By 6 pm on a Sunday, the metal detector outside gate no 3 of Jama Masjid is beeping away, sounding like a morse code signal. The rush of footfalls to the mosque during iftaar has clearly overwhelmed the flimsy wood-framed metal detector. The 17th century mosque, built by Shah Jahan, is warm and welcoming during the fasting month to families from the neighbourhood and wandering foodies (like us). “Carry your shoes in your hand,” cautions a gatekeeper at the mosque.
Traditionally, three khajurs are eaten to break the roza. Sitting in the courtyard, we chose a sinful alternative, paneer-ki-jalebi. Pioneered by Kallan Sweets located at the beginning of Bazaar Matia Mahal, the shop, started by Mohammed Shaan in 1939, is famous for its unusual treats. Another favourite is their gujjia, which looks like an ordinary gujjia but, when you bite in, you find that it is stuffed with minced keema.
At Bazaar Matia Mahal, the aroma of grilled meats and sweets becoming a comforting distraction from the 85 per cent humidity. Aslam’s Chicken Corner’s four-storey eatery, in the middle of the bazaar, swears by its fried chicken. Here, the meat is first grilled in a tandoor, then chopped into smaller pieces and fried to crispy perfection in a kadhai before being tossed in a bowl of a secret spice mix. Iftaar feasting is incomplete without biryani, so we maneuver past the commotion of Matia Mahal to a network of lanes leads us to the Chitli Qabar bazaar.
Here, Dilpasand biryani is said to be the largest supplier of buff biryani. Tiny pieces of buff cook for three hours in fragrant saffron rice making this dish a specialty. With hardly any place to stand in the narrow lane, you are busy balancing biryani in one hand, while trying not to be hit by the traffic weaving past you.
Old Delhi is also networked with stories of saints and word-of-mouth legends. Among the icons here is Akhil Ahmed, who sits dressed in a crisp white kurta selling gur-ka-sharbat, at the corner of Mohalla Pahadi Imli. He has been here for 40 years and has clearly not adjusted for inflation — his jaggery-stirred glass sells for Rs 5.
A few metres away, Muhammed Zahid has been serving his recipe of shahi tukda for the last 25 years. It’s 10 pm now and Old Delhi is just waking up for a night of feasting.