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Daryaganj, on the cusp of old and new Delhi, is changing - it is now no longer just the home of tandoori and korma. Over this summer, fast food chains have made inroads into its gallis.
It's close to 2 pm, the roads are crammed with afternoon traffic. Motorists and cyclists swerve around bullock-carts as mammoth DTC buses honk at cars and pedestrians to stay out of their way. Mothers, some in burqa, some in salwar kameez, are swapping notes over how much trouble the kids were over the summer holidays. But over this summer Daryaganj, sitting at the edge of the Walled City, changed.
For many years, Moti Mahal was the only restaurant in Daryaganj. Dining options increased when a few years later it was joined by Chor Bizarre, the Kashmiri restaurant at Hotel Broadway. If Moti Mahal's butter chicken and qawwali didn't make your evening, then the sharabi kebabi tikka at Chor Bizarre would. A few kebab and curry shops like, Zaika and Chicken Chengezi, over the past few years went from little holes in the wall to bright air-conditioned restaurants but they never changed their menu. Their kitchens still made what was being cooked two decades ago.
On April 11, Daryaganj got its first fast-food joint. That too a burger chain from Texas, USA, Burger Girl. Created to celebrate the true "All-American Tradition", Burger Girl has pictures of President Barack Obama and former actor and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tucking into burgers, ostensibly Burger Girl's. A month later two more American chains opened their shutters at Daryaganj, Domino's and McDonald's.
The additions to the landscape are welcome if crowds at the outlets are any indication. There's a steady stream of school kids lining up at McDonald's counter for their Rs 25 McSwirl. Inside, tables are occupied by youngsters - happy to finally get the Maharaja Mac and fries in their backyard - and a few tourists, who when all else fails can always count on the Golden Arch to feed them. Domino's lunch crowd was made up of young working professionals, probably from nearby offices.
But it was at Burger Girl that one could see assimilation of two different worlds at its best. Coldplay was blaring over the sound system when a group of four Muslim men, dressed in kurtas and lungis, walked in. They took a table and ordered four desserts for themselves. Two school kids came in and bought a Garden Burger, for Rs 20, and the proceeded to the second floor, their favourite spot, according to the staff, to finish it. Another father brought his six-year-old son to buy a cold soft drink and the girl behind the counter helps the young child figure out which coloured soft drink he wants.
"The afternoons and late evenings are always a busy time for us," says Ravi Ahuja, the shift manager. After the first few hesitant days, people started coming in. "They would come and ask a lot of questions," recalls Ahuja. Burger Girl, with its Shahi Patiala Pac (a burger with a spicy, double chicken patty) and Woozookie (ice cream with cake), seems to have gone down well with Daryaganj residents. "The burger is a new experience for most people in this area. They seem very comfortable with the idea of ordering a burger or a pizza now. Our daily sales cross Rs 50, 000 easily and over the weekend touches Rs 80, 000. In fact, our baked goods (he points to a counter with black forest and red velvet cakes and brownies) have received a phenomenal response and it was the suggestion of our patrons that we started them just two weeks ago," Ahuja states, adding that they sell Rs 10, 000 worth of cakes and brownies every day.
It's not difficult to see why multinational brands would want an opening in this part of Delhi. Daryaganj continues to be a major commercial hub of 'modern' Old Delhi. The Netaji Subhash Road that begins from Delhi Gate and goes towards the historic Red Fort, run through it, while the Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk are just a short walk away. There are plenty of stores, more old than new. The area also has a number of doctor's clinics, more notably, Dr. Shroff's Charity Eye Hospital that opened in 1917, and Sablok Clinic - no train journey to Delhi was complete without spotting posters and billboards about this sex clinic. The area is abuzz with traders and shoppers Monday to Saturday and on Sunday is home to India's largest street market for magazines and second-hand books. So imagine that after getting your hands on a few copies of the New Yorker from the 1980s, you stopped to have a burger platter instead of a slumber-inducing meal at Karim's.
The McDonald's official spokesperson is cryptic when asked why the company chose Daryaganj as a location. "Our restaurant in Daryaganj is a step towards our long-term goal of expanding our reach to the customers," TOI-Crest was told.
At first sight, the emergence of these fast food joints could be alarming, considering the culinary legacy of the Walled City. But food historian Salma Husain brushes aside any worries. "These outlets will not any impact the bylanes," says Husain, who has written several books, including The Emperor's Table: The Art of Mughlai Cuisine.
"People will always want to eat different kinds of food but that doesn't mean that Karim's will shut down or that Al Jawahar will shut down. There has been a change in Daryaganj. Men wear jeans now, as do some girls. This is just the start. More fast food outlets will come but traditional flavours will not wane," she prophesises.
Located opposite Golcha Cinema, which was built in 1954 and now shares a wall with Cafe Coffee Day, Domino's promises to keep its 30 minutes delivery deadline but won't deliver in the congested bylanes. "We deliver on Ansari Road and the main part of Daryaganj but not Kucha Chelan," is what the server told us when we asked about delivery routes.
The outlets have made small changes to their operations to deal with the locality. Burger Girl has a notice taped to the wall which states all its meat products are 100 per cent halal. McDonald's, though, hasn't made the same assurances - "McDonald's India has always been committed to using quality ingredients for its products. . . We don't make specifications about halal or jhatka to our suppliers," says the spokesperson.
Interestingly, while this correspondent was there, an electricity outage brought the kitchen and the tills to a stop at McDonald's for close to 20 minutes. For those who came looking for chilled Coke and ice cream then had to make to do with lassi and kulfi sold down the street.
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