Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Annapurna Bhoj

A man has to eat to keep body and soul together. Which is why, while meandering around Old Delhi the other day, I was on the look-out for a place where I could rest my weary legs and treat my grumbling tummy.

I was in Fatehpuri in search of a Sindhi restaurant. But there was no sign of anything Sindhi there – barring the Karachi halwa that can be found at any halwai’s shop. So I was thinking dark thoughts about the friend who had sent me there while I looked for an eatery.

That was when I suddenly remembered Annapurna Bhoj. I had had eaten a thali there some years ago and enjoyed every morsel of it. So I hot-footed it to Church Mission Road, off Fatehpuri.

Many years ago, there was a famous little eatery called Soni Bhojanalaya. The Soni family was known for the tasty vegetarian food that it served in its little eatery. But as the restaurant grew, so did the family. Finally, one branch of the family moved out and started its own little place. They called it Annapurna Bhoj. These days, it’s run by two brothers – Rajeev and Sanjeev Soni. One brother takes care of the Delhi eatery, the other of its Haridwar branch.

Since I had fond memories of their thali, I decided that I’d go for an encore. I asked them to pack three thalis for me, even though my stomach was by then growling like a wounded bear. You can ask for both rice and roti, but I opted for the chapattis because rice would have meant carrying a heavier load. Then, with this heavenly-smelling bag, I took the metro back to New Delhi.

My friends were all waiting there with what I presume was bated breath. The thalis were unpacked – to reveal several soft rotis, moong dal, a dry vegetable dish of carrots and peas, potatoes in a light gravy, saag-paneer and kheer.

The food was truly delectable. Cooked with just a few spices, it was like well-prepared home-made food. The moong dal was very light and had been tempered with a dollop of some heavenly ghee and cumin seeds. The vegetable dishes were delicious. And the kheer at the end of the meal was like ambrosia – cooked with just the right amount of sugar.

A thali costs Rs 40, or Rs 45 if you want a ghee ka tadka in your daal. You can have as many rotis as you want with your thali, but an extra bowl of vegetables or kheer comes for an extra Rs 5.

This was such a great meal that I quite forgot about my friend who had sent me off on a wild goose chase. In fact, by the end of the meal, I was feeling pretty benevolent towards him. After all, if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have renewed my friendship with the Soni family’s incredible thalis.

Bille di Hatti

The University has reopened, and everybody has something to say to the campus-goer. Some are telling them what they should read, and some what they should wear. I’m doing something even better: I’m going to tell them what they should be eating.

For generations, students of the University of Delhi have been heading for Chacha’s chholey wallah in Kamla Nagar for his kulchey chholey. But not too many people seem to know about Bille, where you get the most delicious poori chholey.

I discovered Bille during my trade union days a long, long time ago. We often held gate meetings for the early morning shifters in the University area. That meant I had to land up there by 5 or 5.30 in the morning. I quite liked that, because it also meant that immediately after the meeting I could head for Bille di hatti for a hearty breakfast.

My breakfast consisted of Bille’s famous poori chholey and lassi. The pooris were thick and fluffy, and the chholey was incredibly tasty – tangy but lightly-cooked. The lassi was out of this world – frothy, creamy and rich, and with just right amount of sugar. His yoghurt is excellent as well and is made out of thickened milk. There was a time when Bille had 20 or 30 flat-bottomed earthenware pots full of curds which got sold out in no time.

When I bid goodbye to my TU days, I bid a teary farewell to Bille as well. Sometimes a friend brought his poori chholey to some gathering, but it wasn’t quite the same. For a poori to be really good, it has to come to your plate straight from a steaming karai. Still, for old-time’s sake, I always ate Bille’s poori chholey with relish – and a side-dish of warmed up nostalgia.

I went back there some days ago, and found that Bille was still going strong. There was a crowd of young people – and some old Kamla Nagar residents – there, eagerly digging into their chholey with pieces of pooris. I ordered a plate (for Rs 15), and found that his stuff was as good as ever. I think the nice thing about his chholey is that it’s cooked in very little oil. And there are some cubes of potatoes in it, which go really well with the pooris.

Bille di Hatti is to be found at 72-D Kamla Nagar (Phone No. 55808227). Walk straight from the back of Kirori Mal College till you reach a big roundabout. Turn right and walk on till you are at a small roundabout. Now go left, and you’ll find Billa. If you get lost, just ask somebody. But make sure you are there before 2 pm, for his excellent poori chholey disappear even before you can say Ek aur plate dena.

Pakodimal doodhwala's shop

There was a time, years and years ago, when a visit to a friend's or a relative's place on a hot summer day meant a tall glass of doodh lassi or dahi lassi. For those of us who grew up in the Hindi heartland, it was one way of helping us combat the effects of the infamous loo or the hot winds of the North. A doodh lassi is a chilled drink made of milk and water. It is sugared and iced, and then served as a light beverage when the temperature starts to soar. But I can't recall when I last had a glass of milk lassi.

If there is a good thing about summer, it's the fact that there are all kinds of fruit juices, sherbets and lassis for you to drink. My favourite is the sweet lassi. Nowadays, you will find on every street corner a dhaba or a theley-wallah with a sign declaring the vendor as Sharmajee or Guptajee Lassiwale and his lassi as the best in town. But I am a little finicky about my lassi. Having grown up in the cowbelt (more a buffalo belt, if you ask me), I have doodh and lassi in my veins. And for that, the milk has to be thick and creamy.

Whenever I want some good lassi, I go to Pakodimal doodhwala's shop in Naya Bans. Legend has it that this shop is the oldest doodh shop in Delhi. You have to go to Khari Baoli, the spice market, and walk down to the opening of Naya Bans. You'll know that you have reached the mouth of Naya Bans when your nostrils get invaded by the smell of hing emanating from some delicious kachoris (but about that, another week). Pakodimal's shop is three stalls down the lane, on your left.

It's a small, unassuming shop, and many believe that the man who makes the lassis is older than Delhi. He is a cranky old man, so I am always on my best behaviour when I am there. I had heard about a shaharwallah who had made the mistake of asking the old man to hurry up. The old man returned the client his money and refused to make him his lassi. I like his attitude. When you are the oldest man around and make the best lassis in town, you are entitled to your moods.

I always ask for a burfi wali lassi when I am there. The old man puts a burfi in a vessel and then crushes it to a smooth paste. To this he adds some dahi, sugar and water. He then churns it with his scarred hands - said to be battered out of shape by the water that his hands are always immersed in. The lassi costs Rs 15. The shop also sells milk, curds and other dairy products. People buy their dahi and often eat it there and then with some salt and masalas laid out on the side. Old-timers tell me that a poor man who wants curds worth two rupees is accorded the same respect as the rich client buying stuff by the kilos. That is, of course, if nobody makes the mistake of asking the old man to hurry.


Moti Meatwalalh

When I first moved to Delhi, I was like Alice in Wonderland. After a forced vegetarian regimen in my village, Delhi was like a carnivores' paradise. And unlike Alice, the wonders haven't ceased since then. For me, life is still a crazy odyssey of gluttony that has taken me to some great non-vegetarian eating places. Most of these little shacks cook just one or two meat or chicken dishes, for these are not run by people who believe in laying a whole table out for you. They know that the two dishes they make are the best anybody can get - so why go into unnecessary add-ons such as veggies?

When I first came to Delhi nearly three decades ago, the king of mutton curry was Gullu Meatwallah, who had a shop by the Transport Authority in Rajpur Road near the University of Delhi. He is now no more - but is a thick chapter in the annals of culinary history. Sadly, after Gullu Meatwallah passed away, the shop folded up. But, vacuums get easily filled in the world of food. Now, many of those left orphan by Gullu Ustad's death get their mutton from another legendary curry shop called Moti Meatwalalh in the Old Sabzi Mandi area.

I had not been to Moti's for several years. Last week, I went to the area in search of a particular kind of samosa (where the outer shell is not made of flour, but out of scooped out ginger). I didn't find the samosewallah, so I decided to go look up Moti meatwallah, now called Moti Dhaba.

Moti Dhaba is easy to locate. If you are in front of Amba cinema hall (near Delhi University), you will see a clock tower in the middle of a roundabout. The road on the right leads to Roshanara Club. Three shops down this road is Moti Dhaba. Or you can take another route: just go down Jhandewalan, cross Filmistan and the Azad market crossing and then turn left on Roshanara Road. Now keep going straight till you see the clock tower. But this time, the shop in on your left.

Things have changed a lot over the years. All the textile mills of the area have closed down, and Moti has felt the effect of the closure for most of its clients at one point of time were mill workers. But the eatery is still the same. The same old utilitarian tables and uncomfortable chairs greet you when you enter Moti's. There is no place for cushy chairs here, for people don't go to Moti's to soak in its ambience or for a candle-lit meal. Here the purpose is simple: you order, eat and then leave.

The place is now run by members of the younger generation. But I was happy to see that the service was as good as ever. The moment you enter, a waiter plonks a glass of water in front of you and waits for your order. I asked for half a plate of mutton curry (a full plate comes for Rs 80) and three rotis. Since the owner has known me for long, I got a royal treatment there: in the form of two big pieces of prime cut mutton along with a piece of liver - all for old time's sake. And I got a side dish of onion slices, with chutney.

This is a no-nonsense place. Moti's Dhaba is only for serious mutton eaters. You get chicken dishes, too, but the old-timers sneer at anybody who orders chicken instead of mutton, for Moti is really known for its goat meat.

The curry was delicious, deep red in colour and flavoured with spices. Moti's meat is somewhat like Gullu's. Moti's mutton curry, like Gullu's, is thickened with keema and is hot and spicy. But Moti's gravy base is not made out of tomatoes. The mutton is tender and cooked to perfection. The gravy is essentially a very tasty keema curry. On every table, you will find a small bowl of ground masalas. If you really like your mutton spicy, you add a bit of the masala to your dish.

The tradition at Moti's is that waiters keep refilling your plate with gravy as you continue to demolish the food with rotis. The curry is so delicious that you end up eating more red meat that you think you are capable of.

I chewed on a piece of roti soaked in gravy and thought how time had passed me by. Eating Moti's mutton after all these years was like renewing a friendship with an old pal. And what do years matter when old friends meet?


Multani Moth kachori

Multani Moth kachori

Food stories come from the unlikeliest of places. So, when at a barber's shop, a client started talking about a little known tradition of Delhi's cuisine, everybody else with a white sheet below the chin stopped staring at Madhuri Dixit's poster on the wall to take notice of what was being said.

The topic of conversation was the Multani moth kachori. Not many in the small hairdresser's stall in Gole Market had heard about it. And, a few of those who had, always believed that the moth tale was like one of Delhi's fabulous ghost stories - everybody knew somebody who had seen a ghost, but never met one himself.

But the raconteur knew what he was talking about. In one corner of the city in Multani Dhanda was a man who sold moth (to rhyme with boat). A moth -- which is essentially a dal, a bit like moong -- is something that challenges all those who think that street food in the city starts and ends with papri chaat. Moth, in fact, has over the years been added to Delhi's culinary tradition.

The city's eating habits record the history of turmoil. The influx of refugees into Delhi after the Partition of India changed the food culture of the city for ever. Since most of the refugees were from West Punjab, the cuisine began to change along with the city's own metamorphosis. The refugees were gutsy eaters from Punjab and the Frontier areas of today's Pakistan and left their mark on what is known as the food of Delhi. The uprooted, yet indefatigable community added two indelible words to the lexicon of Delhi's food: the tandoori and butter chicken.

But over the years, Delhi has enriched its own union of Muslim-Punjabi food, which, while tasty, tends to dismay the purists. The practice of overdosing a gravy with cream, tomatoes and kasuri methi and calling it Mughali causes both heartache and heartburn in food lovers. So when somebody -- like the earnest gentleman getting his hair cropped -- talks about one of the abiding chapters of the city's oral food history, it evokes hope in a true gourmet.

The Multani moth is one such chapter. The place is tucked away in the heart of the city. The North End Road from Gole Market, across Panchkuian Road, connects to the
Deshbandhu Gupta Road crossing, with the Paharganj police station on the left. A right turn on Deshbandhu Road -- towards Sheila Cinema -- and a left from The Kashmiri Sweet Shop lead to the Multani Moth Bhandar. The place is to be found on the left in Gali number six of Multani Dhanda.

It's a small, inconspicuous shop doing great business. There are artistes at work here, for each plate of moth is prepared lovingly and painstakingly. A huge patila opens up to give a tantalising vista of steaming moth. The dish goes like this: first, a layer of cooked rice is put in a dona, on top of which the moth dal is placed in another layer. A pinch of Multani masalas is sprinkled on top of the mound, and some slices of sour raw onions are reverentially placed around it. And instead of a spoon, you use two crisp kachoris to scoop out the moth.

The moth has a uniquely delicious taste -- it's both crunchy and velvety like a good dal ought to be. It is spicy, but not chilly hot. And at Rs 7 a plate, it is real value for money.

The moral of the story is this: at a hair-dressing salon, you may keep your eyes glued on to the poster of Madhuri -- but don't forget to keep your ears open as well. A little nugget picked up there can lead to a journey into history.




Autumn is knocking at my door, and I am getting ready for a food-fest that is going to go on till the end of winter. Now that the blistering summer is behind us, the food carnival can be formally flagged off. For there is nothing quite as exciting as meandering through the by-lanes of the Walled City and its outskirts, sniffing at different kinds of street food.

The other day, I had gone to Asaf Ali Road, just at the beginning of the Walled City, on some work. I suddenly spotted a huge crowd of people with what looked like incredibly busy jaws. I am one of those curious kinds, always in search of answers. Just what are these men doing, I asked myself, and went up to the busy corner. I moved closer and realised that the men - and a few women -- were all digging into chholey and kulchey.

I love kulchey chholey. Not the deep-fried batureys and black and oily chholey that sweet shops actually make us pay for (financially and health-wise), but the light fare that is the lunch of many an office-goer -- boiled chholeys served with baked kulchas.

Delhi has more than its share of talented chholey kulchey wallahs. I know of several busy gentlemen who rustle up some great chholey kulchey that keep hundreds of people happy through the day. I have eaten and enjoyed the kulchey chholey that you get at Kasturi's in Bhogal, and the stuff sold by Lotan chholeywala of the Commercial School, Ansari Road, who even went to Paris to take part in the Festival of India there way back in the Eighties. There is a famous chholeywallah at Nai Sarak, and another one that foodies swear by at Scindia House in Connaught Place.

But for the first time I was looking at a chholey kulchey place which was pretty large when compared with the small outfits (usually placed on a cart, and sometimes even on a cycle), that kulchey chholey wallahas have. This was also spic and span.

The present owner, Mukesh, has inherited the business from his father. He and his three assistants wore clean aprons and looked like professionals fresh out of a hotel management institute.

Mukesh's corner is not difficult to find. From Connaught Place take the road under the Minto Bridge. Keep moving till you reach the Asaf Ali Road roundabout. If you turn right from there, you will see a row of LIC buildings. Mukesh's cart is on the verandah of one of the buildings.

Mukesh is clearly an artiste at work - and you know that when you see how painstaking he serves each customer. One of his assistants stands on one side of the cart, frying potato cubes on a heavy tawa. He picks up two cooked cubes of potatoes and mashes them out in a dona and passes it to Mukesh, who lovingly adds a pile of boiled chholey to it, and then carefully sprinkles a measured quantity of masalas on top. A sour green chutney is then sprinkled on it along with a dash of lemon juice.

Now, the other side of the cart takes over. The chef adds some chopped onions and green chillies to the chholey. Then, if Mukesh likes you, he adds thin slivers of ginger to the concoction. Clearly, he was quite smitten by me, for he drew quite a few ginger pieces out of a hidden cache and added them to my chholey.

The artiste is still at work. Mukesh puts thin spicy pieces of boiled kachaloos to my plate. Then comes a green chilli pickle and a slice of tomato.

I thought that was his signature to the work of art and happily extended my hand for it. Mukesh looked sorrowfully at me, and quite a few of the regulars there gave me dirty looks. There was, apparently still more to come. Mukesh finally topped his creation with a sweet chutney made out of pomegranate seeds. And this was given to me just as another assistant had ably heated up kulchas on the tawa.

This was awesome. The chholey was spicy, but thankfully did not set my tongue ablaze. The pomegranate chutney gave a new dimension to the chholey, adding a tart-but-sweet flavour to it. The kulchas - which come from one of the better-known bakeries of the Jama Masjid area - were soft and fresh. In short, it was a sublime experience. And all for ten rupees!

I am going back there again. And this time, I shall make sure that I don't extend my hand for my dona till the last bit of work on it is done. And I am also rehearsing a particularly withering look that I will bestow on anybody who does that.




I woke up on Sunday morning to a dark sky and knew that there was something urgent I had to do - have a crisp samosa.

I don't know if sudden showers do this to you, but I get these strange food yearnings when everything around me starts to glisten with rain. And the rain, you would have noticed, does a mean tango with some special kinds of snacks. All across the city, I know that there are people who start frying pakoras the moment they see dark clouds. A good life, I often say, is a book in hand, with a plate of pakoras and a hot cup of tea on a rainy day.

There is another thing that the rain-gods always seem to bring in mind, and that's a samosa. The best thing about a samosa is that you can get it in nearly every corner of the city. To top it, there are all kinds of samosas. In some of the Bengali sweet shops in Delhi, you can get a 'singara' - which is a samosa with a special kind of a potato filling, not as spicy as the normal Dilliwallah samosa.

There is one shack in Mayur Vihar Phase II where the samosas are so good that people start lining up for its hot fare well before the huge iron kadais are put on fire. In Jama Masjid, you get a delicious keema samosa, and in Multani Dhanda - in Paharganj - there is a sweet shop which sells samosas stuffed with boiled moong dal.

But this week, the samosa that I was dying to eat was not your regular triangular flour puffs. I wanted to have a Japani samosa.

A Japani samosa is actually not a true-blue samosa. It certainly does not look, taste or behave like the conventional samosa. It's a big, layered puff pastry - something like a cheese puff - with a delicious filling of lightly spiced potatoes and peas. The samosa is doused with a layer of chholey - and the two together are like those unforgettable pairs of Hindi cinema - say, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, or Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. Or, if you insist, Govinda and Dilip Dhawan.

The journey for a Japani samosa is nearly as exciting as the food itself. I walked through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, enjoying the colourful battle of words between a speed-loving rickshaw-puller and all the local people that his vehicle insisted on hitting. What made the trek even more exciting was the fact that I was trailing behind a train of donkeys, who steadfastly refused to give me the right of way.

I walked up to Jama Masjid and then took a rickshaw to Moti Cinema Hall. After getting down at the mouth of Dariba, the old silversmiths' hub, I took the
road between Moti Cinema and Lajpat Rai Market. And right there was Manohar's Japani Samosa.

Nobody quite knows why the samosa is called Japani. Umesh, the friendly owner, didn't know the reason, but knew that it had been called so since its very inception in 1949. Maybe -- if you want to stretch your history dates a bit -- the name came as an offshoot of the war. Or maybe there was no real reason. Japani, after all, is as good a name as any and has some poetry to it. And it sounds better than Papua New Guinea samosa, right?

I had the samosa, and thought it was excellent. It was crispy on the outside, and soft within. The pastry was bland and went well with the vegetable filling, And the chholey left its tangy taste behind.

The first time I had a Japani samosa, I had gone around singing: "Mera samosa hai
Japani, uspe chholey Hindustani." This time, I bid adieu with: "Sayonara Sayonara, khal phir khayungee, Sayonara..."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hazi Sahab's Biryani

Hazi Sahab's Biryani:

I may have told you this before, but it bears repetition. I am a bit of a biryani freak. Unkind friends - and I am amazed at their growing numbers - point out that I am also a freak when it comes to kebabs, steaks, pasta and sweets. But it's a fact that I become all moony-eyed when I come across a plate of good biryani. I was introduced to this dish by an old family friend called Bundu Khan, who used to be come and stay with us for weeks and occasionally months, and cooked the most delicious biryani. It was, to use that old cliché, love at first bite.

But I got addicted to this dish when I was studying at the Brahman Anglo Vedic College in Meerut. The name would give you an inkling of the kind of food we got in our hostel. You get a bit sick of urad dal, desi ghee and kheer after you have had the same meal day after day. So, I went in search of the Muslim oven of that volatile city and for two years happily survived on kebabs and biryani. Then, when I came to Delhi, I discovered the many culinary delights of the city, mainly in Purani Dilli.

Now, let me warn you that the biryani is a very touchy subject. If you praise Dilli ki biryani to somebody from Lucknow, you'll get either a pitying look, or some choice abuses. Delhi's food, the Lucknow foodie will tell you, is Lashkari, that is food of the soldiers or the hoi polloi. I am always open to other people's opinions, but let me tell you that the best biryanis come from Calcutta and Hyderabad. And I am not going to budge from this position. Sorry, but there's going to be no further correspondence on this subject.
Delhi biryani tends to be oily, but there are some great eateries in the city where the biryani is as subtle as you want it to be. Of all the places that serve biryani in Delhi, two are particular favourites of mine. One is Hazi Noor Mohammed Biryaniwale - and I shall tell you about his biryani this week. Bur, first, let me grab your hand and guide you to the place. Start walking from Turkman Gate into the old city. After 300 yards, you will find on your right a lane called Elaichi Wali Gali, or the cardamom street. The second shop on the left is Hazi Sahab's eatery. It is a small shop with huge deghs right at the entrance. Now, let go off my hand and fend for yourself.
I was in Old Delhi this week and paid a visit to Hazi Sahab's shop. As usual, the dark and dingy eatery was full of serious eaters too busy for a polite conversation. So, even though I was dying to discuss the weather with my fellow-foodies, I meekly placed my order for 1.5 kilos of buff biryani (in Old Delhi, you get it by the kilo), for which I paid the princely sum of Rs 60. And then I got it packed and took it with me for some hungry friends.
It was just great. The biryani was spicy, the meat pieces were succulent and the rice was cooked to such perfection that no two grains hugged each other. This, in my opinion, is the best biryani in the city. But have I told you about this great Lucknow biryani stall in Delhi? Well, another day perhaps...


Ashok Chaat Bhandar

I break out into a virulent rash the moment somebody tells me that the best chaat in town is the one that you get at Shahjehan Road. Having cut my teeth on the different kinds of chaat that you get in north India - from Benaras to Haridwar - I know a thing or two about chaats. And Prabhu's chaat at Shahjehan Road, let me tell you, occupies one of the lowest rungs in the ladder to chaatdom.

When I first came to Delhi I remember how disappointed I was with Bengali Market's golgappas. The golgappas that I had in Meerut were called pani patashas - and were a different thing altogether, for the water in each little puff was sublimely sweet. I went off Delhi's chaat then, and continued to boycott it till a friend told me to try the chaat out in Old Delhi. I was told that the bylanes were dotted with little stalls there that sold the most delicious of golgappas and papris.
Since then, I am a convert. The real chaat of Delhi is not to be found in Shahjehan Road or Bengali Market - but in the walled city. In these many years I have had chaats made out of spicy whole potatoes in a light peppery gravy and chaats made of mashed samosas in a green and white tart chutney. And, of course, the usual chaat consisting of paapris, dahi vade and pakori and boiled chholey.
But one of the best chaat counters in Delhi is the 70-year-old Ashok Chaat bhandar in the Old City. It's just on the Hauz Qazi Chowk, at the mouth of the Chowri Bazaar. There are two Ashoks there, but my favourite is the one on the left side of the Chawri Bazaar road.
I suppose I love the chaat and golgappas there because they remind me of the delicious stuff that I ate as a child. The mint-flavoured spicy water in the golgappas at Ashok is not just tart like that in some of the New Delhi chaat shops. Instead, it is both sweet and tart - two flavours that together give a kick to the golgappas stuffed with roasted and spicy potatoes and mixed with a sweet saunth chutney.
But whenever I go to Ashok's, I first ask for a plate of his spicy chaat. Half the paapris are put in a whipped yoghurt mix, and the other half in the sweet saunth. These are then arranged on a plate and garnished with home-made masalas. Red chillies are never used in the chaat that you get in old Delhi. Instead, they use black pepper to add to the pungency. At Ashok's, the main ingredients are pepper, black salt and roasted zeera. Some of the masalas used are closely-guarded secrets - which the owners of Ashok refuse to divulge despite all my teary-eyed entreaties.

To this they add a dollop of curds, a smattering of saunth and a spoonful of green chutney. And finally they top it with thin spicy slivers of roasted kachaloo.
Ashok's has other kinds of chaats, too. There is the usual chaat with soft dahi vadas or the dahi-pakoris, which are baby dahi-vadas. I like their kalmi vada chaat -- crisp flat and thick paapris made out of ground lentils. Another all-time favourite there is the potato chaat. They take a whole roasted potato, spice it up and then cut it into little chunks. To this, they add all the seasonings that go into the paapri chaat. Incidentally, they get their roasted aloos and kachaloos from certain families in the area whose sole job is to do just that.
Once the tongue is nicely set ablaze, you can saunter down to Mianji's kheer shop, which is 200 metres down the Lal Kuan road from the Hauz Qazi Chowk. Tart and sweet - that's what a gastronomical journey is all about!

Hazarilal Jain Khurchanwala

Hazarilal Jain Khurchanwala

Most children start with words like Mama and Dada. I think one of the first words I ever spoke was jalebi. Other children were born toothless -- legend has it that I came with one sweet tooth. I have been fond of sweets from time immemorial. There was a time when no meal was over complete without a sweet which usually meant, in those days, a laddoo or a balushahi.
Thanks to this long-lasting affair with sweets, some of my teeth departed early. Just last week, my dentist gave an eviction notice to three reluctant teeth. Still, in a country such as India -- where the Taj Mahal is the ultimate memorial to love -- I, as an Indian, have a reputation to protect. So the love affair -- irrespective of disappearing teeth and a widening girth -- has continued.
I have built up a meaningful relationship with a lot of sweets -- from the Ladoo, jalebi, balushahi and rabri to kalakand, rasmalai, rasgullahs and kulfi. But my everlasting memory is still that of a sweet my father brought for me from Khurja -- over 40 years ago -- called khurchan. It was so delicious that its memory lingered on -- even though I never could manage to ever find a shop that sold this exquisite sweet anywhere.
It was much later -- somewhere in the mid nineties -- that I finally found a small shop in Paranthewali Gali selling khurchan. I had just downed a few greasy paranthas when my eyes fell upon a pile of khurchan. I immediately asked for a plate, but was a little disappointed with it because the taste didn't match up to my expectations. I was grumbling about this to an old friend from the Walled City when he asked me to try out the khurchan at Hazarilal Jain's shop in Kinari Bazaar.
I took his advice, and, after a few wrong turns, located the small sweet shop. I controlled my salivating mouth and ordered 100 grams of khurchan (now for Rs 180 a kilo). With the very first bite I realised that this was the real thing. But before I get into a frenzy, let me tell you about the shop.
To get to this Mecca of Khurchan worshippers, you should get into Chandni Chowk from the Red Fort end. Ask anyone where Dariba Kalan -- the silver market -- is. The landmark for Dariba is the famous Jalebiwallah at its entrance. Go down Dariba, get into Kinari Bazaar and you will find Hazarilal about 20 shops down the market, to your left.
Let me tell what khurchan is all about. If you want to translate it into English, the nearest word that you can get is scrappings. When kheer was cooked, did you, as a child, use a spoon to scrape the sides of the utenstil to get at the thickened milk that was stuck there? I did that -- and loved the taste of the caramelised, thickened milk. The concept of the khurchan is just that.
At this 70-year-old shop, they keep boiling the milk in a big karhai and removing the malai, or the head, with a twig. In another karhai, they keep putting one layer of cream over another till the sweet is as thick as, say, a kalakand.
What's interesting is that sugar is not added to the milk. Instead, just before the khurchan is put on the counter, they sprinkle some powdered sugar or karara over it. This helps release whatever moisture there is left in the khurchan, and makes it softer.
Khurchan is not as sweet as some of the other desserts that we eat -- and I find it heavenly. Sadly, it's getting to be more and more difficult to find a khurchanwallah, because few halwais make this dish since the process is too time-consuming. Soon, like the Dodo, the khurchan will be lost forever. So seek out the stuff right now.

Makhan Lak Tika Ram's doodh jalebi

2) Makhan Lak Tika Ram's doodh jalebi:
It all started with Delhi's voters' list. One fine day I was a voter, the next moment I found that I wasn't. Now I am one of those people who take their voting responsibilities very seriously. So, like a disgruntled disenfranchised citizen, I started up the totem pole of Delhi's bureaucracy to get my name back on the voters' list.
After some initial enquiries, I made my way to the Delhi Election Commission office in Kashmiri Gate which once housed St Stephen's College. But by the time I was at the head of a long line of equally grumpy people, it was lunch-time. The clerk at the window did what he has been trained to do for years: he looked sneeringly at us, downed the shutters and disappeared.

I was feeling rather peckish, so I went looking for something to eat. I noticed a large group of people standing in front of a shop called Makhan Lal Tika Ram. There was a blissful look on their faces, so I lined up as there well. I found some huge cauldrons of milk boiling over a low fire. I asked around, and found that the place was the Mecca for all doodh jalebi lovers of the city.
I got really emotional when I heard the phrase doodh jalebi. In my student days in Meerut, when I had hoped to become a wrestler despite weighing something like 40 kilos, my breakfast used to consist of half a litre of scalding milk poured over two plump jalebis, followed by atta ladoos made with pure ghee and a fist full of almonds. But being of mixed parentage - which is the reason why I have a Jat brain and a Bengali physique - my genes did not respond adequately to the morning breakfast, and I gave up wanting to be a wrestler.

But my love for milk stayed. After dinner, we used to saunter down to Kallu Halwai's shop in Meerut, order a kulhar of creamy milk with a thick slice of malai to garnish it. Milk, suitably altered, can be wonderful. It doesn't just make great dessert, but, coupled with jalebis, it makes for an excellent breakfast meal, too: it is tasty, nourishing and good for digestion.
After I moved to Delhi, I looked high and low for a doodh jalebi wallah, but could never find one. And since people outside the Walled City believe in having muesli and papaya for breakfast, most of Delhi sneered at my frenetic search for doodh and jalebi. And then one day, a quirk of fate -- or the actions of a typical babu -- helped me realise my dream.

It is not difficult to spot the shop. Go to Kashmiri Gate, locate the Bata shoe shop or Carlton Cafe (another of those places that I fondly remember from my childhood) and keep going down the same side of the road till you reach the election commission office. Once you have crossed that, you will find the doodh jalebi stall just a few shops downs the same side of the road.

I went in and ordered a plate of aloo poori (Rs 12) and a glass of milk jalebi (Rs 21) without sugar (my family says it sees no signs of it, but I take care of my weight). While I waited for my order I noticed with interest how they thicken the milk. Milk was being boiled in 4 huge karais. As the milk thickened in one karai, it was poured into the next karai and so on till it had reached just the right consistency and was ready to be doled out.
Once the milk was thick enough, the maestro at the shop would deftly place two thick jalebis into one tall glass and then pour thickened milk into it till the glass was full. To this he added a wedge of malai. A spoon was dropped into it, no doubt to titillate the jalebis.
I thought it was pure nectar. I had some of that, and then moved on to the puri sabzi. This was great as well -- the puris gave me all the roughage that I needed to keep my heart healthy (well, if you can stretch a point) and the sabzi was tart and tasty. For Rs 45 (I had a second plate of puri sabzi), this was a full, wholesome and delicious meal. I finished the last of the sabzi and lapped up what was left in my glass of milk and jalebis.
After this, I was ready to take on all the babus of the Election Commission. I strode up to the EC office full of verve and vim. And I silently thanked Makhan Lal Tika Ram for being the Guardian Angel of the disenfranchised, and of the would-be wrestlers of the world.

Nand Di Hatti

I vividly remember my first encounter with a plate full of black chholey and puffy bhaturas. The year was 1962 and my brohter had just passed out of the Indian Military Academy. He took me to Kwality Restaurant in Connaught Place for a celebratory dinner. Among the many dishes that waltzed their way to the table was a plate of chholey bhaturey. I thought it was delicious.
Since then, my association with this north Indian dish has grown, as the cliché goes, from strength to strength in these 40 years. People say that the chholey bhaturey you get in Kwality's is still better than that in other restaurants, but I wouldn't know. The last time I was there was sometime in the seventies!
But I have had a lot of Chholey Bhatureys since my first encounter with it. I have had the fare that is offered at Nagpal's in Amar Colony near Lajpat Nagar, and a plate in that shop at the corner of Khari Baoli and Fatehpuri. I have been to the famous chholewallah at Begum Bridge in Meerut and many other places besides. Till yesterday, I thought the Sitrama chholey bhatureywallah in Paharganj was the best in town. The shop was started by Diwanchand in the 1950s, and Sitra Ram used to work for him. Later he became a partner, and the rest is gastronomical history.
Yesterday, I was in Sadar Bazar -- led there by my twitching nostrils. I thought a major wholesale market should have a few good eating places. I knew about the Chaatwala in Deputy Ganj (the wholesale street utensil market), but he only sits for three or four hours a day, and I knew I would have missed him. I have been to the rabri falooda stall in the main market, but he is not half as good as Gyani's near Khari Baoli. Then I suddenly remembered this very popular channe bhaturey shop in Pan Mandi.
I parked my car on the Paharganj side of the New Delhi Railway Station (I am convinced that I buy more parking tickets at the station than anybody else) and took a rickshaw to Sadar Bazar, after agreeing to pay Rs 6 to the rickshaw puller. I was going to this part of Sadar Bazar after nearly 20 years and had to ask the locals for directions. At long last I reached the place I was looking out for.
This was the famous Nand di Hatti at 829 Pan Mandi, Sadar Bazar. The shop has been around since 1960. Mr Nand Lal breathed his last in 1993 and the shop, sadly, was partitioned to keep his sons happy. I went to the corner shop now called Nandlal Om Prakash as it had a bigger crowd of customers milling around it.
A gentleman with a flowing white beard was handling the cash. This was Mr Om Prakash, Nandlal's son. I paid Rs 22 for a plate of chholey bhaturey. You can have a plate of chholey with one bhatura for Rs 12 as well. A plate of masala aloo comes for Rs 10.
In a jiffy, my plate was in front of me. The bhaturas were not greasy and the chholey wasn't swimming in oil, as it is in some parts of Delhi. There was plenty of chholey, which came with a homemade pickle and some green chillies. The stuff is cooked in pure desi ghee, and being a Vaishnavi joint, there is obviously no use of garlic or onions.
I felt a little sorry when I had my first bite, because I realised, as a soft piece of the bhatura went into my gullet with a tangy portion of the chholey, that Sitaram was not the best in town. Nandlal Om Prakash clearly stood at the head of the line. The chholey was spicy but not so hot that I needed a fire extinguisher for the insides of my mouth. I finished the stuff and silently agreed with my friends who have always held that this is the best chholey bhaturey outfit in town.
I packed some for my friends, bought an umbrella for my wife and strolled back to the Railway Station, enjoying the happy feeling in my tummy and the spray of light drizzle that had -- predictably -- not been predicted by the Met Department.

Khalsa Hotel

Mayapuri meatwallah:
One lives, and one learns. I remember how derisive I was when I first heard about a Sardarji who, we were assured, sold a mean mutton tandoori in Mayapuri in West Delhi. We snorted loudly and told the bearer of the news to shut his trap. West Delhi's link with food, we said snootily, was limited to a good butter chicken, or, at best, a chilli chicken 'leg' piece.
This happened several years ago. But I was a little intrigued because every now and then a friend would urge me to try the Mayupuri mutton out. Having mellowed with age, I thought it was time I went there. After all, if some of my committed foodie friends were going ga-ga about Sardarji's mutton, surely this was something that needed a first-hand probe?

The results are out - and the Sardarji has passed the test with flying colours. His mutton tandoori is indeed excellent. And all those who think that life is not worth it if you haven't tried out the works of some of Delhi's master chefs should make a quick trip to Mayapuri while the good weather lasts.

It is not difficult to find the Khalsa restaurant. I took the Mayapuri cut from Ring Road and crossed the DTC depot. You will find the Dhaba on the left, on the same side of the road as DD Motors. I went there and found that there were two Sardarjis selling tandoori mutton there. Clearly, there has been a family feud because the owner of the dhaba I went to - significantly named "Asli" Khalsa restaurant - curled his lips up derisively when I mentioned the other Khalsa Dhaba. Asli Khalsa is in C Block, on a little lane that runs parallel to the main road.

I was given a huge menu card to peruse, but had been told beforehand by my friends to disregard it. The menu is impressive for it has columns and columns of food dishes, which should be read for fun and then ignored. There are, for instance, all kind of paneer dishes listed in the menu, and even a cheese chopsuey in the Chinese section. I did as I was told - and just ordered a kilo of tandoori mutton from Asli Dhaba for Rs 200. The other Dhaba calls it a burra kabab - but it is essentially the same dish, which the brothers must have together picked up from their father.
But this is nothing like the burra kababs that you get in other restaurants in town. The meat is so tender that it doesn't punish your gums or your teeth. And surprisingly, the dish is cooked with very few spices. But the real secret, which I made one of the brothers spill out by using some old Chinese methods of extortion, lies in the fact that they use a baby lamb for the dish.
The mutton is marinaded in a mixture of garlic water and salt for 12 hours and then roasted in a tandoor. The end result is just stupendous: the meat is soft and because there are no overwhelming spices, it retains the heady flavour of tender meat and garlic.
Elsewhere, burra kababs are made out of big pieces of mutton and are soaked in spices. You get them in most restaurants where they offer so the so-called Mughlai food, a misnomer if there was ever one. The restaurants in the Pandara Road market offer burra kebabs, and Karim's in Jama Masjid is known all over the world for its succulent burras.
But the Khalsa mutton is quite another story. Here the pieces are small, which means they are not just easy to handle, but nicely chewable as well. And the aroma...!
I took my order home and then called some friends over. I sauté-ed the mutton lightly in a kadai and then, as the ooh-and-aahs came pouring out, told them with becoming modesty that I had cooked it myself, using a recipe that I had found in an old chest belonging to a great grandfather who was a junior cook in Maharajah Ranjit Singhji's immense kitchen.
Since then, the friends have been clamouring for some more. They'll have it - as soon as I can make another trip to Mayapuri.


Fateh ki kachori:
For all kachori lovers of Delhi, Fateh has been something of an enigma. Most serious students of this crunchy savoury have heard of Fateh, for the name tends to crop up in any conversation revolving around the humble kachori. But hearing about Fateh's kachoris is like listening to somebody tell a ghost story: everybody knows somebody who has seen a spook, but no one seems to have seen one personally. A ghost-story teller will say: "This is true, because it happened to my Aunt." And, likewise, the Fateh fan club would insist that Fateh's kachori still existed, but nobody was quite where it was to be found.

For those who like their kachoris, this can be a bit frustrating. And street-food lovers are known to go to every nook and corner of a city in search of a good kachori. Kachoris make for great breakfasts, and there are people who make it a point to go looking for a plateful in cities famous for their kachoris -- from Meerut, Agra, Kanpur and Mathura to Varanasi, that bastion of satvik food. In Delhi, some of the best kachoris are to be had at Ansari Road, Dariba and Bazaar Sitaram.

But then, the high priests of the kachori cult had intoned that you hadn't seen the world if you hadn't tried out Fateh's stuff. So, Fateh remained not just something of an enigma, but a bit of a challenge as well. Any kachori enthusiast worth his or her salt knew that to be counted among the crème-de-la-crème of the kachori lovers' club, a visit to Fateh was a must.
So, a trek was organised one sunny morning to the intestines of Delhi in search of the elusive Fateh. An old student of St Xavier's gave detailed directions to the place, pointing out that Fateh had fed generations of hungry students of the school on Rajniwas Marg. The map was followed to the last T, but there was no sign of Fateh there. Did the place exist at all, or was it just a figment of a city's collective imagination?
But, just when the search was being given up for good, an old jungle saying came to the mind. When you are lost, goes the proverb, just get in touch with the nearest panwallah. A panwallah's help was dutifully sought. He scraped a betel leaf with a bit of limepaste, wrapped it up neatly, and then pointed desultorily to a garden umbrella spread out over a cycle in one narrow galli. That, he said, was Fateh's kachori counter.Fateh's is on a little lane off Rajniwas Marg, next to the Gujarati Samaj building.

The famous kachoris are assembled on this very bicycle. Two huge bags filled with kachoris hang from the cycle's handles. The rest of the stuff lies on a slab on top.
To test the waters, a solitary plate of kachori was ordered. It took a while coming, because there were some 20 people who had already assembled there and placed their orders. But the wait was worth its while, for the kachoris at Fateh's are put together like a choreographed act.
Unlike most other kachori makers of Delhi, Fateh uses boiled chholey - the kind that is usually served with kulchas - with his kachoris. A group of three men go through the motions with clockwork-like precision. One of them picks up a small stainless steel utensil and takes out some of the boiled chholey, mixes it with some salt and masalas, and then places it on top of a kachori.
The plate moves to a helper who tops it with chopped onions and green chillies. Then, a third person sprinkles some masalas on the kachori, and then douses it with a spoonful each of a sweet and a sour amchoor-based chutney. The plate goes back to the second man who now garnishes it with slivers of ginger and fresh green coriander leaves. And the plate is reverentially handed over to a client who seems to have lost all control over his salivatory glands.
Fateh's kachoris are excellent. Though kachoris are usually served with a hot sabzi - made either out of potatoes or pumpkin - the chholeys at Fateh's give a different taste to the khasta kachori. Some more plates were ordered, the kachoris were savoured and a fond farewell was bid to the three surprised men by the bicycle.
Finally, the citadel guarding the famed kachoris had been breached. Fateh, after all, means victory.