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Dil Khush at Chitli Qabar

Mouth-watering nan khatai. Photo: Wikimedia Commons  

When one thinks of standout bakeries, it’s places like Goa, Bengaluru or Puducherry that come to mind. Delhi, on the other hand, has always had an affair with Mughlai food, followed by evergreen Punjabi cuisine. Bakeries seem far-fetched — until the day I made a trip to Chandni Chowk. Well, technically to a tiny place called Chitli Qabar within it.

A rickshaw is the best bet to get to Chitli Qabar chowk. A turn next to the Golcha cinema on Darya Ganj gets you there. The market is called Matia Mahal. Despite the tiny bylanes and the jostling crowds, there is a certain genteel pace to the place. Burkha-clad women chip in promptly with tips about what to savour and how to get there. The bakeries are countless and they just keep popping up as you make your way through the bylanes: Diamond, Golden, Asgar, Champion.

All the bakeries open early, around 7 a.m., and close around midnight. The baking begins around 5.30 a.m. By 5 p.m., the market comes alive. And by closing time, everything is sold out. So every item must be made fresh every day. During the month of Ramzan, the bakeries are open 24 hours.

One of the most famous bakeries is Diamond Bakery, which has been around for over 100 years, while Asgar Bakery goes back 70-odd years. Rusk- paya is one of the most popular items sold. It takes paya almost 24 hours to make, in wood-fired ovens, baked of suji rava and some very special ingredients. It is fascinating to watch workers carefully line the plates of paya with wooden briquettes. The paya is first baked, cut and then baked again. So perfect it can last a few months. What makes it so special is that instead of yeast, a special masala — made of 51 or so ingredients — is added. The masala is made everyday, and it works like yeast. Sometimes, diesel or electric ovens are also used to bake the paya.

The best month to visit is, of course, Ramzan, when everything that the shops make is on offer. On other days, a lot of delicacies are not available. Almost all the shops have a range of rusks: rusk- paya, gol rusk, cake rusk, suji rusk, fruit rusk, as well as tabarak roti, sheermal, and nan khatai. Md. Anis says that tabarak roti is linked with traditions from Ajmer, adding that it is distributed at dargahs just like halwa is distributed at temples. The tabarak roti is round, almost like a chappati, and four inches in diameter. It is made from rava and has a hint of sweet to it. It is the addition of saunf or fennel seeds that gives it a unique crisp flavour. It is ideal with a cup of coffee or tea, not too sweet but tasty and filling. Sheermaal, much like a bun, is made every day. During Ramzan, out comes the butter-jam sheermaal; then there is the dry fruits sheermaal, the cherry sheermaal, sheermaal parantha and so on.

As for biscuits, it is the nan khatai that takes prime place. It is made with both besan (gram flour) and flour or suji. An interesting variant is chocolate nan khatai, topped with a nice, crunchy layer of chocolate. No, the chocolate does not melt even in the hottest season. A lot of these delights are sold every day at Golden Bakery, but during Ramzan, the delights just increase in number: milk bread, fruit bread, cakes, dry fruit bread, dry fruit cake, dry fruit parantha… it’s a long list.

And don’t forget the biscuits. Apart from the usual jeera biscuits, there are ajwain biscuits, macaroons, muffins and melt-in-the-mouth coconut butter biscuits.

Every Ramzan, the bakeries try and bring in something new. So, Golden Bakery’s latest import has been from Bangalore — Dil Khush and coconut paratha. Dil Khush is one of the most interesting confections I have seen. Made from maida, sugar and ghee, it is stuffed with khoya and cherries. The outer layer is crisp but when you bite into it, you get soft, delicious khoya. Coconut parantha doffs its hat to Delhi’s culinary weakness, but is really just another huge bun stuffed with coconut. And baked to perfection.

Chitra Balasubramaniam pursues freelance writing on craft, textiles, food, travel and heritage along with investment analysis and research.


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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 8:09:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/chitra-balasubramaniam-on-the-bakeries-of-chandni-chowk/article8509144.ece

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