora, Kusha Saini
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