City Hangout – Ebony Cafe, Pai Walan, Jama Masjid
Paris in Purani Dilli.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In Paris, you have your cappuccino in front of Notre-Dame. In Delhi, it has recently become possible to enjoy a cappuccino — and not just sweet milky chai — in front of the Jama Masjid.
Actually, it’s a side view of the Jama—which offers a very different perspective of the Walled City’s signature monument than the stereotyped appearances encountered in books and movies.
Ebony café opened some days ago and is Old Delhi’s only bistro-style hang out. It’s in the heart of the historic district, and close to its ethos in many ways, and yet far from it. No pretensions here for the glorification of the area’s heritage, like in other local eateries. No black-and-white photos of vintage Chawri Bazar street scenes (which is just a few steps away). The menu doesn’t have paya or nihari, or kachori or jalebi. Instead, it has varieties of pastas, burgers, pizzas and waffles (and even vegan shake). True, some hyperlocalised forms of burgers and pizzas are available in other parts of the Walled City too (the international chain outlets are on the other side, in Daryaganj) but there is no other place around looking as effortlessly modern as this one.
Inside, the place is as uncomfortably cramped as any market alley, but it is the little terrace-like space outside the door, covered by an elegant awning, that gives the café its distinctiveness. It is the kind of shading one would spot in the sidewalk cafes of European cities. The terrace has two tables, and by sitting here one feels as close to the café world of Vienna or Madrid as is possible. You might wonder about the point of spending time in a place so remote from the area’s character, but this uniqueness is refreshing. This evening the sun has set, the little lamps under the awning are aglow and the pigeons are flying about the Jama Masjid dome. A few steps away a bunch of labourers are gathered about huge parcels, some are sitting atop those packages smoking beedis. The terrace is completely exposed to this street life and yet is sheltered, snuggled within a Lakshman Rekha of potted plants. You feel outside and inside simultaneously.
One may sit with a novel for hours—so assures the owner, Old Delhi dweller Mohammed Saddam Khan, “as long as there aren’t people waiting for seats.”
Soon the great mosque starts streaming out the evening call to the maghrib prayer. Paris merges with Purani Dilli.
Tucked in Pai Walan street, close to Jama Masjid’s gate no. 3, the café opens daily from 3pm to midnight. The cappuccino, at 90 rupees, is as good as it gets.
Cappuccino by the Jama