The case of the Paranthas – Part I

August 1, 2008

The Paranthas are one the very few forms of Delhi’s street food, that have kept their linkages with their past origins. This food form originated in ancient North India and is still prepared in the same way.

Paranthas have traveled across the entire country and even spread to several others, on trade routes as well as migration ones. No other street food essential has been more experimented with than the paranthas, becoming an indispensable part of home kitchens and restaurants as well as remaining on the Street stalls.

The following is an attempt to mark out the several forms of Paranthas as well as popular parantha haunts that spread across the entire length and breadth of the capital.




Dictionary Reference:

Parantha: A type of unleavened bread, fried in oil and clarified in butter.




Parantha is a flatbread that was conceived in ancient North India especially in the region of Punjab. It is usually made with whole-wheat flour, pan fried in ghee or cooking oil, and often stuffed with vegetables, especially boiled potatoes, radish or cauliflower and/or Paneer (cottage cheese). A parantha (especially a stuffed one) can be eaten simply with a blob of butter spread on top but it is best served with pickles and yoghurt, or thick spicy curries of meat and vegetables.

Some people prefer to roll up the parantha into a “pipe” and eat it with tea, often dipping the parantha into the tea.


They can be either round, square or triangular in shape. In the former, the stuffing is simply mixed with the kneaded flour and the parantha is prepared like the roti, but in the latter two, the peda (ball of kneaded flour) is flattened, the stuffing is kept in the middle and the flatbread is now closed around the stuffing like an envelope. The two variants differ in the fact that while the former is like a thick (in terms of width) version of the roti with filling inside; the latter two, have discernible soft layers if one “opens” the crispier shell layers.



The parantha has a social connotation too. The significantly higher expenditure and effort in preparing the parantha when compared with the daily roti means that the parantha is reserved as a special item, or for important guests.


Paranthe Waali Gali

(literally: Street of Paranthas)


Located in a bylane, just of the main street in Chandni Chowk, after Sisganj Gurudwara, Paranthe Wali Gali is one of the still surviving relics of the mughul rule in India and is estimated to be almost 300 years old. As per oral accounts the Gali’s acclaimed parantha selling establishments were owned originally by a single family, who separated due to family feuds and set up their own shops.


Chandni Chowk has been a home for diverse religious and ethnic groups, so the Gali has seen its fair share of history. In the past, the Gali had over ten to twelve shops parantha selling shops, but today there are only five left.


Kanwarji Bhagirathmal Dalbhajiwallah’s 150 years old confectionery shop graces the entrance to the gali. This shop is well known for its namkeens like dal bhuji (fried pulses), aloo ka lachha (spicy fried potato spirals) and sweets like barfi and imarti. In 1984, the anti-Sikh riots had 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 afterwards.




The first parantha shop in the gali is Pandit Devi Dayal’s. Babu Ram, the seventy-year old owner of the shop sits at the entrance, overseeing the making of the paranthas. A direct descendant of the original owners, Babu Ram said that the variety that is present today is a totally new phenomenon. He says, “50 years back, the paranthas were just of 3-4 types – the usual aloo gobi and matar (potato, cauliflower and peas) ones. But today, you can get almost 20 varieties of paranthas.” Babu Ram reminisces a time when the paranthas were served to patrons seated on the floor, on leaf plates with water in clay pots called kullars. Now however, benches and tables are mandatory.


The menu at Devi Dayal’s not only lists the usual Aloo, Paneer, Gobi and Dal Paranthas, but also Kaju, Badam (Almonds), Matar, Tamatar (Tomato), Pudhina (Mint), and Mix Paranthas. Those like the kaju badam paranthas cost 25 rupees each while the normal ones are for Rs.8 to Rs.10. The Mix parantha is something to look out for. It is stuffed with a little bit of everything, from aloo, gobi, matar, tomato and paneer to cashew, almonds, pista, radish and papad (a fried accompaniment to traditional meals a little like chips). The paranthas are fried in pure ghee in cast-iron kadhais and are served steaming hot with a mind boggling variety of chutneys, vegetable pickles and raitas.



Another Parantha shop to look out for is the Kanhaiya Lal Durga Prasad’s Parantha Shop. The shop is the oldest of them all and was established in 1875. This shop boasts of over 25 varieties of Paranthas with variants like rabri parantha for those with a sweet tooth and papad parantha for the adventurous. The shop has attracted many national leaders in the past and several framed pictures on the walls provide proof for the same. One can see the first Indian Prime Minister, Nehru with his sister dining in the shop as well as his daughter Indira Gandhi, several years later.




Mounds of colorful carrot and radish pickles decorate the shop front. The cook who has been working here for over 30 years is quietly going about his work. The paranthas are rolled out on a large marble slab and are filled with the chosen stuffing. He then fries the parantha in ghee in an anghiti, (a coal stove) that he says is just the way it used to be when the shop started. The cook flicks the fried parantha into a plate kept three feet away with nonchalance.



The owner claims that his shop was a Shudh Brahmin Bhojanalay (Pure Vegetarian Eatery) and did not serve any onions or garlic. He was also quick to tell us that all the parantha shops were owned by Brahmins and were vegetarian. This reference to caste purity in cooking is a true vestige of a bygone era as very few eateries in Delhi would care about the caste of the cook. The garlic and onion ban are also indicative of the clientele of these shops as staunchly religious upper caste Hindus do not believe that onion and garlic are suitably ‘pure’ ingredients due to their aphrodisiac qualities.

Amidst all this a board on the walls of all the shops heralded the present – a sign of changing times- it said “Bisleri Mineral Water available here”. But that is not the only change says the owner.


They are even willing to pack for takeaways.



Chaat: Love at first bite

July 28, 2008

Chaat, in various variations, has been an indispensable
part of north Indian street culture. It is believed that
a large variety of these mouth watering temptations
were originally produced in streets from Rajasthan to
UP and Gujarat and spreading to all corners of the

As these snacks spread, the vocabulary of street food
acquired several other influences - Golgappas
(see below) became Panipuri in Mumbai and
Puchkas in Bengal. Bhelpuri was created by a
Gujarati immigrant to Mumbai. Experimentation
with Paranthas (stuffed pancakes) led to a sizeable
 menu list available in shops of Paranthe Wali Gali
(Chandni chowk, New Delhi).

Popular types of chaat usually have several common
elements including dahi, or yogurt; chopped onions
and coriander; sev (small dried yellow noodles);
and chaat masala. This is a masala, or spice mix,
typically consisting of amchoor (dried mango powder),
cumin, black salt, coriander, dried ginger, salt,
black pepper, and red pepper. The ingredients are
combined and served on a small metal plate or a
banyan leaf, dried and formed into a bowl.

This startup rant is however not about the
history of Indian street food, or any such
theoretical studies. It is simply a testament to
the first love of a Punjabi foodie. And what
better way to start about street food, than
to document the several forms of chaat,
specifically their Delhi variety.

If you are a Delhite from birth, you will know
that feeling that chaat inspires in us foodies.
Why, we can simply write sonnets about the
spicy chutney (sauce), the thick glops of
yogurt, the potato crisps, the infinite forms of
chaat - from Bhelpuri to aloo tikki to kebabs....

Back to the task at hand - an establishment
of the more common forms of chaat:

1. Aloo Chaat

A dish of diced potatoes spiced with chili, cumin, chaat
masala, chutney and coriander, it is the simplest
(preparation wise) form of chaat available in Delhi.

2. Golgappe

Golgappe have fried hollow crisp balls made from dough, and
fille as-you-eat with a spicy concoction of water and potatoes,
topped by a choice of sweet or spicy chutney. The spicy water
concoction is usually Tamarind pulp, roasted chilli powder,
roasted cumin powder, black salt and regular salt mixed
thoroughly in water. In some areas instead of tamarind,
lemon or young green mango (which is sour in taste) is made
into paste along with Aam Adrak (ginger with the flavour of
mango), along with mint water and spices like chilli powder,
roasted cumin, black salt, and dry mango powder (amchur).

It is known as Puchka in Eastern Indian states like Bihar,
Jharkhand and West Bengal and in Bangladesh. In
Gujarat it is called Pani Puri and in central parts of India
and Orissa, it is called Gup-Chup.

3. Bhelpuri

Bhelpuri is a type of chaat or small plates of savory snacks.
It is available all across India, and may be known by different
names - Bhelpuri in Mumbai, Jhaal Muri in Kolkata. Jhaal
Muri (literally "hot puffed rice") is different in that it does not
use any tamarind-based chutney in the mix.

Bhelpuri ingredients include diced boiled potatoes, chutney,
dal, coriander powder, grated coconut, and mustard oil. 

Bhelpuri was originally a Gujarati snack. It is best consumed
as soon as it is made. If left for a while, the juices from the
tomatoes, chutneys, etc. combine to render the sev and
murmura soggy. Much of the fun of eating bhel puri is in
the crunchiness.

4. Sev Puri

Sevpuri, as the name indicates is sev topped on puris or
papadis, along with potatoes and chutneys.

5. Papri chat

The most well known street food dish enjoyed all over Delhi.
A tantalizing mix of crispy puris or papris, 'sev, 'boiled
potatoes, chick peas, tangy chutneys, freshly made yoghurt
and blend of pepper, chat masala, ground red chilies etc. 

Served cold.

6. Aloo Tikki and Pakoras

While the former are patties made up of mashed potatoes and
masala, deep fried in oil garnished with onion, chutney,
coriander and hot spices,the latter is varied vegetables, dipped
in corn flour and deep fried.

7. Pav Bhaji

Pav bhaji is another such concoction. It acquired the status of
restaurant food but had humble beginnings as street food. It
has retained its original roadside availability despite this.

8.Poori-Subzie (or Bhaji)

The curry (subzie) consists usually of potatoes in gravy.
Sometimes, especially in the southern part of the country
the potatoes do not have gravy and the poories are
exclusively made up of refined flour (maida).

9. Dahi Bhalla

Similar to Papri chat, Dahi Bhalla is a concoction
of churned yogurt or Dahi with small fried balls
of dal soaked overnight. Chutney, red pepper,
black pepper, chat masala, rock salt are usually
the preferred garnishings for the dish.

10. Kebabs

Cooked in a tandoor, this is one of the most famous tandoori
dishes, besides tandoori chicken, which has made tandoori
cuisine famous worldwide. Made with beef, chicken or lamb
meat, it is mostly prepared with a mix of spices, and cooked
in a tandoor with skewers. The radiant heat from the tandoor
slowly cooks the meat and due to the lack of direct heat from
the fire, the juices remain inside while adding flavour, keeping
the meat's moisture intact. It is usually served with rice, or a
variety of Indian breads, along with onions and mint sauce.

Additionally, hole-in-the-wall kebab shops can be found in
varied places, from Chandni chowk to RK puram.

Street vendors also sell drinks including Lassi (yogurt drink
sold plain/salty/sweet, or fruit flavored), Sherbet and