If you are looking for culinary diversity, then there is no better city than the national capital. Delhi is unique, not only because one finds a great variety of cuisines but also due to the presence of the most traditional delicacies alongside their most modern interpretations. There is no better proof of this than the evergreen Parantha and its many incarnations on the streets and restaurants of Delhi.
If you want to undertake a gastronomical journey to understand the evolutionary process that the humble Parantha has gone through, you will have to go to the dingy bylanes of Old Delhi as well as the posh malls in the NCR.
One will have to start the journey from the great institution that is the Paranthewali gali in Chandani Chowk. There are three famous Parantha shops in this lane all of whom were established in the 19th century. The oldest shop is the Pandit Gaya Prasad Shiv Charan Paranthe wale. Established in 1872 by Gaya Prasad, whose family originally hailed from the Bhind-Morena region of Madhya Pradesh and then went to Agra before finally arriving in Delhi, they had only four varieties of Parantha when the shop started its operations. Manish Sharma who represents the sixth generation of the family described the changes in the menu over the decades to Guardian 20, “When we first started, we served only four types of Paranthas; plain, aloo, besan-methi and dal, but now we have expanded to 25 varieties.” You still get the classics like aloo and dal parantha but for those willing to experiment, there are novelty variants like kaju, kishmish, badam, mirchi, karela, bhindi and even banana. For those with a sweet tooth, there is rabri and khurchan parantha. But it’s not the stuffing but the method of making these paranthas which makes them unique. Instead of being cooked on a flat pan, as is the usual practice, the Paranthas here go through two stages of shallow frying in desi ghee. Sharma explained that the technique of making paranthas has undergone modifications, “Earlier we made paranthas at a steady pace in an intensive manner but now we have to churn them out quickly. So we slightly modified our method.”
However if you don’t like these paranthas and want a non-fried version, the place for you is Kake Di Hatti in the nearby region. It was established in 1942 by Sardar Bhagwan Singh. The paranthas here are not fried but cooked in tandoor. They are known for their massive size. This restaurant also offers both traditional varieties like aloo, piyaaz, paneer and more exotic variants like cheese capsicum, the dry-fruit infused kandhari parantha and the ultra spicy dhuandhar parantha. The method of cooking paranthas in tandoor is not unique to this place but it must be one of the earliest to use it and considering its reputation, one that has perfected it also.
“Even in tawa paranthas, we use soyabean oil which is a much healthier option. The NJP team has come up with variants like chur-chur parantha which contains four different types of grains, pocket parantha with kebabs stuffed in them.”
If you don’t want these restaurant varieties but instead the form we are familiar with, then there are plenty of famous stalls across NCR that serve them. These shops generally use big tawas and let their customers choose whether they want their paranthas cooked in oil or butter. Normally they offer four to five varieties which invariably includes aloo, paneer and egg paranthas. Since these paranthas are neither fried nor grilled in tandoor but instead cooked on a tawa in a traditional manner, they are closest to the paranthas Indians have at home.
If you want a fine dining environment, then Not Just Paranthas is the answer. Launched in 2003, they have four outlets where the paranthas come not just in various types of stuffings but in many different categories. Varun Agarwal, Founder of NJP explained the idea behind his restaurant, “We noticed the culture of paranthas in Delhi and wanted to experiment with the dish. After spending a considerable time researching, we came up with NJP.” The restaurant serves 150 varieties of paranthas. But the USP of the restaurant was thus explained by Agarwal, “Paranthas are generally considered as a non-healthy food item, we have come up with healthy varieties of it that people can enjoy.” The best example of this, according to him, are the diet paranthas which are made from whole wheat and using olive oil. The other versions are the tawa and tandoori paranthas. Agarwal says, “Even in tawa paranthas, we use soyabean oil which is a much healthier option. The NJP team has come up with variants like chur-chur parantha which contains four different types of grains, pocket parantha with kebabs stuffed in them and pizza parantha which has the ingredients of a parantha but the preparation of a pizza. There are desert paranthas with stuffings like rabri, kalakand, pithe and jaggery and even a paan parantha. On top of that there is the sharabi parantha with dry-fruits soaked in alcohol.
It’s clear that the parantha retains its appeal. Be it the 19th century or the 21st, be it the narrow lanes of Old Delhi or the posh ambience of Cyber Hub, the parantha still rules.