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-Photo by author

The best way to see a city is by walking through its streets and alleys and exploring its underbelly. Having seen such tourist spots as the Red Fort, Jamia Masid, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb and Jantar Mantar on my earlier trips to Delhi, I thought of going to a place where tourists don’t normally go.

I was in the Indian capital to take part in the launch of Tales of Two Cities (not to be confused with Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities), which I had co-authored with a senior Indian journalist and a former diplomat, Kuldip Nayar. The venue was the India International Centre, where my publisher had also arranged for my stay. The launch was well attended and was a big success, I may add, at the risk of being considered immodest.

I had to stay in the exciting city for an extra day because there was no flight from Delhi to Karachi or Lahore. So I decided to make the most of it. I had read about the crisp parathay that were available in what was known as the Parathay Wali Gali, close to the famous Chandni Chowk. A desi foodie that I have always been I thought of grabbing the opportunity of visiting the alley.

During my three-day stay in the city, my friends were generous enough to lend me their cars and drivers. However, had I taken a car, it would have taken me 45 minutes to reach Chandni Chowk and another 15 minutes on foot to the Gali, not to speak of the poor driver’s ordeal of finding a parking spot. So, I took the new swanky Metro, which took nine minutes (in spite of changing from blue line to yellow line at the Rajesh Chowk station) from Mandi House to the Chandni Chowk station.

Parathay Wali Gali (incidentally all four eateries in the Gali spell the word ‘paratha’ differently) is just as narrow as the Shahi bazaars of Sindh. Until a couple of decades ago there were as many as 13 joints specialising in parathas, but as jewellers and ladies’ clothes owners offered lucrative prices, one by one, nine shops dropped shutters.

The four eateries that are left overflow with customers, morning, noon and night. I was advised to be there an hour before lunchtime so that I could capture on my camera more than just the heads of the paratha-buffs occupying the limited space inside the eateries.

-Photo by author.

The menu displayed on the walls boasted of parathas with a wide variety of fillings — cottage cheese, radish, moong ki daal, potatoes and what have you. But they were all vegetarian joints. I inquired about the traditional qeema paratha and was told that Jamia Masjid, which happened to be less than a kilometre away, had eateries around it that also served, among other dishes, non-veg parathas.

The parathas available in the Gali were smaller than the ones we have in Pakistan and they were deep fried, which made them crispier. I was reluctant to try one as my digestive system was not in ship shape. The man frying the parathas in the biggest eatery in the Gali said that a Pir Sahib had blessed the late owner so anyone eating parathas in his shop was immune to digestive problems; if any thing, the parathas would have a curative effect.

Pir Sahib or no Pir Sahib, professional compulsion forced me to try an aloo ka paratha and to say that it was delicious was to state the obvious. I sat next to a man who had a plate of two plain parathas with chutney and a couple of servings of bhujya for Indian Rs20. “I have it everyday because I can’t afford to pay more and people like you come here out of choice rather than out of compulsion,” said my cynical neighbour.

Another eatery, founded by one Pandit Gaya Prasad, displayed pictures of celebrities enjoying parathas in his outlet. The most prominent being that of Pandit Nehru in the company of a young Indira Gandhi. In another picture there was Lal Bahadur Shastri. Prasad’s son claimed that all heads of state and heads of governments had had his or his father’s parathas. “Abul Kalam sahib is the only one who never came here,” he said in English. He was in those days the President of our neighbouring country.

-Photo by author

As I moved out and headed towards Chawri Bazaar to catch the metro, I noticed that every shopkeeper had parked his motorbike outside his outlet, which made the narrow lane even narrower. I was almost overrun by a cycle rickshaw.“Dekh ke chala karo” (watch where you’re walking), roared an irate, grim-faced cycle rickshaw driver. “Bhai sahib, yehan tou na dekhne ki jaga hai aur na chalne ki” (Brother, there is no space to see let alone walk here), I said. My comment made him smile and he gave way, which reinforced my belief that humour works everywhere and Parathay Wali Gali was no exception.


Asif Noorani is a Karachi-based journalist and author of Mehdi Hasan: the Man and His Music.



The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Asif Noorani, a peacenik, has been writing articles and delivering lectures in India, Pakistan and the US on the need for closer relations between the people of the two subcontinental countries for several years. He is the author of four books, including Tales of Two Cities, which he co-authored with distinguished Indian columnist Kuldip Nayar.

He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (29) Closed

Ali Niazi Nov 27, 2012 09:50pm
Well Rahul and Gaurav, If you want magical baryani, just visit your brothers in Pakistan, you'll love it. Also if you dont mind eating meat, Lahore and Peshawer will drive you crazy. And not to forget, RawalPindi ki Halwa Puri and Cholay.
shrirang, Navi Mumbai Nov 27, 2012 04:32pm
Kareems in New mumbai(Vashi) is WORST,
Ranjan Nov 27, 2012 12:56pm
When you were so close to Jama Masjid - you should have tried Kareems. Dont miss next time.
Gujjar Nov 28, 2012 06:00pm
after reading the comments I must say great food can really unite people!
raw is war Nov 27, 2012 03:56pm
Lucknow biriyani is very greasy and very spicy. i would prefer Hyderabadi.
Faras Nov 27, 2012 12:26pm
I want a "Mattar Prantha" and two fry Anda with Lal Mirch or better yet make it an Omlette but yar put extra Hari Mirch. Jaldi Jaldi, Abhee office Jana hey.
rahul Nov 27, 2012 12:07pm
Dude Hyderabadi Mutton Biryani is the best and one reason is the rice, its EXTRA long Basmati, u dont get in North or anywhere in the world except Hyderabad, trust me. This was Shown in Gordons Kitchen in UK of Channel 4, what was shown was DUM Mutton Biryani, u seriously will die its that tasty !!
NITIN Nov 27, 2012 08:02am
Correction: Pl amend the metro station's name as it should be RAJIV CHOWK instead of Rajesh Chowk. thanks
Sumant Nov 27, 2012 04:44pm
I think Mr. Noorani might have meant Delhi's belly rather than underbelly ( a pejorative term). In any event I hope he did not end up with a case of Delhi-belly!
Samresh Nov 27, 2012 08:58am
It is nor "Rajesh Chowk" sir - It is "Rajiv Chowk" named after Rajiv Gandhi by the sycophants of Congress party to please Sonia. The common folks still use the old British Name - Connaught Place.
Manjula Nov 29, 2012 02:31am
I'm a South Indian, and I've wanted to visit Pakistan ever since I started reading Dawn. (seriously) I'm sure Pakistani food is awesome, must be somewhat like Punjabi food, right? Are there any good/famous Pakistani vegetarian dishes, can you recommend some?
chakraborty Nov 27, 2012 01:28pm
Hey Hey Hey Hold on. Biriyani is a very sensitive topic in India and everyone says his as best. I Luckily have travelled to many cities in India and the result is : Delhi Biryani is too oily and spicy (influence of Dehlvi Muslims & Punjabis) LoL Lucknow Biryani is Mild and Aromatic and its really good (Biryani reflects nazakat & nafasat !!) Malabar Biryani is South Indian version but its also good with a distinct flavour Winners Hyderbadi Biryani ~ Try .........Shadab or Paradise Restaurant Kolkata Biryani ~ Try........... Arsalan or Aminia (And yes plz dont tell me I included this bcoz I am a Bengali !) Hyderabadi & Kolkata Biryani are the Best
zafar Nov 27, 2012 02:27pm
Hmmmmm......Kareem`s not so good as it was advertised,even I can prepare much better them the one that I ate.
Gaurav Arya Nov 27, 2012 09:24am
Parathey wali gali is just the begining of the magic of Old Delhi. Tourists must try "Salim Bhai ka Haleem", burra kebabs of Karim (Jama Masjid), Mohammad Hussain's fried chicken, Panditji ki kulfi....and the list goes on and on. The chaat, paye, nihari and korma is to die for. The only sad part it that what passes for Biryani in Delhi is some ghee with some mutton and rice thrown in. The best biryani is made in the Imambara area of Lucknow.
Ahmed Sultan (Mumbai) Nov 28, 2012 09:32am
I visited lahore once and had the best kababs of my life till now.
Aamir Nov 28, 2012 02:17am
In 2008 when I visited Delhi i went all around the Jamma Masjid and Chandni Chowk area from 9.30 in the morning to 3.00 in the afternoon tasteing food from parhatas to kabbas and biryanis. Had one strip of flaygel 400 mg and Imodium just to make sure that my adventure do not fire back. I miss the pani purre of chandni chowk and Khan Market.
Devil Nov 28, 2012 01:17pm
I guess subway must be in the brackets instead of metro :-) And have nice trip to watan! By the way, isn't it weird to be nostalgic about India and expressing same on a Pakistani news paper while sitting in some western nation !! :-)
Ahmed Sultan (Mumbai) Nov 28, 2012 04:34am
Hyderabadi biryani is just the biryani you get in delhi plus lots of extra species. And the raita you get with Hyderabadi biryani is just water and little bit of cur, north side especializes in Raita also.
Sandip Nov 27, 2012 11:39pm
Visiting India next year after 15 years in Canada. And have scheduled a trip to Parathen Wali Gali for dinner one day at Pandit Gaya Parasad. Good to know that subway (metro) might be better option. Hope I and my family can handle the parathas else we are doom to be in hospital next day and spoil the entire trip
abc Nov 27, 2012 08:08pm
Sorry mate. Gordon Ramsay is no authority on Indian kitchen. I am a hardcore foodie. Though, hyderabad haleem is the best, but i believe there briyani is way to over rated. Lucknow biriyani is way more superior. However, overall, Delhi food is the best from all over India and among the very best from all accross the globe. And i have traelled quite a bit.
BRUISED INDIAN Nov 27, 2012 08:57pm
Ranjan: Why are you leaving us Dilli Waalas insulted and red faced? Asif Sahab, please do NOT ever visit Jama Masjid eateries... like Parathe Waali Gali they too are filthy and alongwith your meal you would be given Delhi Belly gratis.
Punjabi Jat Nov 27, 2012 07:34pm
My greatest dream is go to India for food tourism. Lucknow, Dehli, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad and Bombay.... and write a book about my findings. I hope for normalization between two countries so young people can travel freely. In the meanwhile we had to dream about those fantastic places.
imran Nov 27, 2012 01:51pm
sometimes think dawn has more indian readership then pakistani' the way sir its rajiv chowk
Raw Agent Nov 27, 2012 05:18pm
It is Rajiv Chowk, nt Rajesh Chowk
Vishnu Dutta Nov 27, 2012 08:52am
Great write up. Traditional eateries are getting converted in to chain restaurants in delhi with a great pace. Minor correction though, Delhi metro is not new, its over 7 years old now.
irfan husain Nov 28, 2012 05:57am
Thanks for a wonderfully evocative article, Asif. I want to take the next flight to Delhi...
zafar Iqbal Nov 28, 2012 07:36am
I visited kolkata several times , reallly biryani of aminia restaurant is very tasty.I still could not forget the taste of kachchi biryani..And pani puri near victoria memorial Esplanade. (zafar Iqbal ,karachi)
Kanwal Bhatia Nov 27, 2012 01:54pm
In Chawri Bazar, people do not walk, but pushed to move on Kanwal
HH Nov 27, 2012 08:22am
His foot is a little too close to the food but I guess deep frying + blessings would solve everything. :D