The monsoon is almost upon us and, as always, when those raindrops keep falling, the Dilliwalla begins fantasising about food - of deep-fried delicacies accompanied by sweet chai.
Even those with not a romantic bone in their bodies will agree that the excitement of having a snack outdoors while enjoying the rising scent of wet earth and the sight of swollen clouds is indescribable. "During the rains people flock here for pakodas because rainy days are so few in the city. They also come after a severe summer so everyone likes to indulge in some greasy stuff," says Ahmed Eijaz, who sells deep-fried pakodas off a make-shift push cart in the lanes of Old Delhi.
Monsoons speak to all Indians - except perhaps those in Cherrapunjee - of promise, of good times, of satiated longing and rich fulfilment. Yes, it's that time of the year when most city foodies prefer to give posh eateries a miss, opting instead for platefuls of chaat and tangy pattas of ghugni.
So go ahead, ignore the puddles and feast on those street food specialities that taste best during the monsoons.
There are umpteen tea stalls in old Delhi but Salim tea shop in Matia Mahal market is one of the oldest. Its old world charm and the seating arrangement for around 20 people make it different. The staff knows what regular customers like: some want it less sugary; others like it extra-milky. But however you like it, Salim's is the nicest place to sit back and enjoy your airy fenn (pronounced 'fan') biscuit dipped in chai.
Where: Saleem Tea shop, Matia Mahal Market
Price: Rs 12 per glass, Fenn Rs 2 per piece
Looking for a pocket-friendly outdoor experience in the rains? Head to the dhabhas at Qutab Institutional Area where you can dig into chicken, kheema, paneer and potato paranthas at Laxman dhaba. If, despite being a Delhi denizen, you haven't developed a taste for paranthas, opt for their spicy macaroni, or even their hot momos, and wash it all down with a cup of milky tea. The place has a young vibe thanks to the many students who frequent the place. The green cover next to the dhabhas is really the bonus, as are the prices.
Where: Qutab Institutional Area
Price: Rs 100-150
Divinely deep fried
The kheema samosa takes the city's fascination for deep-fried food during the rains to another level. A true feast, this samosa with a twist that, curiously, is shaped like a gujiya (a deep fried sweet especially popular during Holi) is stuffed with spicy minced meat and is both sumptuous and filling.
Where: Stalls and carts outside gate no.1 , Jama Masjid.
Price: Rs 15 per piece
Folks from west Delhi rave about Paramjeet Machi Wala, and with good reason. Here's where you can savour surmai (kingfish), singhara (catfish) and pamplet (pomfret) pakodas and tandoori preparations too. The modest 42-year-old stall's fish pakoras - pieces rolled in besan and deep fried and served with chutney and onions - are mouthwateringly good and attract people from across the city. Walking distance from the Moti Nagar metro station, the place serves fish throughout the year.
Where: Paramjeet Machi Wala, WZ 1, opp Pillar 321, Moti Nagar
Price: Rs 400-800
Roll with it, baby
Weekends are busy at Greater Kailash I M Block market. But nowhere is the crowd as visible as at the little roll shop at the corner of the market - The Kathi's. What's so different about these rolls? Unlike the kebab-rolled-in roomali rotis served at Khan Chacha - another Delhi speciality - the rolls at Kathis come wrapped in crisp parathas that are perfect to munch on during the monsoons. Take your pick from chicken, mutton, egg or a variety of vegetarian options. Wash it down with tea or coffee or De Paul's shakes and cold coffee - another Delhi favourite
Where: M-29 Greater Kailash I. Other Kathi's outlets are at Greater Kailash II, Select City Mall (Saket) and Safdarjung
Price: Rs 100 onwards
Gaga about ghughni
Chittaranjan Park swears by Subrata Barua's ghugni and momos throughout the year. But when the relentless summer is interrupted by brief spells of rain, as is Delhi's lot, Barua da's cart is besieged by hungry snackers. Here, the ghughni (chickpea chaat) comes in two versions - the vegetarian one made with diced potatoes and a ginger-garlic-tamarind gravy, and the non-vegetarian one made with mutton mince.
Where: Ghugni and Momo stall, Market 1 fish market, CR Park
Price: Rs 15 for veg, Rs 25 for non veg
(Photos: Saumya Khandelwal; Virender Singh)