Celebrating Eid in Delhi? One definitely needs to pay a visit to Old Delhi, often referred to as Delhi 6, to get the vibe of the walled city and how Eid is celebrated by people of all milieu. Old Delhi, as the name sounds, retains its distinctive colour of the old Mughal era with architecture to match, heirloom food to flaunt, age-old tales in each and every snaking alleyway.
And so, braving the heat and humidity, my family and I started our Eid celebrations from the Jama Masjid. We met around half 4 in the afternoon to avoid the crowd but that was clearly an underestimation. Not one to be deterred, we walked inside one of India’s largest built mosques – the Jama Masjid. Built by Mughal emperor Shahjehan (yes, the same dude who built the Taj Mahal in Agra), the mosque overlooks the strong ramparts of the Red Fort (also built by the same dude). This walled city was called Shahjehanabad, after the ruler and is one of the living foundations of the city that is called Delhi.
Since I was doing this after 11 years, my guides for this quick walk were my partners in crime, my brothers-in-law. We have many things in common among us, predominantly, food. So after walking the kiln-hot 17th century stones of Jama Masjid, we decided to make Eid more memorable by eating. A short walk through an alley that resembled a human river, we entered Al Jawahar, a notoriously famous spot for eating most things Mughlai. We hustled up into the family zone, cooling ourselves down under the AC, while the boys did the ordering.
This Eid meal was something in the middle of lunch and dinner. But we gave it our best shot. We were served some fluffy hot Khamiri roti. The main ingredient is yeast or khameer (in Urdu). And hence the vanilla-like colour and fluffiness. I knew the khamiri roti was delicious when we saw my 5-year-old cub finish one on his own.
Now the boys, Arindam and Anwesh, were under a lot of pressure to order the best to make the most of an early evening meal. They finally zeroed in on a portion of tandoori chicken (marinated chicken, grilled in an oven), followed by Chicken Jahangiri. Their argument was that after visiting the mosque built by the father, it is only fitting we eat a dish named after his son. Am not complaining. It was chicken in a tomato based gravy with the usual spicing found in most Mughlai cuisine. Not sure if this had any historical resonance, other than the ones from our table, as we licked our fingers. Next came Chicken Stew. On some menus it is written the same way it is called out – Ishtoo! It is a takedown of the colonial recipe but has evolved into a dish that binds a lot of heat of spices, namely cardamom. Oh, and green chillies for garnish! I like the fact that it bravely doesn’t use turmeric to add colour. We had a few more Khamiris coming to wipe up the last of the stew. Apologies, our hands were too oily to wield a camera phone, so we concentrated on eating.
No Eid meal is over without dessert. We stepped out of the restaurant only to be swept away in a teeming human current in an alley that was lined by shops on both sides, selling everything one would need to make for the perfect Eid meal. Vermicelli or seviyaan were sold by the kilo, as were ready-to-eat biryani, shahi-tukda (an Indian bread pudding that is beyond decadent) and what-have-yous. We picked up some of that to take back home for our folks before we negotiated our way out of this thronging, ecstatic, time-honoured and time-zoned place called Old Delhi.
With winters coming this year, we will be back, hungry as a pack of ravenous direwolves, to delight our senses with some more exquisite Mughlai delights at Old Delhi. Eid Mubarak, y’all!