Where to eat in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh | Travel

Silky minced lamb, tenderised with raw papaya paste, and patted to perfection—or as we know them, Galauti kebabs. The head-turning aroma from a broiling pot of haleem, resulting from a mad dash of Middle Eastern and Central Asian spices, topped with ghee-based gravy, pieces of lime, chopped coriander and fried onions as garnish. Karim’s Mutton Paya, which BBC World in March 1994, described to be “better than the bacon and eggs and more delicious.”

Housed in a residential complex, Javed Famous Nahari is a cult favourite.

There was a downside to experiencing the unprecedented mecca of Mughlai cuisine in Chandni Chowk’s Matia Mahal area and being surrounded by great dishes like those: It really raised the bar for Shaheen Bagh. Post-pandemic, when the district started doubling down solely on how food can become a medium of expression, the resulting eateries and food businesses started drawing masses of visitors from in and around Delhi. What the residing community called a passion project with the sole aim of sharing local favourites through a lane dressed up to serve has slowly become a city-wide sensation, and giving Chandi Chowk a fair run for its money.

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On a meandering stroll through the Chaalis Futta (40 feet) road, I paused to eavesdrop on a man who was faultlessly describing the up-and-coming vigour of the neighbourhood to a touring French couple. Nonchalantly smashing a hot, almost smouldering kebab with the palm of his bare hand, he exclaimed, “Warning: this is not Mughlai food for beginners.”

“Turn around, and peruse the sidewalk for Iranian Haleem recipes that call for beef instead of chicken or mutton or ladylike no-oil samosas made by a gentleman from Afghanistan. “He is viral, and I know nothing about social media but I know he is [viral],” he rambled in excitement, pointing to the couple, and now me as I had almost joined in the conversation, to a tungsten-lit cart.

While there are plenty of eateries, some easily identifiable like the diner-style Zahra Restaurant on the 4-way stop and Javed Famous Nahari’s tenderest, and equally flavourful bowl of nihari, the district is exponentially growing, both in terms of footfall and food businesses. Mughlai fare and kebab still predominate, though there are plenty of regional and modern dishes to be found, including Afghani, Iranian, and Turkish.

Chicken lollipop at Mubeen Alam’s Fried Chicken

“Growing up in the neighbourhood, I have seen everything from the devastating scenes of the protest to the aftermath, and the glimmer of joy businesses, especially food, now run with as we continue to garner more appreciation for our hyper-local culture,” Mubeen Alam, owner of the Mubeen Alam’s Fried Chicken accepted. When I asked him to serve me the “fried chicken that sells out the fastest”, he introduced me to a plateful of chicken lollipop—Indo-Chinese chicken wings or drumettes coated with garlic-ky tandoori masala and fried till crispy. The Frenched-drumstick is then served with a sour and punchy mint sauce, which I had to cut myself off from after some time (because I would have tried to drink it). An appetising appetiser with an aggressive price of Rs. 400/kilogram is surely a recommendable appetite-including adventure.

Goli Soda

When the sky is raining down fire, which is exactly how May felt, people gather around King’s Goli Soda to sip on a provincial rendition of soda where the fizz evinces familiar, fruity flavours. At King Goli Soda, for Rs. 20 a pop, you can try everything from tastes-too-much-like guava flavour to classic lemon (warning, potential shikanji competitor) and walk away feeling revived and untired. A true ‘hack’ for cruising through the rest of the food lane if you are planning to visit during the warmer season.

Nihari with khameeri roti at Javed Famous Nahari

Housed in a residential complex, Javed Famous Nahari is a cult favourite. Serving nihari—a slow-cooked beef or lamb with bone marrow, doused in ghee and spiced stew—since 1990, the two-story restaurant on Chaalis Futta road is the eatery’s second-ever expansion, with the original eatery still serving in Zakir Nagar. “It’s often the nihari, not the name,” says manager Shahbaz Khan with a smirk, who runs the cooperation in Shaheen Bagh. “While the recipe is secret, the popularity of ‘nalli nihari’ is not. The secret I will share though is to get your bowl filled to the brim with as much marrow as possible. Last but not least, embrace the chopped chilli and juillied garlic on top,” he added. Best paired with khameeri roti (leavened baked flatbread) straight from the tandoor, half a plate of just the nalli nihari will set you back Rs. 250.

Afgani samosa at Al-Naseeb Restaurant

This is one of those ‘Insta viral’ eateries that blew up right after the pandemic and, going out on a limb here, could have played a big role in popularising the Shaheen Bagh to the social media generation. The kata-kat sound of big choppers mincing on a dimly lit stand outside the Al-Naseeb Restaurant kept distracting me from looking for the blue-eyed Afghani seller who became, and still is a viral sensation. While I couldn’t find ‘the man’, it was impossible to be disappointed when the wafting scent of simmering hot juicy chicken hit you in the face. Turns out, it’s only the keema that turned the snack into a sensation since the thick outer covering and alternative mayonnaise they drench it can turn every bite into quite a disappointment. Is it worth it? For Rs. 30? I would say we must experience it for the experience.

Fried chicken at BB Chicken Fries

Arshad Hussain Sahab’s platter of classic fried chicken screams two words—well done. A new entrant in the growing scene, Hussain’s decade-long experience as a chef dances with the enigmatic street scenes of Shaheen Bagh to bring customers double-fried, crackling, succulent nubs of chicken. He can absolutely be the Carl Casper from Chef (2014) of Delhi, quitting the big leagues for a personal dream that maybe nobody would ever truly understand. After tearing into the fried chicken ( 75 for ¼ plate), don’t shy away from digging into their fish fry and chicken soup.

Lal Quila Hyderabadi Haleem Corner

During Ramazan, among the legions of visitors who flock to Shaheen Bagh, many make the trip just for the Hyderabadi Haleem claimed local resident Mhd Gufran Ansari. “But even beyond the ‘prime time’, it remains a go-to, a staple, and even sometimes a guilty pleasure,” he shyly admitted. Haleem, a South Asian stew that can be traced back to Arabian cookbooks from the 10th century, is typically made from lentils, mutton, bone broth and pounded wheat, doused with ghee. At Lal Quila, the GI-tagged ‘Hyderabadi’ in Hyderabadi Haleem can be identified from the thick, brothy, gossamer strands of meat, is slow cooked and often includes Hyderabadi spices in the recipe and lapped up in ghee when served. Price: 150 for Hyderabadi Mutton Haleem.

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