For any Delhite, Old Delhi is synonymous with culinary delicacies. From matchless, authentic spices to unique dishes, Old Delhi resonates impelling of tastebuds for the locals. Other than the shopping indulgences, most of the Delhites end up in the old part of the city for a gastronomic retreat. The old market Chandni Chowk was established in Old Delhi around the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in proximity to the fort of his new capital city (then called ‘Shahjahanabad’). Amongst all the profound gastronomic experiences this place has to offer, Gali Parathe Wali (literally translating to ‘street of flatbreads’) stands out as the most distinguished palatable speciality of the region. ‘Paratha’ is a traditional stuffed flatbread that is half fried (or baked) in the pan. But in the Gali Parathe Wali, it takes artistic and even cultural forms!
This peculiar lane (previously known as Dariba Kalan) of the Chandni Chowk Market was initially intended for the trading of silverware. However, around 1870, the first paratha shops began to appear in this skewed narrow lane. Of more than twenty shops that sell the traditional flatbreads, few are still there from those times, making it the sixth generation of cooking the parathas with the traditional recipes. This is how the lane began to be called the ‘Gali Parathe Wali’. The food served in the shops is strictly vegetarian and cooked in the old customary way, without onion and garlic, because in the early days, the shops were predominantly catering to the Jain community that resided in the region. The legacy is held up until the present day, and the shops traditionally serve the parathas, just like they did more than a century ago.
Do not let the ‘traditional’ and ‘customary’ way of cooking make you anticipate that it is unexciting. If anything, it is entirely opposite of that. The lane that bustles with crowds moving in close-packed arrays, looking for amazing parathas, lives up to all the hopes and expectations. Most of the shops serve more than thirty different varieties of parathas, that can be mixed and matched in in-numerous possible combinations, with a multitude of side dishes. The parathas stuffed with quirky fillings such as cashew nuts, almonds, green peas, or mawa (a traditional Indian dairy product) are served with an assortment of equally savory entremets such as the conventional mint/coriander chutney, sweet tamarind chutney, mixed pickles, curries of potato and sweet pumpkin, etc.
The traditionally prepared parathas and savory entremets take you, or at least the locals, back down the memory lane. The smell and taste of food, served in this crooked little lane, provokes nostalgia of the summer or winter vacations spent at your grandparents' house. The common preparations and a blend of spices which are, somehow, not so prevalent in the contemporary Indian kitchens, can still be discovered in the Gali Parathe Wali making it quite an exceptional gastronomic retreat in Old Delhi. Other than that, eating in a shop that has been there for almost a hundred and fifty years, serving the same authentic traditional food, is astonishing in itself.
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