Old Delhi, which dates from Mughal times, was one of the most interesting places I visited in the city. It’s a bustling world of bazaars and alleys in which porters carry all manner of goods and cycle rickshaws ply their trade amidst the horns of cars and scooters. Every street of alley has its own specialism, be it pans or wedding invitations, and tucked away in the backstreets are elaborately carved wooden doors, which lead back from the chaos into calm courtyards. And within it all is a profusion of street food vendors and small local restaurants that date back many decades, some using cooking techniques and recipes from the time of the Mughals.
I’d visited Old Delhi independently and wandered around, but decided that to get more insight into the food available here it would be worth doing a food tour. I booked on a bit of an impulse with Food Tour in Delhi, and the next morning – ongoing stomach issues hopefully assuaged with the array of medicine I’d been prescribed the previous day – I ventured out to Chawri Bazaar to begin my four hour food tour of Old Delhi.
Our group of five were escorted by husband-and-wife team of Rajeev and Shika. Raj, the co-founder of the company, is a chef and is clearly passionate about food, which made the tour – we weren’t just presented with the food, but were instructed on how to taste it properly, and how the balance of flavours on the palate would alter with each bite. I hadn’t eaten the food so intentionally before, and it was a bit of a revelation; each of the first few bites of a food really brought out the different tastes.
Raj unofficially named our tour ‘Breads and Bazaars,’ and we tried a variety of breads that were influenced by both Mughal and British traditions. The day kicked off with a delicious breakfast of bedmi – a fried, puffed bread filled with lentils – and chole (chickpea curry), before we headed into the backstreets for a true one-off – fruit sandwiches! They’re made with mango, grapes, cream and specially prepared jam, and were surprisingly good!
As the morning went on, we tried a variety of food, from cardamon cookies cooked on coals to pillowy baked kulcha bread. Luckily everyone in our group was keen on spice, so Raj and Shika took us to try ‘rocket fuel’ chole from a street food vendor, which was deserving of its name! Everything we tried was delicious; I especially loved the traditionally-prepared, water-based chole baturi, which was spiced with cloves and cinnamon, and the legendary kulfi served at Kureman Mohan Lal Kulfi Wali – they’ve been in business since 1908 and have apparently served in numerous countries around the world. We finished the tour with stuffed parathas at the famous Gali Paranthe Wali, and, as tasty as it was, I’m afraid I had to admit defeat midway through. Yes, food won – after four hours of deliciousness, I could not swallow another bite.
Between the food stops, we also visited the famous Spice Market, which was thronged with people bargaining around buckets of chilli and turmeric. The air was so thick with capsacin that we all began coughing and sneezing, which, Raj assured us, was good for us (this echoes what I was repeatedly advised when living in Chongqing about the sinus-clearing virtues of burning hot chilli). I splashed out a little on some spices that are difficult to obtain at home – yellow chilli powder, mango powder and crushed pomegranate seeds – as well as some mango tea that smelled absolutely divine.
The food on ou tour was all vegetarian, and Raj tailors the tour to the wishes of the participants. For example, neither I nor another guest were keen on lassi or yoghurt, so this wasn’t emphasised. After the tour, Shika sent me a list of everything we’d tried, so you don’t need to worry about taking notes. You are provided with water, hand gel and wet wipes for hygiene, and the places visited are thoroughly vetted for hygiene. Raj explained how he is very careful about his selections, visiting places numerous times before they are included in possible itineraries to ensure consistency of quality and hygiene. Many of the places we visited had proudly displayed a ‘Food Tour in Delhi’ certificate on the wall!
The four hours slipped by in no time whatsoever, and I’d thoroughly recommend Food Tour in Delhi to anyone seeking to increase their understanding of the city’s vibrant and delicious food culture. It wasn’t cheap, at $53 on Viator, but the food was great, and having a professional chef as the guide meant we learned a lot about the food preparation and history.
Duration: officially four hours (10.30 to 2.30), but ours was a little longer.
Meet: Pick ups can be arranged from Central Delhi, or you can travel in by Metro and meet in Chawri Bazaar.
Food: We had 10 food stops over the four hours – any more and I may have popped. For longer tours, the tastings are spaced out a little more to enable digestion! The stops vary and can be personalised to suit guests’ needs.
Included: all food and drink; transport during the tour (bike and auto rickshaws); bottled water; hand sanitiser and wet and dry wipes; bad jokes!
Price: $53 per person on Viator. Discounts are available for larger groups.