From kebabs to cafes: the changing culinary traditions of Jama Masjid


In the famous alleys of Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, where the aroma of slowly cooked nihari and spit-roasted tandoori chicken merges into culinary harmony, it’s time to smell the freshly brewed coffee of course, as well as bread and garlic pizza straight out of the oven.

The streets around the 17th century Jama Masjid have long been a magnet for domestic and foreign tourists as well as Delhiiites looking to bite into history. Now, in addition to the many kebab houses and roadside restaurants serving the best of Mughlai food, there are a bunch of cafes created by young entrepreneurs and budding chefs hoping to add a more mundane flavor to the streets. beloved.

The search for contemporary coffee with a personal touch in the heart of Old Delhi ends with Ebony Caf, a short walk from Jama Masjid Gate # 3.

With cappuccinos, americanos, lattes and Neapolitan pizzas on the menu, Ebony Caf’s Saddam Khan is just one of those who take the road less traveled through the sheermal-kebab-nihari-korma area known in the whole world.

Khan, who returned from England in 2011 after completing his studies, said he felt the need for a meeting place. Young people from the region would go to the north campus of Delhi University or to Kamala Nagar a few kilometers away to relax over a cup of coffee.

No more.

There was no such place here, so we wanted to do something different. I wanted to give the people in this area something so they don’t have to go that far, Khan told PTI.

Perhaps incongruous in the bustle of the bazaar, Ebony Caf, which opened in February of this year, also serves the very English fish and chips and is indeed reminiscent of a caf far from Jama Masjid with its brick walls. and its wooden tables.

The cafe can accommodate around 15 people inside in a warm and comfortable environment and also has tables and chairs outside for those who wish to enjoy a view of the magnificent dome and the minarets of the great old mosque. and enjoy Delhi’s winter sunshine.

Besides adding something new to the local palace, Khan also wanted to attract foreign tourists. This plan is on hold with a limited number of foreigners coming to India due to the pandemic.

So far, he said he finds encouragement in visitors who say it doesn’t look like Old Delhi.

People compliment us. When I was in England I was influenced by the little cafes there, compared to the kind of cafes we have here. I wanted to give that feel here, said the 32-year-old restaurateur.

Ritesh Singh, a foodie and frequent visitor to the area, was pleasantly surprised to find the cafe a few months ago and has returned several times since then.

Whenever I’m on my food walks at Jama Masjid, I try to find something that I haven’t tried. This cafe was one of those new places I tried, and while I’m not entirely in favor of the western vibe, I can understand the sentiment behind it. And there can never be enough restaurants in the world, he said.

Khan’s English Cafe offers vegetarian and non-vegetarian options on its menu ranging from fish fillet to chicken n chips and a wide variety of pizzas. The price ranges from Rs 540 for a very large “Peri Peri Time” chicken pizza to Rs 70 for a veggie burger.

A stroll around the outskirts of the mosque takes you to the bustling auto market, an unlikely place to find a quiet little cafe amid the din and bustle of auto mechanics selling their wares.

Mohammad Danish opened Delhites Cafe with his older brother right in the middle of the auto market, a year after their father died from COVID-19.

A student of home science and hotel management in class 12, the 17-year-old is self-assured, not being put off by the fact that his small restaurant is right next to the famous food court – Bazar Matia Mahal.

You can’t find such food in this area. And people want variety, they usually go to Connaught Place for garlic bread, burgers, pizza and shakes, Danish said.

Even though the original idea behind the cafe was to attract tourists, the young businessman has high hopes as the response has been good so far and his customers are relishing the offerings of shakes, smoothies, sandwiches, etc. .

The menu is light on the pocket with chicken peri peri the most expensive dish at Rs 200.

Visitors can be taken aback by the whirlwind of aromas, tastes and the ever-moving crowd of Bazaar Matia Mahal, the desi food destination of the Jama Masjid region which is home to famous places such as Karim’s and Al Jawahar.

Dotted with restaurants selling kebabs, nihari, tandoori chicken, and a range of desserts including hot and sweet shahi tukda, the narrow road starts from Jama Masjid and meets the Gali Choodiwalan at the other end.

A small but distinct little store sits not so quietly at the other end. KGF, or King of Good Food, is another one of those eateries that is holding on with an almost continuous flow of customers on one of Delhi’s most famous food streets. On the menu, burgers, pizzas and hot wings.

Saqeena (name changed on request), accompanied by two toddlers and family members, said it was refreshing to have something other than tandoori chicken or biryani.

It’s really a relief because we have to work less at home, she said.

The small restaurant has a wide range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options on the menu which are sumptuous but economical. While a large non-vegetarian KGF special can cost Rs 390, a vegetable KGF special will leave one with a full belly and only Rs 320 less in his pocket.

The shop which opened two years ago, before the start of the pandemic, has attracted locals since the markets reopened.

The owner, Mohammad Nadeem Ahmad, said being different from others in the area is their USP.

Sometimes even those who come to eat Mughlai come to our store and want to try the food. Locals find this to be a change in their taste as we are offering something they have to order from Dominos or Pizza Hut, he said.

Ahmad wants to make KGF a channel in the future. But for now, that’s just another, small but nice change to the bustling alleys around Jama Masjid. PTI MAH

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