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.