ASAF ALI ROAD KULCHEY CHHOLEY WALAH
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.