Chandani Chowk,one of the busiest area in Old Delhi has been around for more than three centuries. Wiki tells me that all the merchants & invaders who ever crossed the walled city flocked past it,thus speaking volumes about its popularity and worth. The congested lanes dotted with shops selling linen,clothing, jewellery, books, electronics, footwear and what not turn so busy after noon,the peak time when the wholesale dealings begin that you could skip a breath trying to carve your way past them. Being in hurry is a way of life in this part of the city which is eternally teeming with people but has something to offer to everybody who lands here.
For me, the area is one of the best places to shop and eat if you happen to be in Delhi. It has a charm, a retro yet modern feel which is missing inside the food courts & malls.However, it is quite unfortunate that I caught on to the magnificence of the area quite late. I remember my first time there with dad and how claustrophobic I felt. In an effort to catch the glimpse of the sky, I looked up and all I saw were a cacophony of electric wires and the countless birds sitting on them, the rows of laundry sun drying and dilapidated balconies of houses, spaced at arm’s length from one another.
It was again during school years that I visited the place for our book hunting and chaat (street food) tasting hangout with friends. In those years, the Delhi Metro was still in the works and reaching Chandani Chowk from my home meant commuting through a couple of buses to a central point & then either hopping on to a rickshaw or walking down to your destination.It took effort, a whole lot of it.
I thronged the area much more during my pre wedding months, the place is a heaven for women interested in shopping for bridal gear and mom and me really looked forward to our Saturday shopping trips.We used to catch the morning metro as early as possible to get there and finish by noon before the shopper frenzy started.
For obvious reasons I skipped breakfast on those days.The food choices were unlimited and dreamy.We ate a different thing at a different eatery each time. It was on one of those trips that I discovered Chole Paneer from a street side eatery, served with ribbon thin onion rings and puffy bhaturas (fried flatbread) and hot, really hot pickle. It is fit to be the best chickpeas dish I have eaten in a long long time.Oily, spicy and creamy from soft melt in the mouth chunks of paneer, I am already salivating as I write this after so many years, so you can imagine what I mean here.
Over the years, I have come up with a recipe which (sort of) caters to the needs & tastes of my family – the husband doesnt want the ‘yellow’ from turmeric and if he had his way he would pick out the paneer too. I like how the lightly mashed chickpeas pick up the milky richness from paneer and would not give up on that ever! Although in the real world, I serve it with naan or kulcha,I bet they are no comparison to those oil drenched soft bhaturas!