FOOD SPOT The mouth-watering papri chaat and bhalla are best prepared at the Ashok Chaat Bhandars in Chawri Bazar, says RAHUL VERMA
I f you have any connection with anything Bengali, you would know about a wonderful concept called Bijoya Sammelan. I was introduced to it rather late in life, but have been seeking to make amends ever since. From the day of Dussehra to Diwali, or what is Kali Puja in the East, the community feasts. People visit each other without prior notice, and the hosts have to have a table full of goodies to welcome their guests with. Snacks of all kinds – sweets to savouries – are prepared especially during this two-week period.
So when a friend suggested that we mark the occasion with a similar feast of snacks one evening, I was all for it. We decided to have a potluck evening, so the menu was a bit eclectic. The fare consisted of momos, fish chops, paratha and dum aloo, puri (luchi) and roasted mutton, chholey (what's called ghugni), baby potatoes and bhapa doi (which is a sublime Bengali dessert of steamed and thickened milk and yoghurt). And then – just to add a non-Bong touch to the proceedings – I thought I would add papri chaat from Old Delhi to the menu.
I looked forward to eating some chaat, for it had been quite a while since I had done so. So I took the Metro, got down at the Chawri Bazar station, and then went up the exit to Chawri. There are two Ashok Chaat Bhandars there. One is right there, on your left, when you exit from the station. The second one is just across the road – at the junction of Chawri Bazar and Sitaram Bazar. Most chaat lovers believe that both Ashok Bhandars are equally good. The one next to the station had a crowd in front of it (as it always does, because of its most fortunate location) so I decided to go to the second one.
I got my chaat packed in neat bundles – one containing the dry papris, another with the spongy bhallas, a third with yoghurt, a fourth with kachaloo and chickpeas, a fifth with sonth – a sweet-and-tart sauce – and a sixth small packet with dry, spicy boondis.
The papri act!
But it's a real pleasure to see the masters put a plate of papri together. First, they put a heap of papris on a plate. Then they take out some bhallas soaked in water, squeeze them and place them on top of the papris.
Then on this they add some creamy yoghurt, and top it with boiled potatoes, chickpeas and sliced kachaloo. A special masala is sprinkled over it, and then a dollop of the sweet-and-sour chutney is added to it. The final outcome is something that can bring tears of joy to your eyes.
In these days of inflation, the prices of chaat have gone up. But still it's a steal for Rs.30 a plate. Ashok didn't have my favourite roasted aloo chaat, so I went back home with just the chaat papri. I have to admit that we couldn't assemble it with the same finesse and proportion that the people at the chaat bhaat demonstrate, but it was still a big hit. The festive season was marked – as the saying goes – with suitable pomp and gaiety.