Delhi is renowned for its rich Mughlai and Punjabi cuisines. These flavorsome cuisines were established when Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan set up his capital in the 17th century, and when people migrated to Delhi from the Punjab region following The Partition of India in 1947. The foods to eat in Delhi are predominantly meat-based (and some of the more "exotic" ones, such as buffalo tongue and fried goat brains, will only appeal to adventurous eaters), however, there are vegetarian dishes as well. Here's a selection of the top dishes to try.
Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)
This ubiquitous Indian curry appears on the menus of Indian restaurants across the globe. It's said to have been created in the kitchen of Moti Mahal restaurant in Old Delhi's Daryaganj neighborhood post-1947. The founder, from Peshwar, apparently invented tandoori chicken as well. He made the leftover pieces of meat into butter chicken to stop them from spoiling. As its name suggests, the dish's tomato-based gravy is thickened with the addition of butter and cream.
Kebabs were brought to India by Afghan invaders as far back as the 13th century and were later popularized by the Mughals. There are various types such as seekh kebabs (minced meat cooked on long metal skewers), kakori kebabs (a refined, more tender version of the seekh kebab), sutli kebabs (meat tied to a skewer with thread), galouti kebabs (small, soft patties made from spiced minced meat), shami kebabs (similar to galouti kebabs but made with spiced minced meat and lentils, and filled with some finely chopped onion and mint), and boti kebabs (chunks of meat cooked on a skewer).
Where to Eat It: If street food is your style, Ghalib Kebab Corner in Nizamuddin West is famous for its kebabs including shami kebabs. Alkauser is regarded as the home of the kakori kebabs which Khan Chacha is an upmarket option in Khan Market and Connaught Place. Great Indian Kebab Factory is another upmarket chain specializing in kebabs. Rajinder da Dhaba in Safdarjung Enclave does delicious galouti kebabs. Kale Baba ke Kebabs stall, on Gali Suiwalan near Chitli Kabar in Daryaganj, is the place for sutli kebabs.
Biryani is commonly associated with the Mughals in India, although it's thought to have originated in Persia. This aromatic dish is a tantalizing combination of basmati rice, chunks of meat, and spices. The most opulent version of it, favored by royalty, is known as dum biryani and is slow-cooked in a sealed pot.
Where to Eat It: Splurge on dum biryani at award-winning Dum Pukht in Chanakyapuri. For somewhere cheaper, Babu Shahi Bawarchi in the compound of Matka Peer Dargah at Pragati Maidan is legendary for its biryani (and galouti kebabs). Nizam's has a convenient Connaught Place location and also does great biryani. Biryani Badshah and Biryani Blues are more upmarket options in the area.
Dal Makhani (Butter Dal)
A hearty Punjabi staple that's regarded as an essential part of a meal, dal makhani consists of red kidney beans and whole black lentils cooked with tomato, butter, and cream. Order some butter naan along with it.
Where to Eat It: The slow-cooked dal makhani (called Dal Bukhara) at the award-winning Bukhara restaurant in Chanakyapuri is considered by many to be the best dal in the world. The dal makhani at Masala Art in Chanakyapuri rates highly too. Dal Baluchi (a type of dal makhani) is the signature dish at The Lalit's Baluchi restaurant at Connaught Place. Gulati is a more affordable option.
This popular type of Mughlai curry is typically a milder curry. It's made by marinating the mutton in yogurt and spices such as ginger and garlic, and then slow cooking it in its own fat with tomatoes and other pungent spices such as whole cardamom and cinnamon. Do be aware that mutton is goat in India, not lamb!
Tandoori Raan (Leg of Lamb)
Tandoori raan is the succulent Indian version of a roast leg of lamb. The meat is seasoned with Indian spices and slowly roasted in a clay oven until it's so tender that it falls off the bone. It's officially known as Sikandari Raan, named after a dish cooked to celebrate the friendship between Alexander the Great (called Sikandar by the Persians) and Indian king Porus of Takshila.
Makki di Roti and Sarson ka Saag
A Punjabi vegetarian dish that's prevalently consumed during winter, sarson ka saag is a lightly spiced but thick curry made with mustard greens. It's frequently served with makki ki roti (maize flour flatbread) topped with a dollop of butter.
Were to Eat It: The quirky dhaba-style Garam Dharam at Connaught Place, inspired by veteran Bollywood actor Dharmendra, does a superb seasonal sarson ka saag. Pind Balluchi is another good option in the area.
If you're a fan of Indian cottage cheese, paneer, don't miss devouring this slightly sweet creamy tomato curry that came from the royal kitchens of the Mughals. It features chunks of paneer in a gravy made with ground cashews, ghee (clarified butter), cream, and spices.
Where to Eat It: You can't go wrong at groovy Desi Vibes, at Connaught Place.
Bheja Fry (Fried Brains)
Bheja fry is considered to be a delicacy, but it's definitely an acquired taste! Chopped goat brains are flash-fried in spices to make this Islamic dish. They're rather fatty, spongy, and savory to eat.
Where to Eat It: Brian curry is a specialty at Kake da Hotel at Connaught Place. It's a budget place, so don't expect fancy decor.
Chole bature is comprised of spicy chickpea (chole) curry accompanied by deep-fried crispy, puffy bature (bread made from refined white flour). It's popularly consumed by Punjabis for breakfast.
Where to Eat It: Sitaram Diwan Chand in Paharganj has standing room only and arguably the most authentic chole bature in Delhi. Revamped landmark restaurant Kwality in Connaught Place claims their chole bature is world-famous. It's been their signature dish since 1947.
The term chaat incorporates all kinds of North Indian street food snacks, many of which have crispy bases topped with chutney and yogurt. Some of the most common ones are papri chaat (crisp fried wafters with a variety of toppings), aloo tikki (a spicy Indian-style hash brown), samosa (deep-fried triangle-shaped pastry with spicy potato and pea filling), kachori (deep-fried round pastry with savory filling), dahi bhalla (deep-fried lentil balls topped with yogurt), and gol gappe (crisp shells filled with spiced water).
Deep Fried Paratha
This flaky, whole wheat flatbread is often stuffed with fillings such as potato, and served with a range of accompaniments including various chutneys. It's typically cooked on a pan but deep frying adds a twist. Surprisingly, deep-fried parathas absorb less oil than the pan-cooked ones.
Where to Eat It: Parathe Wali Gali (Lane of Fried Parathas) in Chandi Chowk, Old Delhi. Babu Ram Paranthe Wale is one of the most famous vendors in this lane, although Pandit Gaya Prasad Shiv Chara is more popular.
Naan is a flatbread made from refined white flour and traditionally baked in a tandoor (clay oven). The addition of yogurt to the dough gives it a unique texture. Butter naan is the most loved type but garlic naan and plain naan are widely available too.
Where to Eat It: Kake Di Hatti at Chandni Chowk claims to make the biggest tandoori naan in the world.
A popular Indian sweet, jalebi will satisfy your sugar craving. These deep-fried coils of dough are made from refined white flour and soaked in saffron sugar syrup. It's not healthy at all but very addictive!
Where to Eat It: Old and Famous Jalebiwala on Dariba Kalan Road in Chandni Chowk has served many celebrities.
This Indian-style ice cream is super creamy and is much denser than normal ice cream, as it's not whipped before freezing. It originated in Persia and was introduced by the Mughals. Traditionally, kulfi is flavored with cardamom. These days, you can get it in many other flavors such as mango, pistachio, saffron, vanilla, and rose.