By Samreen Mushtaq and Hilal Rather
Over-crowded and noisy with a huge rush of people, motorcycles and rickshaws blocking ways of walking through the already narrow lanes and by lanes — such is the spectacle that the locality of Batla House, adjoining Jamia Millia Islamia presents.
With a population that is predominantly Muslim, the name rings a bell. It is because of the alleged Batla House Encounter of 2008. But there’s more to the place than that dark chapter embedded to its history. As you walk amidst a huge rush of people, you can sense that liveliness of the place, a vibrant atmosphere that never seems to be dying down. It fits your vision of “the city that never sleeps”, the only difference being that it presents no characteristics of the city, except for its fast life of course. The food served in its small restaurants and roadside stalls is too good to disappoint you. And to add to it and help you in the scorching sun, you get a variety of fruit drinks served at various juice corners.
If you are a foodie with great love for non-vegetarian varieties, you simply cannot miss tasting food at “Purani Dilli”, the restaurant right next to the Al-Umar mosque as one walks towards the lane leading to Zakir Nagar. It certainly does remind you of Purani Delhi, of those overcrowded streets and of that yummy food. It is Batla House’s own version of the famous Karim’s. 40- year old Barkat, who runs the restaurant, tells you the range of choices they offer. “The restaurant was started around five years ago. We have Mutton Korma, Mutton Nahari, Mutton Haleem, Chicken Tandoori Special, Roganjosh, Shahi Paneer and Dal Makhni amongst other dishes to offer to our customers.” Here, one must especially try out Mutton Haleem (a slow cooked dish composed of meat, lentils and spices) and Mutton Nahari (a Mughlai dish of tender cuts of meat stew, including bone marrow, sprinkled with spices), both taste too good to be missed out.
However, for many students of Jamia Millia Islamia, visiting Purani Dilli restaurant cannot be a daily affair. “The food tastes too good, no doubt about that. But it is costly and we as students staying away from home cannot afford to visit it every now and then. It is reserved for the days when we get enough money from home or when we visit in a group to celebrate a special occasion”, says Mirza Gowhar, a Masters student in Jamia’s Department of Mathematics.
You also cannot miss out the delicacies that Saeed’s restaurant, a hundred meters from Purani Dilli restaurant towards Zakir Nagar, has to offer. Owned by 28-year old Mohammad Zafar from Bihar, the place offers Mughlai cuisine like Malai Tikka, Chicken Tikka, Chicken Roasted and Chicken Achari. Zafar says, “We specialize in Malai Tikka and Chicken Tikka and a significant number of students from Jamia come here for it”, which is expected since the students find the price of 90 rupees per quarter pretty affordable. Just opposite this place is “Lucknow Galawati”, a small restaurant that has been a favourite for kebab lovers for four years now.
As you go on exploring the place, noticing yourself being surrounded by jovial people all the time, you come across shops where beautiful collections of Abayas (the loose over-garment worn by Muslim women) are sold. You see elegant Abayas hanging in front of a couple of shops. And then you come across shops where wedding dresses are sold, following the latest trends of clothing. From Kurtas and crockery to footwear and utensils, from non-vegetarian varieties to Parathas, Lassi and sweets, you find the shops and street stalls of Batla House providing you everything.
As you tire yourself out with exploring the place and plan to walk back to where you came from, you can find a Juice Corner adjacent to Abu Bakr Masjid on your way. The owner, 28-year old Mohammad Bilal from U.P, surprises you as he starts talking to you in fluent English. “I am a management graduate from the Indian Literary School, a sister concern of World Institute of Fashion Designing. I left my job to do something innovative and this is it. I have been here for the last two years.” His shop, Blenders ‘Drinks That Delight’ is famous for Khajoor Shake and Chiko Shake. Students are often seen around evenings huddled outside the shop, sipping their drinks and discussing a wide range of issues.
Last but not the least, one has to taste the barbecues sold here. Coming to Batla House and not having barbecues is like coming back from Agra without visiting the Taj Mahal. As you reach near Azeem Dairy mode Batla House, a 20-year old street vendor named Mohammad Shafiq sells Chicken Tikka and Chicken Roasted at very affordable prices. “I am here from 6 pm to 11 pm every day. Besides this, I also work as a DJ in DJ Choice, which is the most famous DJ in Jamia Nagar and adjoining areas,” says Shafiq. Each tikka costs 40 Rupees and Mutton Seekh is sold for just 5 Rupees here.
Batla House, although crowded and dusty, provides food lovers with an amazing opportunity to taste the wide varieties of dishes that the place has to offer. If Old Delhi is too far away for you, Batla House makes for a perfect replacement of the same. It’s a place worth being explored.
[Samreen Mushtaq and Hilal Rather, class of 2013, are postgraduate students in the Department of Political Science.]
[This article was first published in the 2013 edition of ‘Episteme’ — Dept. of Political Science’s annual student magazine under the title “Batla House: The Ideal Stop For Jamia Nagar’s Food Lovers.” We republish it here with permission.]