Spice and Legacy: Food Festivals that captured the heart of Old Delhi

- February 25, 2024
| By : Ahona Sengupta |

Crowne Plaza's Old Delhi expedition hit timeless flavours, epitomising the essence of area's rich culinary heritage

A non-vegetarian platter

Crowne Plaza’s Mayur Vihar Noida and New Delhi Okhla properties provided a peek into the walled city’s cuisine and transported visitors to the bustling streets of Old Delhi, where every nook and cranny is alive with the aroma of spices and the sizzle of street food being cooked to perfection.

Chef Roushan and his team spent 45 days in the lanes of the Delhi-6 to bring out the authentic flavours of Old Delhi for the Zaiqa-E-Dilli Food Festival at Infinity, Crowne Plaza Mayur Vihar Noida.

A wall depicting the Begums of erstwhile Shahjahanabad

What they found was a thousand splendid spices and scintillating recipes that have been passed down to the locals for ages.

Seekh Kebab

“We enlisted all the popular and iconic dishes that are synonymous with Old Delhi. But during our visit, we found so much more. Every recipe is so unique and demands seasoned knowledge on the right measurement of spices. That standard of food can only be maintained by ancestral recipes,” said chef Roushan.

Hoardings used as decor

According to the chef, it was an uphill task to get down to working on those recipes and bring out their exact flavours because “that is possible only after years of practice”.

Therefore, most of the dishes on the menu were prepared by local khansamas (cooks) of Purani Dilli, who were called to make their signature dishes, under the supervision of Roushan.

Part of the theme, a degh placed on the counter

Their food enticed enthusiasts into a fragrant rendezvous of spice and elegance.

At one end of the chaat and kebab corner, an old man served sheermal, which tasted nothing like the ones that are usually available in the markets. Its delicious almond filling and aroma of ghee was a feast for the taste buds. The child-like enthusiasm of the old man handing it out to you added to its essence.

The main course had a combination of chicken, mutton and fish dishes

Right beside this section was the ‘Paranthe Wali Gali’ with its quintessential offerings

With miniature depiction of Khari Baoli, havelis and courtyards, the venue, Infinity Restaurant, was converted into a mirror of Old Delhi. The random cards of astrologers, piles treatment, ear cleaners, among others were the most interesting bit from the festival.

The snacks counter

Amid this gastronomic voyage, guests were serenaded with a tapestry of Mughlai delicacies including Mutton Nalli Nihari, Chicken Changezi, Jahangiri Quorma, Akbari Fish, Dal Qureshi, Machli Begum Bahar, Dhingri Shabnam, and an array of artisanal breads like Khameeri Roti, Baqarkhani, Sheermal, Roomali Roti, and Halwa Parantha, each dish offering a window into the culinary legacy of Old Delhi.

In the background, there played a mix of songs ranging from Bollywood’s Old Delhi playlist to qawwalis and sometimes Punjabi music. Besides soulful Sufi music, there were also quirky activities, creating an ambiance that was as inviting as the food itself. For the youth to capture moments for social media, there were replicas of old STD booth, scooter, traffic signals, and more.

Palak patte ki chaat

The festival’s motif Dil Dehli Degh Dastarkhwan poetically encapsulated the spirit of Old Delhi, summoning the warmth and generosity synonymous with the walled city while celebrating the confluence of culinary traditions.

Paneer Labatika

From traditional welcome beverages like Mohabbat ka Sherbat and Banta to iconic street delicacies including aloo tikki, golguppe, chhole bhaturepalak ki chaat and fruit kulle, each dish transported you to the bustling lanes of Chandni Chowk. The fiery kebab station boasted succulent delights such as Seekh Kebabs, Reshmi Kebabs, Chicken Malai Kebabs, Dastan E Kumbh, Pudina Naz Kebabs, and more.

Chef Roushan

Chef Roushan’s passion for Old Delhi’s cuisine was evident, as he spoke about the culinary saga that weaves through generations, dynasties, and communities, encapsulating the essence of Delhi’s rich food culture. His menu was a testament to the spirit of adaptation, resilience, and innovation that defines the Old Delhi culinary legacy, bringing the past into the present in a delightful fusion of flavours.

Pankaj Gupta, General Manager, beamed with enthusiasm as he spoke about the event, vowing to create immersive culinary experiences that not only engage the guests but also honour the rich heritage and recipes of Delhi.

The festival promised more than just food, as it also offered soulful Sufi music and quirky activities, creating an ambiance that was as inviting as the food itself.

Food takes the front seat

Just like the festival at Infinity in Crowne Plaza Mayur Vihar Noida, Edesia, the culinary haven at Crowne Plaza New Delhi Okhla, also took one on a gastronomical journey through its 14th edition of the Dilli 6 Food Fest.

Guests took their seats amid an atmosphere that was electric with excitement, and for a good reason. A live kebab counter took centre-stage, offering a mouthwatering selection of traditional kebabs cooked to perfection. Amid the array of sizzling skewers, one particular dish stood out – the keema kaleji with organs, a rare find on the streets nowadays, and yet, here it was, offered with the same authenticity and taste that harks back to Delhi’s rich culinary heritage.
As the evening progressed, guests were treated to an exquisite selection of cocktails, each crafted to capture the essence of Old Delhi. From the Anarkali Martini, a delightful mix of gin and pomegranate juice, to the Chawri Island Tea, a refreshing concoction of vodka, ginger, and lemon, every sip was a journey through the flavours and aromas that have made Old Delhi’s street food famous.

A vendor pouring chai

But the star of the show was undoubtedly food. The selection was vast, offering everything from special breads like biscuit rotisheermal, and Kandhari roti to heavenly delights like Daulat ki Chaat and authentic Jama Masjid ke NonVeg Kabab. The ‘Parathe Wali Gali’ was another highlight, with its savoury offerings tempting even the most discerning of palates.

For those craving for something a bit more unconventional, the chaat specialties of Chatori Delhi Ka Jayaka offered a tantalising twist on the traditional street food. From biryani by plate to korma and nihari, every dish was a celebration of Delhi’s culinary diversity.

Beyond the Old Delhi menu, the Moroccan roasted lamb deserves a special mention. With its unforgettable taste and aroma, it was a testament to the culinary excellence of roasting meat with the skin.

The live kabab counter, with its delectable selection of kababs, was a testament to the restaurant’s commitment to preserving and promoting Old Delhi’s culinary heritage.

The dessert spread included iconic sweets that are as much a part of Delhi’s history as its monuments and alleys.

Quirky names of snacks

Among these, the jalebi with rabri stood out as a symbol of indulgence and richness. The golden, crisp swirls of the jalebi, soaked in sugar syrup, found a perfect partner in the creamy rabri. As each bite melted in the mouth, it took one back to the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, where this iconic combination has been delighting sweet teeth for centuries.

Next on the list is the sohan halwa, a true labour of love. This rich, nutty dessert is painstakingly prepared by slowly cooking semolina and dry fruits in clarified butter and sugar syrup. The result is a dense, chewy delight that leaves a lingering taste of saffron and cardamom.

Completing the trifecta of traditional desserts is the rabri khurchan. This dish is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Old Delhi kitchen, where leftover rabri is caramelised and cooked further to create a delightful fusion of creamy, sweet flavours and a slightly burnt aroma. It’s a dessert that perfectly encapsulates the essence of walled city’s culinary heritage.

The entrance

As guests indulged in these sweet treats, the sounds and aromas of Old Delhi came alive, transporting them to the city’s streets that are filled with the clinking of utensils, the chatter of locals, and the tantalising smells of street food.

The Dilli 6 Food Fest at Edesia and Zaiqa-E-Dilli were not just culinary events; they were journeys through time, offering a slice of Delhi’s vibrant heritage to anyone who took part in the festivities.