Our guide to Chandni Chowk
Whether you are a tourist or a local, unlikely you'll fall in love with Chandni Chowk in the first go. Or ever. It is messy, chaotic, dirty, and noisy. Too many people, too much traffic, too much of everything, in fact. But in a world getting increasingly homogenized, it can only be a wonderful thing when a place like this can exist, sustain, evolve and hold on its own sub-culture, centuries after it was founded.
Said to have been built during the Mughal era by Emperor Shahjahan’s daughter - Jahanara, Chandni Chowk is the sole surviving custodian of the legendary charms of Delhi of yore- the Delhi of Mirza Ghalib.
The many speciality markets within Chandni Chowk were set up during the ancient times and have known to survive almost three centuries- both in old and new avatars. Kathra Neel for cloth, Chawri Bazaar for stationery, Dariba Kalan for jewelry, Khari Baowli for spices, and many others.
Crumbling havelis (old mansions) now line the narrow lanes of Chandni Chowk, a mere shadow of their former glory. The kuchas (alleys) and mohallas (residential neighborhoods) are all swallowed up by shops, vendors, crowds, and vehicles. But if you care to look beyond what meets the eye, stories from a richly layered past start to emerge.......
Chandni Chowk- a Lai curation:
Chainaram (Fathepuri; one of the oldest shops in the area- get their desi ghee 'dal moth' and ghewar.)
Meghraj Biscuit (Fathepuri; old fashion sweet buns and coconut biscuits)
Gulab Singh Johrimal (this 200-year-old perfumery is now run by the seventh generation decedents of the founder. Lai favorites: patchouli, oud, and khus/vetiver)
Shop no.15 (Khari Baowli; dals/lentils and beans) (Trivia: operating since the 17th century, Khari Baoli is Asia's largest spice market. The Khari Baoli step-well was constructed in the 1650s and during Shah Jahan's time, the Baoli was used by animals and bathing. The first traders and merchants of Shahjahanbed set up their businesses here and some of the shops are still known by the serial numbers assigned more than 200 years ago!)
Shyam store (Khari Baowli; spices and dry fruits.)
Kedara (Kinari bazaar; masalas- specially dal and chaat, papads, 'mangori' and ubtan/face pack.)
Kinari bazaar (for all sorts of decorative odds and ends required in 'puja' and weddings.)
Ram Chandar Krishan Chandar (near Paranthe wali galli; for saree shopping the good old way- on a 'gadda' with male attendants draping the selections on themselves.)
Azad Tailors (Ballimaran Rd.; for impeccable fits and tailoring of men's' sherwanis and kurtas. My dad got his wedding one stitched here as did the husband!)
Second-hand books (Nayi Sadak)
Natraj Dhai Bhalla (a Lai favorite. Two items on the menu since 1940; aloo tikki and dhai bhallas- both beyond delish!)
Katre Neel ki tikki (next to the gate; for what else but aloo tikki!)
Gol Hatti (Fatehpuri; for chola bhatura/chole chawal)
Annapurna Bhandar (near Fountain; for samosas: with a filling that has potatoes cut into tiny cubes and not mashed, served a signature dry chutney that needs to be diluted in water, we'd say these are the best samosas in Delhi. Yes, we like them that much! Don't forget to try their mishti doi and other delectable Bengali sweets.)
Fruit Chaat at SBI bank
Ved Prakash Nimbu Pani (Town Hall; for banta- this place is believed to be the birthplace of 'banta'! For the uninitiated, banta is lemon soda with a dash of spice, bottled in those amazing 'kancha'/marble topped bottles.)
Daulat ki chaat (in the by lanes of Kinari bazaar and elsewhere- but only in winters. Also called 'malai-makhan', this milk and cream-based sweet delicacy is light as air and all sorts of sublime!)
Giani di Hatti (for rabdi falooda, ice creams and chhole bhatoore.)
Kuremal ki kulfi (Sita Ram Bazaar; go for their natural fruit flavors in Kulfi. We love the mango, anar, paan, and jamun ones. Also their fruit stuffed kulfis- if only for the prettiness of it.)
Amritsari Lassi Wala (Fatehpuri Chowk; for nice thick 'malai wali' lassi.)