Opposite Natraj's Café is the entrance to Paranthe Wali gali. The gali in the past had over ten to twelve shops but today there are only five left. Chandni Chowks Paranthewali Gali is a bylane in the market devoted to only parantha sellers. Paranthas are a type of unleavened bread that are stuffed and then shallow fried in clarified butter. Kanwarji Bhagirathmal Dalbhajiwallah's 150 years old confectionary shop graces the entrance to the gali. This shop is well known for its namkeens like dal bhuji (fried pulses), aalu ka lachha (spicy fried potato sticks) and sweets like barfi and imarti. The riots in 1984 started right outside Kanwarji's,10 feet away from the gali and the gali was completely burnt down. The shops present today in the gali were the only ones to be rebuilt, post the riots.
No trip to Chandni Chowk is complete without a visit to The Ghantewala Halwai, the oldest sweet shop in Chandni Chowk. More than two hundred years old, the Ghantewala is a landmark in itself. The shop has always prided itself for the quality of the sweets available, the one most in demand being Sohanhalwa, made from dry fruits, sprouts and sugar. 'Ghanta' in Hindi means a huge bell. Legend goes that when the royal procession used to move down the road, the emperor would stop and be offered the delicacies from the sweet shop. The emperor's elephant would also be offered sweets. In a short time the animal came to know the shop so well that, procession or no procession, it would refuse to pass through the road and shake its head until the compulsory offering of sweets was made! The bells hanging from the elephant's neck would tinkle melodiously in the process, and from there the shop acquired its name. An interesting fact- at present the shop is owned by the 11th generation! I ordered some of Ghantewala's famous Sohan Halwa to take home as I was too full to taste any over there.
To begin my journey in to the tastes and aromas of Chandni Chowk's delicacies I started with Natraj's Dahi Bhalle. Dating back to 1940, the shop is patronized by powerful politicians and famous film stars. Here, one plate of Dahi Bhalla costs Rs.15. Dahi Bhalla is a concoction of yoghurt, masalas or spices and fried dumplings soaked in water (to soften them). The dish lived up to its reputation and was a real treat. Natraj's Aloo Tikki's are also famous in Chandni Chowk. Tikkis are like burger patties made of mashed and seasoned potatoes and stuffed with either dry fruits or ground seasoned dals. These tikkis were stuffed with moong dal and were spicy. Not only were they delicious they also made my eyes water with the strong spices!! A definite no-no for people with sensitive taste buds.
Said to be Asia's largest market for electrical goods, it is also known for medical equipment and allopathic medicines. Locals know this as Chooriwali ki Haveli (The Bangle Seller's Palace). This was originally the mansion of Begum Sumroo, a Kashmiri nautch girl with the most accomplished band of dancers in her troupe. The story of her life would actually make a sensational film - a drama of almost epic scale. This bewitching seductress was not only an accomplished dancer and singer but a shrewd businesswoman who knew precisely when to grab an opportunity. She converted to Christianity and married two mercenary European adventurers in succession and it was thanks to them that she ultimately became 'Begum' of a principality at Sardhana, near Meerut.