Near Jama Masjid, the choking pollution of Delhi’s vehicles is replaced by the whiff of coal and spices. Your eyes can’t help but follow the oiled-up kebab skewers that glisten over crackling flames. Streets are lit up with lights during Ramzan, but way brighter are the smiles with which shop owners prepare iftar delicacies. Seamlessly melting into Delhi’s crowded by-lanes, like butter in the crevices of a perfectly cooked chicken seekh, is the street food scene of Jama Masjid. A hotspot of authentic Mughlai delicacies, it’s where you should be for a deep-dive into local culinary traditions, and for an evening loaded with butter, spice and sickeningly delicious sweets.
Begin your evening at gate number 1 of Jama Masjid. During Ramzan, which falls from April 2 to May 2 this year, the entire area is decorated with streamers and festive lighting. The road to the gate is barricaded, but an electric rickshaw will drop you there. Even when the road opens on ordinary days, cars cannot make it beyond the gate, so touring the streets on foot remains your best bet.
Get down at Abdul Ghani Qureshi Kabab Corner, a joint that’s over seven decades old and serves lip-smacking kebabs in the outer street. Over the years, the institution has split into two shops a few metres apart, both managed by Qureshi’s two sons, but the original remains unmatched, according to locals. Order a plate of mutton seekh rolls and buffalo kebabs, and enjoy the mouth-melting textures blend with sides of curd, green chutney and melted butter. The staff will guide you to the hidden seating area towards the back.
Kebabs start at ₹30
Also Read | Delhi’s Belly: Served Three Ways
After the teaser, take a left from Qureshi’s, into Matia Mahal—the main lane near Jama Masjid. Your first order of business should be to grab a glass of Nawab Qureshi’s popular Pyaar Mohabbat Mazza—a pink coloured summer beverage served in a flimsy plastic glass. Diced watermelon floats in the desi cooler, adding a crunchy texture to the rose flavoured milk. With a glass in hand, head to Karim’s. From a food stall in an alley, Karim’s legacy has expanded to an open courtyard surrounded by restaurants in its name. Chat up the locals for a dose of entrepreneurial history, but skip the food here for more authentic delectables ahead.
Pyaar Mohabbat Mazza starts at ₹20
This classic fried chicken joint is easily identifiable: a man in a kurta (our very own Mr Hussain) squats behind a large wok filled to the brim with bubbling hot oil. Here, pieces of chicken are coated with a tangy spice mix and thrown into the infernal vessel. What comes out is perfectly fried chicken—crisp on the outside, tender on the inside—served with a special chutney. A single piece will be enough to sate your hunger, which you can enjoy standing outside.
Single piece chicken starts at ₹120
Some 500 metres into the lane, Aslam Chicken serves butter chicken redefined in the literal sense. The eatery teems with men fussing over fresh chicken under Aslam’s hawk eye. The pieces are coated in a special rub and grilled, then thrown into a bowl to be topped with another spicy powder, and a splash of chutney. Then comes the main act: a load of melted butter is poured onto the mound of chicken before serving it. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but worth a try for the hype.
Butter chicken starts at ₹120
To complete the main course, head to Mohd Taufiq’s Dilpasand Biryani Point. Biryani in Old Delhi, just like Taufiq’s, is devoid of the rich dry fruits and textures of Hyderabadi or Lucknowi biryani. Here you’ll get traditional lashkari biryani—which used to be made for the soldiers—with golden sela rice instead of the usual basmati. Yellow chilli is balanced with a dose of ghee and complemented by tender chicken pieces.
Half kg biryani starts at ₹130
Also Read | Feast of Faith: Ramzan Silhouettes from Calcutta
In a quiet corner of these busy lanes stands Bilal Hotel, a two-storey eating joint. This is the place to go for nalli nahari—a slow cooked stew made from shank. Whether it’s 4 am or 4 pm, you’ll find its owner sitting cross-legged in front of his cauldrons, serving buffalo nahari topped with butter. Avoid loitering with your phone in hand though, for as interesting as the sight is, the subject frowns upon taking pictures of the joint. The nahari here is cooked in 65 spices for 12 hours. Some marrow is added to the dish while the rest is set aside in a spicy curry for extra topping (which you won’t need). Enjoy the dish with their rawa flour bread called khameeri roti. For the freshest serving, head here in the morning or right after dusk when fresh batches come off the burner.
Nalli nahari starts at ₹30
A trip to Cool Point opposite Hussain’s is a must for its famous shahi tukda (₹30). But you should also try their handmade mango-and-vanilla ice cream (₹30) for its unforgettable milky texture.
Another evergreen stop is Rehmatullah Hotel for sheermal (₹30). Things get competitive around Ramzan though; everyone tweaks their recipe of the sweet khoya-stuffed bread to add new ingredients such as rose petals, mango juice or even garam masala. Each year a different supplier emerges victorious as the most sought after: this year, locals say you should head to Flora Bakery (₹100). Try their jam-butter filled sheermal or a simpler coconut version with dry fruits.
End the trip at Sheeren Bhawan in Chitli Qabar area for some chilled ras malai (₹35). Come winter, the sweet shop sets up giant vessels of white gajar halwa. The unique centuries-old recipe is sought after by tourists and locals alike, and only a tasting can explain why.
Also Read | Ramzan Beyond Karim’s
Ria Gupta is a Delhi-based creative nonfiction writer who is constantly inspired by chance discoveries and intriguing conversations. She believes the deepest truths are revealed in silence and the wildest experiences in our own hearts, wherever we are.