Rahul Verma almost lost his bearings having to choose from a huge variety on offer at the recent street food mela in Delhi

I don’t know about you, but these two little words give me immense happiness. I am talking about Food Mela. The moment I hear these words, I conjure up a colourful picture of aromatic food from across the country. Last year, the National Association of Street Vendors of India organised a food mela — and I had a great time trying out the street food of the many States that had put up their counters there. This time I had an even better time — for the number of counters had gone up dramatically.

But let me start at the beginning. The association of street vendors has been fighting for the rights of street hawkers. And since street food is an integral part of the group, it marks its presence in the Capital with a food festival. I am sorry to say that the festival wound up on Sunday. But since it promises to become a very important part of Delhi life — somewhat like the Trade Fair — I am going to tell you about the mela, even though you may not have tasted the delicious food it had to offer this time.

The mela was held on the lawns of the Constitution Club from Friday to this past Sunday. Street vendors from across the country had landed up there, with all kinds of dishes. This time the mela was huge, with 44 stalls. And the food was indeed eclectic.

I bought some coupons and started moving from one stall to the other. The Delhi stall had stuffed parathas — filled with potatoes, cauliflower or radish — on the tawa, the Punjab stalls had makke ki roti and sarson ka saag, and even pizza bread (loaves of bread with toppings were put into the oven and then taken out hot and crisp). The Bengal stalls had — for Rs 30 or so — a full meal of rice, vegetables and fish. The Kerala stalls again had various kinds of fish, sold with rice. The Madhya Pradesh stalls had sabu dane ki khichdri and mung dal varas, the Hyderbadi stalls had double ka meetha and biryani — and so on.

There was so much to choose from that I lost my bearings. Finally, I decided to start with a prawn chop at one of the Bengal stalls. I was astounded when I was told it was for Rs 5. Can we still get something to eat for five rupees? It was quite a nice chop too — with a filling of prawns mashed with potatoes.

Then I ate some Hyderbadi biryani, which was so hot that I promptly doused the fire inside with some double ka meetha — a delicious sweet prepared with bread and sugar. Then, at one of the Kerala stalls, I ate the most wonderful ghee dosa. And I finally ended with the dish that had won my heart at last year’s food mela – Bihari mutton curry and rice. The meat dish came with a whole pod of garlic, which had been cooked in the gravy, lending its flavour to the sauce, and taking on the flavours of the meat. It was, again, superb.

I hope you’ll make it to the next food mela — whenever they hold it. The prices are nominal — most dishes are between Rs 20 and Rs 30, with a full meal for Rs 35 or so. But the variety is mindboggling. And the colour, noise and aroma tell you what the country is all about.