Jama Masjid Food Walk: Your Guide To The Cuisine Of Old Delhi
Image Credit: Aslam chicken corner

Any visit to the capital of India is incomplete without exploring the heart of the city, Old Delhi, historically called Shahjahanabad. At its epicentre lies Jama Masjid, a huge mosque overlooking the mighty Red Fort; both of these buildings and the surrounding area were built by the Mughal Ruler, Shahjahan, in the 17th century. Four centuries later, the structures of the Mughal rule still stand and are appreciated by tourists and locals alike. 

The cuisine which developed in this region also got similar fame. Over the years, the area around Jama Masjid has evolved into a bustling hub for great Mughlai food. There are numerous food stalls, legendary restaurants, age-old ‘bawarchis’, and even newly opened food joints with modern décor. Some famous dishes or beverages are served on mobile carts with no particular address; to reach them; one has to enquire from the locals about their current whereabouts. All this lends a certain charm to the food exploration of this crowded neighbourhood and makes it even more enjoyable and worthwhile. 

Famous Kebabiyas

One must start the food journey around Jama Masjid, tasting the ‘Kebabs’ at the food stalls of the ‘Urdu Bazaar Kebabiyas’. The main lane opposite the mosque is dedicated to street food, where you can find ‘Seekh Kebabs’ cooked on an open charcoal fire of the ‘sigris’, an ideal way of cooking the ‘Mughlai Kebabs’. The most famous and celebrated ‘Kebabiya’ is Guddu Bhai of ‘Qureshi Kebab Corner’. A massive crowd of Kebab lovers thronging this shop will be a sure giveaway of its presence and popularity. Kebabs here are so soft and succulent that they will leave you craving for more. One can choose to get it dipped in hot melting butter, which has evolved as the new style of serving the ‘Kebabs’. “Qureshi Kebab Corner was started by my Walid (Father); I have learnt the recipes and Kebab-making skills from him and have continued on his legacy”, says Guddu. “This lane had a different look and feel about ten years back. Fewer people used to visit the area for food; however, the advent of social media and multiple videos of Jama Masjid Food Walks posted on YouTube have elevated the craze for the Kebabs. Now food lovers from all parts of the country come to enjoy the Kebabs,” explained Irshad Qureshi (Guddu). 

 As you walk ahead, you can find famous ‘Kebabiyas’ like ‘Laalu Kebabee’,’ Al-Nisar Kebabs’, and a few other Kebab shops decorating the street with their lip-smacking ‘Kebabs’ and ’tikkas’. Near Matia Mahal, you can find another bustling ‘Kebab’ shop called ‘Bismillah Kebab Point’. Food options at Bismillah Kebab Point outscore other ‘Kebabiyas’, with ‘chicken Tangdi’, ‘Malai Tikkas’, ‘Tandoori Chicken’, ‘Seekh Kebab’ etc. on the menu.  

Haji Mohammad Hussain’s Fried Chicken

Another famous dish in the Jama Masjid area is Haji Mohammad Hussain’s fried chicken. The crispy fried spicy chicken, served with a masaledaar chutney sprinkled with their homemade masala, is a treat for all gastronomes. Haji Mohammad Hussain is a legendary man, who is known for his outstanding culinary acumen, as well as his sharp butchery skills. Watching him cut the whole chicken into small pieces with a sharp knife held between his toes is awe-inspiring for any on-looker. Haji Mohammad Hussain is the one who brought fried chicken to the streets of Jama Masjid many decades back. The popularity of this dish has led to numerous fried chicken shops dotted along the street, Haji Mohammad Hussain is still considered the best in the business. 

Aslam Chicken – A Dish Gone Viral

Chicken lovers can’t go without trying Aslam’s chicken. If one has to understand the true meaning of a viral dish, head to Aslam and try their chargrilled chicken dipped in an addictive sauce or gravy. This sauce is so buttery and creamy that food lovers named it ‘Butter Chicken’, although as a concept, it’s a roasted chicken; however, the well of butter, cream, and spices, that their overdone chicken is drowned in made it a culinary sensation. Many other food joints have followed suit, and this concept of serving roasted chicken with copious amounts of butter has taken the food streets of the area like a storm.  

The Legendary Nihari Of Old Delhi   

The' Nihari' is one of Delhi’s best and original culinary creations. Old Delhi’s gift to the culinary world is a highly nutritious and spicy meat dish. Many dates this invention to the times of Shahjahan itself. Cooked overnight on low flame, ‘Nihari’ is enjoyed as a morning breakfast along with hot and crispy ‘Khamiri Roti’. It packs enough energy to last the whole day of hard work, and the mix of multiple spices that goes into it ensures a sumptuous flavour. This dish, which was once considered a poor man’s food and was, as they say, a dish of the ‘Diwaan-e-aam’ (For ordinary people), also made it to the spread of ‘Deewan-e-khaas’ (Royal Gathering). 

Head to Haji Shabrati Nihari Wale at ‘Bazaar Chitli Kabar’ to enjoy this centuries-old delicacy. One can opt for adding ‘Bheja’(brain) or ‘Siri’ (Bone Marrow) for additional flavour. However, the slow cooking and excellent use of spices, cuts of meat and generations-old culinary skills of Haji Sahab’s family are enough to make anyone a raving fan of their ‘Nihari’. 

Achaari Biryani

You can find ‘Taufeeq’s Dilpasand Biryani Point’ in the same neighbourhood. Taufeeq’s biryani is sold to biryani lovers at such a high frequency that by the time you finish eating a single plate of their famed ‘Achaari Biryani’, the whole handi is empty of its contents. And the next one would be ready. Multiple handis of biryanis are sold at this tiny little shop, at the deep end of ‘Gali Haveli Azam Khan’, at the ‘Chitli Kabar Bazaar’. 

Old And Famous 

Famous restaurants like ‘Kareem’s’ and ‘Al Jawahar’ need no introduction to any true-blue food lover. Mutton Qorma, Jahangiri Chicken, Mutton Burra, Seekh Kebabs and many other famous dishes are sold to a packed house every day, and it goes on till late at night. 

Mohabbat Ka Sharbat

‘Pyaar Mohabbat Mazza’ or also known as ‘Mohammad Ka Sharbat’, is another sensational culinary delight of Jama Masjid. An unusual combination of chilled milk with rose syrup (Roohafza) and freshly diced watermelon is what you need to calm your mind and gut after a long and satisfying food walk. You will find multiple carts displaying cartons of Amul Milk and enticing the patrons with attractive slogans to try out a glass of this rosy fruity milk beverage.   

Unmissable Shahi Tukda

For dessert, look no further than ‘Cool Point’. For ghee-laden ‘Shahi Tukda’ displayed and served out of a colossal Tawa’. The top layer of cream and exquisite garnish has the piping hot sweet bread dessert underneath. Enjoy it with their home churned Mango Ice cream for a unique experience. 

Other Places To Try

I might have talked about many famous food joints in the Jama Masjid area. However, I surely have missed many noteworthy culinary legends in and around the same neighbourhood. ‘Sheermal from Nadeem’, ‘Rahmatullah Hotel’, ‘Bilal Hotel’, The famous sweet shops like ‘Kallan Sweets’ and ‘Sheer Sagar,’ numerous small bakeries such as Diamond Bakery, Tea Stalls (Haji tea Point) or the seasonal ‘Gur Ka Sharbat’ (served in summers and during the Month of Ramzaan), ‘Haleem Biryani’ of Alam Bhai, ‘Ya Allah Chalade Hotel’, etc. 

The Jama Masjid area is a haven for Mughlai cuisine lovers, and multiple visits to this legendary food market won’t be enough to explore it fully. I have been exploring the Mughlai cuisine of the area for years, and on every visit, I come across a delicacy I had not tried before. If you are a food lover, you must experience it and fall in love with the romance of Old Delhi’s Mughlai cuisine.  

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.