New Delhi: Old Delhi is buzzing with activity. Ramadan, the month of fasting, is underway and the spirit is overwhelming.
The liveliness of the markets is an affair to remember and the profile changes with the setting up of various shops that come alive in the evening.
Ramadan brings about the best of iftar feasting at Dariba in the vicinity of Jama Masjid and in the more than 300-year-old bylanes of the capital’s Walled City of Chandni Chowk.
Soon after the afternoon prayers, food stalls pop up at every possible corner of the various bylanes. Both, the bylanes and the food available here, have acquired an iconic status and are the USP of this region.
Twinkling lights and flashing neon signs invite people to indulge in festivities. It is also time for great business opportunity. While some vendors come in early and start preparations for the evening when the crowds throng the place from all over Delhi and NCR to savour the delights, others are found already doing brisk business with no respite.
With people preferring to visit the markets in late evenings, the entire place comes alive. And life changes at every corner, adding even more colour to the place with men, women, children and cycle-rickshaws — all jostling for space.
Shops and streets are decorated with lights and vendors display their wares prominently. With each passing day, the glimmer and glitter seems to rise.
It’s festive time throughout the year at Old Delhi and Ramadan celebrations only enhance the whole food experience. Like the monuments, food outlets in the area too are steeped in history.
For someone new to the place, it is like an expedition. With varied dishes lined up at every step, it is difficult to figure out what’s best to savour right there and what to pack for home as well. As connoisseurs of food find excuses to indulge themselves and relish the delicacies, forgetting the resolve to shed weight, the entire place gives the impression of a big fair.
Come evening, and the flavours that till then have been feeling constrained in their containers, issue forth into the animated air. The bazaars specialise in selling non-vegetarian dishes and are also a treat for people with a sweet tooth.
Walking through the congested lanes, one cannot resist the aroma of biryani, seekh kebabs, fried chicken, chaat, malpuas and dates. The eating joints selling authentic Mughlai and Awadhi cuisine as well as street food, are open throughout the night during the holy month.
A number of people visit the area after iftar, also to try out different kinds of desserts in the market and see the hustle-bustle. Steaming hot milk mixed with dry fruits is a favourite with some. Children often tag along with elders relishing the taste of the delicacy shahi tukda and phirni.
Hashim, a shopkeeper says: “The entire month is extremely hectic. My milk shop remains open throughout the day and night. I offer special Ramadan delicacies till pre dawn and have customers pouring in to buy milk and other items throughout the night.
“This is the month for sharing as well as extravagance and we rake in a lot of profit. Like many others in the area, I not only change my schedules during Ramadan, but also bring variation in the stockpiles.
“My son, who works in an office, opens a makeshift stall selling Islamic publications, including CDs and audio and video cassettes, which see a sudden spurt during the holy month.”
Sense of belonging
Asraf, a Chandni Chowk resident says: “It is that time of the year when the seasoned Dilliwallahs look towards Old Delhi and feel a sense of belonging to the place and renew their ties with it. Several of my friends residing in different parts of the city come visiting regularly during Ramadan. Their oft repeated complain that the place is overcrowded, suddenly disappears when I tempt them with non-vegetarian dishes. A couple of them consider it to be the best night-life spot. To keep up with the culture of the place some of my non-Muslim friends residing in the area even have sehri and keep fast throughout the day.”