A Delhi Summer – On the Streets

It is not easy to sum up an old city like Delhi, with all the layering, in one post. And I am not planning to attempt it.

In this city of 10 million people there is no getting away from the crowd. There are people everywhere, and they continue to pour in – from smaller cities and the villages. The biggest influx into Delhi was in 1947, during the Partition of the country, when many Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab (now in Pakistan) sought refuge.

It is only natural that a city 3000 years old has imbibed influences from all over the world, and these are reflected in its culture – art and architecture, language, and of course, in its cuisine. The Persian influence is prominent in the Mughlai cuisine, though the Punjabi flavours predominate today. But whosoever came and settled here had to deal with the hot and dusty summers.

An Amaltas in all its glory

Not that that is an entirely bad thing. How else would the mango πŸ™‚ be so sweet? While the temperate world revels in its fall colours, we have a green green spring followed by the vibrant summer. The sun makes our greens shine, the reds brighter, and the yellows sunnier. Who can rival the Gulmohur (Delonix regia) or the Amaltas (Cassia fistula), when it comes to a show of colour?





So, this post is going to be about Dilli ki galiyan (the streets of Delhi) for the Postcard series for Bee who does a jugalbandi with J. This post has been brewing for some time and some delicious flavours are going to dominate, while others have mellowed.



Come spring and the tamarinds lining Tilak Marg, that looked dead all winter, turn green overnight. The avenues in other parts of Lutyens’ Delhi are lined with evergreen Jamun trees. It is interesting that Lutyens chose these non-ornamental productive trees to line the streets. Contracts are given out each year for the fruits of the Jamun. At about the same time as the Jamuns ripen, there is the tart tiny phalsa that makes an appearance.

So what if we don’t have blueberries! Or blackberries. Mere pass phalsa hai ( with apologies to Salim Javed)! Already, our supplier-on-bike has started ringing the door bell to make an assured sale. Sprinkled with some spiced salt, it is another blessing of the Delhi summer. All these small-delights are sold on the streets, near busy shopping areas, and at bus stops.

Tamarind-lined Tilak Marg

Delhi is also famous for its own brand of street food. Some of this is prepared in the best known tradition of street food – deep fried. Here you have the samosa – a fried pastry filled with spiced mashed potatoes, and served with khatti-meethi imli chutney; the tikki – fried potato patties stuffed with a spiced mix of lentils, served with the aforementioned tamarind chutney; the absolutely heavenly deep fried moong-dal pakodies made with a batter of moong and chana dal, and served with a hot green chutney and a garnish of grated mooli and mooli leaves. Gol-gappas and papri chaat everybody knows. If you don’t, write in – but really, are there people in this world who haven’t heard about the famous Dilli ki Chaat?



Moong pakodi


Moong pakodi

Before you go thinking that all street food here is deep fried, think again. For the health conscious we have the fruit seller who will cut and slice the fruit of choice – mangoes (but of course), pineapples, and the always-in-season banana. The banana is best-packaged for the street since it requires no washing or slicing. The vendor will take out a slim peel, make an incision with a knife, and then use the same knife to get some chaat masala (spiced salt – in Indian, you are never separated from your spice) in, a squeeze of lemon, and you have your meal-on-the-go. Ummm. You could always ask him to mix all the fruit for a delicious spicy no-fat fruit chaat, served in a dona, a bowl made from the dried leaves of the Dhak (Flame of the Forest). Bio-degradable. Let’s talk carbon emissions, greenhouse gases per capita.

fruit sellers
Mangoes, bananas, and melons for sale, also kakadi!

There is street food and then there is chaat. And the best and most authentic Dilli ki chaat is to be had on the streets of Old Delhi or Shahjahanabad, its original name. I thought I’ll take you on a trip through the quaint labyrinth of these streets where the different Katras (neighbourhood units) specialize in different products, and offer everything under the sun, from spices to grain, from jewelery to electronics. Lutyen’s New Delhi with its colonial bungalows and tree lined lush avenues is in total contrast to this. But sanity prevailed and I remembered that only mad dogs and English men πŸ™‚ go out in the mid-day sun. Another time…


Chat Masala

But I will tell you about an easy-breezy quick healthy chaat you can make at home. I first had this chaat many summers ago while condition-mapping old monuments of Delhi for INTACH as a student trainee. There is no corner of Delhi that I and my friend, Prati, did not get to see. Every obscure monument, every grave stone, we’ve seen it. One day she suggested we have the chaat from the guy on the street with the shining brass handi balanced on a khomcha. I gave her an incredulous look, β€œThat β€˜grade’ of street food? Are you crazy?” The heat had definitely gotten to her. But she convinced me that I had missed out on a very edible street-side item. Well, you probably also know how chatora we Dilliwalas are. So there I was watching the guy mix the boiled β€˜chole’ with some chopped onions and tomatoes (β€œOMG, Prati, look, he didn’t even wash the onion or the tomato!”), a dash of this, and a pinch of that. β€œKitna taez, madam?” he asked, before adjusting the heat to my taste. β€œEkdum teekha,” pat came my reply.

And I was hooked. Every day that summer, through the long training period, we had one dona for afternoon snack.



Those are not really chole (chickpeas). They are matar (peas) which cost a fourth of chickpeas! That’s how the matarwala sells it with two small thin kulchas for Rs 8. If you want just the matar, that will be all of Rs 5! I cannot believe that it is still possible to get any kind of snack in Delhi for that ludicrous an amount leave alone something so tasty! And guilt-free to boot.

Here’s to street food.

matar chaat

(Spicy yellow pea salsa/chaat)
Serves 4

2 C matar (dry yellow peas)
onions, chopped fine
tomatoes, chopped fine
cucumbers, chopped into small cubes (optional)
green chillies, minced
coriander, chopped fine
chaat masala (black-kind preferred)
red chilli (cayenne pepper) powder
thinned tamarind juice (soak tamarind in hot water, mash, and extract the juice)
green chillies to serve on the side

2 pkg kulchas (such as Harvest brand), or bread of choice



Soak peas for 2-3 hours, and pressure cook till soft. Use just enough water so that there is not much liquid left after cooking; about 4 1/2 cups should be enough. The degree of softness is up to you; traditionally they are very soft, almost mushy. Prepare all the other ingredients. The amount of all these fresh ingredients is entirely up to you. I like to add chopped cucumbers, but it is not traditional.

Just before serving, take the peas and their liquid in a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix and adjust the spicing and the sourness; you should be able to taste the lemon. The tamarind juice provides additional moisture besides adding to the tang.

Serve on its own, or with pan-toasted kulchas, with additional wedges of lemon, and green chillies if desired. It would make a great dip with pita wedges too!

Somini Sengupta’s Delhi Street Foods
Amardeep’s Thalia Chaat
Delhi’s Street Food in Peril!
Map of 19 C Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi)
View of 19 C Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi)


Published by


A self professed urban ecologist!

47 thoughts on “A Delhi Summer – On the Streets”

  1. why does your blog look like mine?

    Now that you mention it…Hmmm. What’s going on? πŸ™‚ Thanks for the opportunity, Bee.

  2. Anita, you know, your words and pictures made me smile and cry…..you sure have a way of invoking nostlagia πŸ™‚
    Those moong wade with mooli, we used to call it khatte wale laddos in Punjab, they were served soaked (for long) in laal chutney with mooli. That laal chutney was nimbu/imli paani, ratanjot/maval and grated moolis! Absolutely delicious πŸ™‚

    and the done wale matar kulche, or patte as we used to it! and that omnipresent fruit-chaat, weith fruits done on the tawa, with all different spices and chutneys πŸ™‚

    But the words “Phalsa” and “Jamun” really made me emotional!

  3. From Bee’s blog: “Each post is like an urban Malgudi Days that captures the rhythm of daily life and memories of times past”

    He! He! He! “Memories of times past” Hee! Hee! Hee!

  4. I humbly apologize for any misdemeanors caused by my evil twin. This bipolar personality disorder is a real problem for both of us.

  5. Sssshhhhh…[in a whisper] people will think you’re talking to yourself again- remember that talk we had about this?

  6. [continuing in a whisper]Now, you keep quiet until I’m done talking to Anita…

    Anita! Truly spectacular!! I love those trees! Especially the Amalta- they would be at home in Lothlorien… trees, peas, fruits, maps and chaats… what is a kulcha? I need a bunch of bananas…now!!! [be quiet just one more second Manisha] Wonderful post!

  7. Anita, you bring back memories of my childhood. My nana and nani used to live in Delhi for part of the year and we would often visit them. It truly is a wonderful place with so much pizazz. But, you know what? With my brother getting a new job there and now making the move from California to Dehli I look forward to visiting soon. After so many years coming back and seeing all it’s glory with my own eyes. Thanks for the lovely pictures
    Hi Meeta. I was successful in making all of you home sick! So you may be coming to visit Delhi soon…and Amritsar is so close!

    It is not the place so much, but the memory of it that makes us nostalgic.

  8. This is quite the party here tonight/today! And you all know each other well, you don’t need me for any introductions…I do hear some new voices πŸ˜‰ , or do I? party on!
    Glad you all could come!

  9. Great post!
    i left a huge comment…..but wordpress ate it away! Loved phalsa and jamun and the khatte wale laddoos or the moong wadas πŸ™‚
    Hi Musical, our Punj gal…I made you homesick for phalse, didn’t I! Wait till I post pictures – took some this morning. Thanks for reading!

  10. u are successful in makeing all of us nostalgic anita…wonderful post!!! thanks for making us get connected to our country “once again” πŸ™‚

    I’ll keep bringing you nuggets of this wonderful land of ours. Thanks for reading!

  11. Great post anita. Thanks for the pictures, they’re wonderful. Well, I missed kakdi in jugalbandi post πŸ˜‰ That’s another thing I haven’t found here. I left a huge comment on Jugalbandi too…

    Hi Mandira. Thanks for reading and the encouraging words over at Jugalbandi too. The kakdi is seen in the far rehdi, look again…

  12. Anita,
    Like Meeta mentioned,u do bring back a whole bunch of wonderful memories of Delhi and Jaipur.I used to visit these 2 places every summer to meet my grandparents. It’s been a while since I last visited Delhi. The second I read phalsa all those memories about how we enjoyed them as kids(brother and cousins) came rushing/flooding my memory cells.The khatta/meetha taste of the phalsa with salt and chilli powder,yumlicious.It’s making my mouth water and also very nostalgic. Thanks for bringing back those childhood memories.

    Hi Shobitha. Welcome to the Party. Isn’t it amazing how a few words can start an avalanche of memories? And nothing has stronger associations to our past than the taste and smell of food, especially those related with carefree childhood. Thanks for reading.

  13. Anita there is a surprise for you.
    Man that green bread had an effect on me….pl. delete the earlier comment…OR is that the discussion going on here..

    Where is the surprise – that other ‘evil twin’ of yours called ‘Anita’? (I hope there is more πŸ™‚ )

    Delhi’s heat got through to you! I must be good! πŸ˜†

  14. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t been to Delhi… 😳 , but thanks for the virtual tour, it has been added to my must visit places…
    What an amazing post Anita, and the pictures are spectacular!

    There is so much to see…all around the world! Make sure you see it, one restaurant at a time! πŸ™‚
    Thanks for reading!

  15. dilli ki galiyaan brought back a wave of nostalgia. thank u so much, Anita!Though I don’t miss the heat(hi, hi!)i definitely miss the fruits and chaat and nathu’s rasmalai in a pot on mathura road, and karim’s tandoori chicken and niruals and porotta wali gali.u are right.. tere paas dilli hai!

    Hi Shaheen. I can use those tips for future posts to make everyone drool (and miss home πŸ™‚ ) some more!

  16. Anita,
    you wont believe it, i have just captured some blazing red gulmohars and the yellow golden showers (Amaltas) in the past one week, these are my favourite two trees which make bearing the brutal summer worthwhile apart from the mangoes.
    My heart is dancing looking at these two beauties on this page and thanks for covering Dilli like that!

    Toldja, you should’ve come with me!

    Yes, those are magnificent trees. But then I like most trees πŸ™‚

  17. WOW WOW Is that truly Delhi? or are you tricking us? So Clean and so beautiful. Lovely Post and I have Delhi swimming before my eyes and this irresistible urge to visit. If my surprise bothers you it is because I am from the southern most state and can’t see that far up North. One push and we will be in the Indian Ocean.

    Thank you, ISG! Of course, I’m exaggerating πŸ˜‰ DTDC should be paying me! New Delhi is the posh and pretty side of the city.
    Tamil Nadu? – The Annamalai hills are amongst the most charming of places I have been to. Both my best πŸ™‚ friends in school were from TN – that is how I got hooked on Southern food, and could tell a real dosai from its North Indian avtaar. So much to see…get on that train from Thiruvananthpuram – it comes straight to Delhi!

  18. Hi,
    Came here thru Jugalbandi, truly a wonderful post. You made me nostalgic about Delhi and the four years I spent there. Annapoorna, Karim’s (the one near Jama Masjid, not the fancy-schmancy one near Sunder Nagar), Chandni Chowk, the rehdiwalas that sell lychees, mangoes…
    The hot, hot gajar ka halwa and gulab jamun during winters that I and my friend would have on BSZ Marg after lunch every single day and go for a walk immediately in an effort to burn it off!
    Thank you for making me miss Dilli.
    Hi Anita! Welcome to the Mad tea Party!
    I love the cycle of changing seasons in Delhi. It is one of the high points of living here – it would have been perfect if we could have had some snow πŸ™‚ !
    Thanks for reading.

  19. Winter? How cool does it get in Dilli? Does it ever freeze?
    “There is so much to see…all around the world! Make sure you see it, one restaurant at a time!” …you could not have said it better, nor I!

    Cold, very cold. Just above freezing, at 2-4 degrees Celsius. Brrr, with no central heating πŸ™‚

  20. DTDC should actually hire you. You have erased with one swoop the negative publicity Delhi gets for all its headlines
    Anita I only wish. I was talking about my hometown,
    Coimbatore about 65 kms from the Annamalai hills. Did you visit Topslip? the favorite destination of all College kids. Now I live in the USofA and wonder everyday if living here is really what I want. But we have something in common. We both live in the Nations Capitals. DC Delhi.

    Well, USofA is good too πŸ™‚ You have blueberries and blackberries, and snow! πŸ™‚ And you an always visit!

  21. awesome pics. read this in Bee’s blog. loved the matar recipe. we make chaat out of it. pics of the flowers rock. I loved the writeup about rose too. very informative.

    Thanks for reading, Sharmi!

  22. Mmmmm…. you bring back memories of grwoing up in Delhi. This particular matar-kulcha was my favorite!!!
    The kulcha wala would sit under this huge peepal tree in the neighborhood market, and my nani would insist we take clean plates from home to eat them on. haha like that made a difference.
    So how would one make the light fluffy kulchas at home…. we dont get kulchas at the indian store (at least not in the bay area).
    Nice post.
    Ah, there you are, at last! πŸ™‚ (or maybe not – that e mail is different – in which case, welcome!)
    The kulcha, the kind eaten with the matar, is a hard one as far as cooking at home is concerned. I too, am looking for a recipe. Recipes for the Punjabi kulcha are there but not this kind.

  23. Wow Anitha,
    First time here, Girl you have a great blog going. I had a chance to visit Delhi enroute to Jaipur during my last visit for 2 days, I loved the city, food and especially shopping :). 2 days were way too less of time. Your post does take me back to those 2 days.
    I hope I get another chance to explore the city again soon. Added you to my blogroll !!!

    Hi Sreelu. I am happy that I could bring back Delhi memories for you! Two days is too little for Delhi…there will be other times, surely.

  24. Hi Anita,
    I used to live in Dilli many, many years ago, and left in 1966, long before you were born, I am sure. Your blog brought back many happy memories of the gulmohar and the amaltas, though I knew it as Laburnum in those days. I went for a visit in 2002, and didn’t recognize most of the city, except for India Gate and Rashtrapati Bhavan and a few other landmarks. Even my old school (CJM) was different, the girls wear salwar kameezes now, as opposed to the skirts and blouses in white with red buttons of my time.
    I look forward to more descriptions of Dilli and more interesting recipes.

    Not that long before – just a year! I am glad I could bring back some happy memories.
    Delhi is changing too fast – all the flyovers and the above-ground Metro are making it ugly…It will live on in nostalgia though…
    Thanks for the visit, Lalitha.

  25. Ex-CJM, no way, they wear Salwar Kameez!!!! I am really out of date!
    I love your pictures, brings back memories of Delhi waaaay back when!!! It is still all good though, and I try to visit every year at least for a couple of weeks, summer no problem since I now live in Texas!
    My kids think I am nuts but they come along anyway, poor things never complain even during power cuts! They love to browse the Janpath stalls! I bribe them with all the junk we can carry back!

    Hey, Pepper Mama, welcome to AMTP!

    It’s always nice to revisit! If you want mangoes, it’s gotta be summer time! And it’s great that you bring the kids too – they must get to know their roots.

  26. yep! mee too feel like visiting Delhi ..atleast to taste all different types of chaats… πŸ™‚

    the images were really goodd….

    thanks for the virtual tour of delhi!

  27. I just wanted to compliment the photography in this post. I enjoy looking at all the photos very much. The first one however, is my favorite, due to the fact that it reminds me of something past (I’m not actually sure what that is yet).

  28. Hi Anita,
    Enjoyed your post. I tried your recipe for the Matar, with a few variations, and it was fantastic. The variations were: addition of little dhania jeera powder, absence of cucumber and tomato, and tamarind extract.
    But it was great and it nearly was like having it from the Khomche waala! Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe.

  29. Hi there,

    i wanted to try ur recipe. but i have dried GREEN peas. CAn i used them here. Also can u tell me what is the difference between dried yellow and green peas and how far the taste differs.

    Maybe it sound silly to u but really this is the first time i will be cooking with dried peas. and that too it has so many colors i never knew.

    Thanx in advance for replying me.
    Have a Good day, Cheers !!

    Sorry, I couldn’t get to this sooner, Farah.
    I have used split green beans a very long time ago (to substitute for dal!)..and the texture was starchy, so it might be ok to substitute with those. Are your peas whole? If not, try to watch them as they cook so that they don;t disintegrate into mush.
    Do let me know if it worked.

  30. Hello Anita

    You have a fab blog here.
    I am from Delhi. And whenever I come to this post of yours, it brings so many memories of Delhi, tht I start missing it even more.
    Keep up the good work!

    Can you please post the much elusive recipe of the moong-dal pakodi and especially the green chutney that is served with it?

    Thanks a lot!

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