Delhi is a big city with a big appetite. Day or night, Delhiites love to sit down, order big and dig in – feasting on everything from street-food snacks to lavish fine-dining spreads. However, the all-day banquet starts early in the city. Citizens hit the streets at first light for grab-and-go quick meals of chole bhature, bedmi poori and fresh-off-the-griddle parathas.
Many of Delhi’s tastiest breakfasts are served in small hole-in-the-wall restaurants and at roadside snack stands, so look for the places teeming with Delhiites on the way to work. The following breakfast stops are great places to see how the city gets going in the morning.
Food Stall, Indian
When it comes to street food, smart travellers follow the crowds into the tangled Medieval lanes of Old Delhi for the city’s best portable feasts. In the Chawri Bazar, famous for brassware, cooking pots and paper, Shyam Sweets is legendary for both its lip-smacking ladoos (Indian sweets) and its bedmi poori (fried, puffed-up bread made with wheat and urad lentil flour, and served with a spicy potato side for dipping). Four generations of chefs have guarded the family recipe, which includes dried red chilli and cumin.
The calm, cool café at the National Crafts Museum is a favourite breakfast spot for Delhi’s cultured set, who gather here for filter coffee, pancakes, omelettes and quinoa upma (porridge) under the dappled light from split bamboo canopies. Cafe Lota is a rare spot where you can ease into the day gently, and after a leisurely breakfast, the Crafts Museum, zoological gardens and Purana Qila (Old Fort) are right on its doorstep. Bring a copy of the Times of India and settle in for the morning.
Stuffed parathas – layered flatbreads infused with ghee – are what sets the Punjabis up for the day, and Delhi has a whole street dedicated to this beloved morning feast. Tucked away in the maze-like bazaars south of Chandni Chowk, Paranthe Wali Gali is lined with buzzy eateries specialising in parathas stuffed with everything from green chilli to nuts and bananas. PT Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan at No 34 is a favourite among old-town residents, with a full menu of fillings.
Tucked away in the tangle of lanes linking Old Delhi with the traveller hang-out of Paharganj, Sita Ram Dewan Chand is a one-hit wonder in food terms, but the chole bhature (chickpeas with fried maida-flour bread) here is so good that most people wouldn’t think of ordering anything else. The bhatura (fried leavened bread) is crisp and puffy, and not too oily, and the chole (chickpeas) are carefully spiced, leaving a fresh taste on the palate. There are no chairs, so just order and eat standing up at one of the counters. Ask for a well-prepared lassi (Indian drinking yoghurt) to wash it down.
The 1911 is Imperial’s frequently awarded and widely recognised restaurant. The opulence and decor combined with the service and quality of fare stand tall alongside any renowned hotel in the city. The outside sitting area with a view of the garden is serene, while the food is a mix of Indian and continental options and offers a whole host of breakfast choices, from cold cuts to piping hot idlis and more.
Kachoris – deep-fried patties with a smooth, spicy moong lentil filling – were brought to Delhi by enterprising Marwaris, itinerant traders from the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, and they soon became a standard entry in the capital’s street-food lexicon. Today, kachoris are one of the capital’s favourite breakfasts to-go, and residents rise early to grab a bag to munch on while on the way to work in the old city. Sharing a name with a former king of Nepal, tiny Jung Bahadur Kachori Wala on Gali Bhojpura Road puts all its efforts into one dish – kachori, served with spiced potato, green chilli, onions, coriander and chutney to create a small flavour explosion. Don’t expect any frills – just tasty food at low prices.
Legend has it that Mughal armies marched into battle on a breakfast of nihari – a rich lamb stew slow-cooked overnight, with bone marrow adding extra vim to the gravy. It’s the perfect breakfast to set you up for the daily battle with Delhi’s traffic. Delhiites swear by the version served at Karim’s near the Jama Masjid, one of the city’s most old-school Mughlai eateries. The first plate flew out from the kitchen in 1913, using generations-old family recipes, and residents still love to drop in for a plate on the way back from Friday prayers at the city’s most famous mosque.
While haleem is a Hyderabadi dish, Delhiites have taken this rich, meaty stew of lamb and ground pulses and grains to their hearts, particularly in Muslim districts of the city. Traditionally, people eat haleem at the breaking of the fast during Ramadan, but residents now seek it out year-round at hole-in-the-wall canteens such as Purani Dilli on Main Road in Zakir Nagar, south of Nizamuddin. The measure of this centuries-old dish is the consistency, and at Purani Dilli, the haleem is silky smooth and satisfying, with just the right balance of spice and bready wholesomeness.
With Amritsar just down Grand Trunk Road, it should be no surprise that Amritsari kulcha (fluffy, slightly leavened bread) is eaten with gusto in Delhi. Rustic Kulcha Junction, just yards from the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara on Hanuman Road, serves a crowd who demand authenticity. It’s an eat-and-go kind of place, with plastic chairs on the roadside, and the tasty kulchas – crisp on the outside, light on the inside – are slathered with butter and served with curried chickpeas and chutney.