The Walled City of Delhi becomes the ultimate food destination during Ramzan, when the markets reverberate with a life of their own

I have been suggesting through this column that those residents of New Delhi (and the countless newer Delhis that are sprouting all around us) who have not yet paid a visit to Shahjahanabad should do so at their earliest. I am happy to note that some have acted upon my advice and have returned unharmed, most with a beatific smile adorning their respective visages. What has triggered this pure, almost virtuous smile is not difficult to surmise, they have been partaking the tasty tit-bits that every nook and corner of the Old City specializes in.

One of the reasons that I refuse to recognise New Delhi as nothing more than a place where people come to work is because the well laid out roads and lush green open spaces have no street food and one of the essential ingredients of a City with a capital “C” is the street food that it has on offer.

I have a very good reason for bringing up this issue of street food today. By the time the paper reaches you on Saturday morning, the devout among Muslims would, depending on the sighting or non sighting of the moon, have either started their first fast or would be making preparations to start the month-long period of daily fasts, beginning with the sunrise on Sunday morning. This period would culminate with Eid that would be celebrated around August 19 or 20, again depending on the sighting of the moon.

The month of fasting transforms large parts of Shahjahanabad; since a very large number of people fast during the day, it is difficult to find restaurants or eating places or even street food joints that would be open for business during the day, but come sunset and large localities wake up from their slumber and business begins to follow a different rhythm.

A large number of makeshift stalls come up. These seasonal shops deal mostly in eatables and if you find any one of them not selling food, you can be fairly certain that they would be selling things to cook. The other trade that flourishes during this time is the garment and shoe business because everyone makes new dresses for Eid and those who can afford it would also buy new shoes or sandals. Life begins to get very exciting in the lanes, by-lanes and major streets of Shahjahanabad and for all of those who have not seen the city at night, this is the time. Beginning this Saturday and continuing for four weeks.

The time to go is around sunset. Suddenly the entire city wakes up, entire families begin to gather from late afternoon and break their fast inside the mosques before offering namaz. It is after the post sunset namaz that the markets really come to life, people go out and eat and the fare that is available is mind-boggling. There is pheni and sewaiyan and khajla, sweetened milk cooked with powdered dry fruits for hours, Kheer and halwa, sharbats and lassi; there are pakodis, dahi badas, fruit salads, kachori – samosa and chaat; Fried chicken and fish, barbeque items, kebabs, tikkas and then there is food, food and more food. All kinds of meat curries, more than a dozen kinds of rotis and the same range of parathas and biryani and sweets. I could go on and on.

The markets remain open well past midnight and even later for many people would only go to sleep a little after sun rise.

The major mosques in the city would be lit up and so would all the major markets. As the end of the month of fasting draws near, the scale of decoration would rise, shopping will become more hectic, the crowds would become larger and the range of delicacies would become wider still. So go and take your friends along, explore the city and what it has to offer. This is the time to go to Shahjahanabad to acquire that beatific smile of pure contentment.

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