See why taking it to the street with an Old Delhi food tour is the ultimate way to explore the seemingly endless varieties of Indian food.
A rickshaw hurled me into the chaos that is Old Delhi on a Saturday afternoon. Alive with shoppers streaming from every direction, the hectic Chandni Chowk street market’s savory smells wafted through the dense air and tempted me to roll up my sleeves and eat… everything.
Of course, I didn’t eat everything but I did try a jalebi from Old Famous Jalebi Wala, a jalebi stand notable both for its formidable age (dating back to 1884) and extreme popularity with both locals and tourists. What a revelation!
Saturated with a sugary syrup that tasted both familiar and exotic, the classic Indian pastry retained a crispy crunch that won me over after just one bite. In India for just 15 hours, I knew this jalebi was the real deal and that I needed to return after my epic train journey on the Maharajas Express to eat more Old Delhi food favorites.
As my week on the Maharajas Express took me further from Dehli both literally and figuratively, I started to wonder if the jalebi was as crispy as I remembered or if the flavors were truly so bright. There was only one way to find out, so I enlisted Deepak Gupta of Travel with D to give me a proper introduction to the most famous street food in Delhi at Chandni Chowk.
Old Delhi Food Tour in Chandni Chowk
The third largest city in the world, Delhi is a vibrant sprawl where 20 million people work, live and eat on a daily basis. Considering the huge number of people crammed into one metropolis, it’s no surprise that the food options are overwhelmingly vast with all sorts of spices, flavors and price points. As a result, the variety of things to eat in Delhi can be overwhelming to tourists visiting India for the first time.
Many western visitors spend their time checking out the best restaurants in Delhi when they visit. Sure, the city has upscale restaurants like Indian Accent, Varq and Tian, but, in my opinion, some of the best Dehli food can be found on the street. Not only does Old Delhi street food capture the true essence of Indian food, but it’s also a bargain for our cheap eats readers. Yes, the best cheap food in Delhi can be found at the same places to eat street food in Delhi.
With only a full day in Delhi, I put myself into Deepak Gupta’s capable hands and let him guide me through the centuries-old Chandni Chowk and its extensive network of food vendors. Recommended by Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic, Gupta is an experienced tour guide and the ultimate Delhi insider who knows the Old Delhi market inside out. Plus, equally important when it comes to leading Delhi food walks, Gupta loves to eat and talk about food almost as much as I do.
Though Chandni Chowk is one of the best places to visit in Delhi, Sunday is not the best day to tour the Old Delhi food mecca since many of the vendors take the weekend day off. However, Sunday was the one day that I had to spend in Delhi. Up to the challenge, Gupta met me at the Chawri Bazar metro station on a sunny Sunday and spent a few hours introducing me to some of his favorite food at one of the best places to eat in Delhi.
Old Delhi Street Food Favorites
During my informal yet informative food tour, I tasted a lot of great Indian food. Gupta made sure I didn’t miss a bite until I raised a white flag in gluttonous defeat. These were my favorites and the Chandni Chowk street food that you should not miss:
Indian food fans are familiar with the samosa, a standard offering in Indian restaurants around the world. For the uninitiated, samosas are fried pastries stuffed with starchy fillings like potatoes, peas and lentils as well as meats, spices and vegetables. Some of the best samosas are vegetarian like the one I ate during my Dehli food tour.
Daulat Ki Chaat
Although I had never heard of daulat ki chaat prior to visiting Delhi, Gupta turned me into a believer when I dug into the foamy condensed milk base colorfully topped with saffron and honey. Known as a snack for rich people, anybody can afford this reasonably priced Indian sweet treat on the streets of Old Delhi. At 40 rupee (approximately $0.60 US), daulat ki haat may be the best deal in town.
There are over a billion people in India and almost as many curry dishes – or so it seems when you walk around Chandni Chowk. From bedmi aloo, a potato curry, to lentil curry, the options are endless. I even tried a pumpkin curry, a surprising but highly satisfying curry entry in my quest to try the best dishes in Delhi.
One could use a lot of words to describe Indian food. Bland is not one of those words thanks to the cuisine’s liberal use of chiles. As a lover of hot and spicy flavors, I’m copacetic with chiles in my food.
Let it be noted that Gupta duly warned me of the heat in the chiles, a warning I took with a grain of salt and a pinch of pepper for good measure. Though not a specific Delhi food specialty, chilis are an important element if not the most important element in the local cuisine.
Though I’m typically a coffee drinker, especially in cities like Naples and Cape Town, tea was my drink of choice in India. And, of all the tea I drank during my visit, none was better than the chai masala that I drank during my Old Delhi street food tour. Flavored with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger, this black tea decoction would provide a refreshing pick-me-up at any time of the day.
No worries if you’re not a fan of chai masala. Mango lassis, another personal favorite, are readily available on the streets of Old Delhi. As a bonus, these yogurt-based drinks provide relief to those who eat too much spicy food in their quest for the best food in Chandni Chowk.
Steamed or fried, momos are an Indian street food after my heart. Sadly, I didn’t eat any momos during my Delhi food tour, but I can’t leave out the momo dumpling which is often served with a hot chili chutney. I like to eat dumplings wherever I travel from Shanghai to Ljubljana, and Delhi is a dumpling city – a reason for me to return to Delhi for a longer visit.
Beyond India’s famous naan, breadmakers bake and fry a variety of bread available on the streets of Old Delhi to eat on the spot or take home for later. After tasting some of the best Delhi chaat, my favorite bread was the maida paratha Paratha baked with refined flour. Though not as sexy as many of the other street food options in Old Delhi, this simple bread was one of my favorite tastes of the food tour.
Since man cannot live on bread alone, Gupta led me to Gali Paranthe Wali, the laneway of flatbread, for more bread – but this time, the bread had fillings. Initially overwhelmed by the massive number of options, I ultimately went for the cottage cheese filling to satisfy my recently developed paneer addiction. With 60 filling options, one could eat a paratha every day and never get bored – yet another reason for me to return to Delhi.
Spices are not limited to savory food in Old Delhi, as is the case with fruit chaat. I couldn’t say no after a street vendor handed me a paper plate filled with a variety of fruits and a sauce flavored with lemon, cumin and ginger. This fruit salad would have been a healthy way to end my Old Delhi food fest, but how could I end the tour without trying the food that fueled my Delhi street food fascination?
After filling my belly with food and my head with information, Gupta led me through tiny passageways that define Old Delhi to what he claimed was the best jalebi stand in Delhi if not all of India. Skeptical by nature, I doubted if his favorite jalebi would be better than the one I had eaten on my very first day in India. In a way, I was both right and wrong…
You guessed it. Gupta led me on a full circle back to Old Famous Jalebi Wala. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised since this ramshackle Delhi eatery is one of the most famous eating places in Chandni Chowk. With more of a whimper than a bang, I finished my first Indian adventure by eating deep fried dough glistening with syrup at one of the best places to eat in Delhi. And it was just as good as I remembered.
Hungry for more? Check out food tours that we’ve enjoyed all over the world.
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