Paranthe wali gali has always been synonymous to a culinary date with history. There are cuisines which are recommended due to their unique appeal to taste buds and there are some which lingers on in our memory due to their elaborate and precise manner of preparation. The parathas of Paranthe wali gali symbolizes a tradition, a legacy handed down to us over the times when the Royal Mughals made the humble age old paratha into a delicacy of sorts. Its fame not only spread far and wide but even crossed the barrier of time and civilization to be passed down the ages to the present times, so much that be it Kings or presidents of other countries or even the popular film stars, but everyone who visits the Indian capital marks a visit to the congested, crowded narrow lane as one of its primary agenda.
What is there about it that makes it so popular and what makes the foodies swear by it. Our team in Fried Eye decided to try and find out the age old charm of Paranthe wali gali by being at the centre of where all the action was.
Though the words age old charm may sound nice and bring up images of quaint little shops and stalls, interesting architecture, sights and sounds from the past, Paranthe wali gali is however none of the above and is more a commuter’s nightmare than a food lover’s haven. The picture depicted below is what you have to go through before you can reach your destination by road. And when you reach there you see a narrow twisty lane comprising of around ten to fifteen stalls and that in entirety is Paranthe wale gali!
When one says popular, it is actually an understatement as one has to see it with one’s own eyes to believe the queues for a table at the joints, which is nearly serpentine. The shops there are impressive in their lineage and period of existence as each tries to outdo the other in terms of their time in the business. You can see their banners and signboards proudly announcing the generations, (of which it is said that they are the branches of the same family) that have been involved in the making of the legendary parathas.
We tried to chat up with the first in the line of the Paratha stalls. He was blunt and came directly to the point- Aren’t you going to eat? he asked us suspiciously. We told him we would wait out a bit. He didn’t lose his time telling us off, citing that it was lunch hour there and that we were just being a hindrance to the guests. He was right. In fact 7am to 11 pm was one whole big lunch hour there. We understood that unless we ate something we weren’t going to get many inputs out of them.
So we decided to start our gastronomic exercise with a kulfi which was a soft delectable creamy delicacy. The kulfi certainly justified the hype of the parathe wali gali. The kulfi stall owner opened up a bit after coaxing and started narrating of those wonderful times when it was being frequented by visiting dignitaries from our neighbour Pakistan and he mentioned how once kulfi had been specially ordered for Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff. There was no means of course to verify his claims other than the kulfi itself, but we have got to give it to him that his kulfi did have that much in it for the claim to be plausible. He did lament that there were few customers now than earlier, all thanks to the inflation. He called that crowd a few? Phew!
After the kulfi we came up to the main paratha shops which were teeming with people and opted for the Kanhaiyalal Durga Prasad Paratha shop. On a close glance, the paratha stalls were not much different from each other- busy, crowded, express service with hot parathas being cooked and served right under your nose literally.
The shop had its own who’s who visitor list adorned on its walls, with the photographs of celebrities sampling the parathas with happy faces splashed at every conceivable space in the walls –from Shiela Dixit to Ranbir Kapoor. Call it psycho-suggestive or bragging, but it was their form of advertisement and marketing and all of them had their own famous clientele to boast about.
The joint had around thirty five varieties of parathas and it was difficult choosing which, but finally we settled for bitter gourd or karela ka paratha and khurchan or the cream stuffed parathas, which tasted like parathas stuffed with exactly the stuff they were named after. The making of the parathas were in itself a mixer of sweat and toil. One person rolled those small balls of dough and stuffed the chosen ingredients as preferred in a whisk of time. Another person on the fire kept deep frying the flattened circular dough into fluffy one. The other runner was ready with a can of ghee ( clarified butter) to pour immediately as an when the oil were left little to fry. The mayhem of making the parathas was the smoke that rolled over us and nearly choked the visitors standing in queue close by. They of course acted bravely comfortable watching those freshly prepared parathas. Hot and fresh were they.
So there we found a place to tuck ourselves in and shared the table with numerous unknown faces who looked comfortable even in the hot and humid surrounding. Parathas were served with an assortment of sabzis- potato and peas gravy, pumpkin mash, and sweet and sour chutneys. We asked the waiter when the shops opened for the day, to which he replied from morning seven to 11 pm and the rush it seemed to be always present.
What better way than to wash off the parathas with a kullhad of lassi . It seemed the lane served you the whole course of a meal though in separate shops. The Lassi shop though didn’t amount to ‘generations’ did cover four decades of enterprise. Much has changed from the days of the traditionally churned lassi to the now-a-days-used lassi machines and he did let us have a peek into it which was a simple motor machine churning out some frothy chilled lassi.
With that we came to the end of the road or lane literally and also the meal course. Much of the old paratha shops were gone and only a few remained and those that remained were not going off any sooner judging by the crowd and hype. As the kulfi walah had put it – Mehengai hua toh kya hua, log kya khayenge nahin ( So what if there is inflation? Will that stop people from eating? ) And he hit the nail with that comment.
Inflation was not the only issue that went against the place. It was almost inaccessible due to the busy traffic and congested lanes but that has been corrected with the coming of Metro Corporation. The infrastructure needs a revamp as was agreed by the shop owners. Though it will be pleasant to visit the place during the winters, summers will be a furnace with poor ventilation and air passage. However you cannot beat the charm and magic of history with logic and trivial matters. No amount of heat , traffic, ventilation or hygiene can deter the foodies from visiting a place that has stood the test of time to stand apart and earn a place in the pages of history purely on the basis of a culinary legacy, brought in by one enterprising young man Pt Gaya Prasad who was the one who started it all when he set shop in Kinari Bazaar Chandni Chowk and started selling his hot sizzling parathas and the rest they say is history.