SpiceJet’s Magazine: A Study in Plagiarism

The August 2009 issue of SpiceRoute, SpiceJet airline’s inflight magazine carries a two page, 938 word article titled “What’s in Your Khomcha?” by Hirak Gautam, on pages 42 & 43. Without further ado, I present to you the entire text of the article, along with excerpts from previous posts on this blog, and commentary. Scanned images of the original pages are available here and here. Enjoy :)

It has been 10 minutes on the treadmill and I am already regretting my last seven days of rampage. The whirlwind visit to Delhi’s Khomchawalas with my cousin, who is an aspiring chef, was a real eye opener.

One muggy afternoon we headed straight to the Walled City for what turned out to be a complete gastronomic delight. As I walked weaving through the crowd and dingy streets, it made me understand that Delhi is a potpourri of people, and many of them sell food for a living.

As we eagerly track our friend Hirak in his journey across Delhi’s gastronomic delights, we will follow the convention of quoting him in olive green, with excerpts from the EOiD blog figuring in a navy blue. Don’t ask me why.

Our first stop was the famous Kallu’s Nihari take-out in Jama Masjid, but the shop itself was drowned in a sea of customers. After a waiting period of exactly 10 minutes, what came into view was a small tiled area serving as a place to sit on the floor and eat. Its close proximity to the tandoor forced the people to spread themselves around the shop; be it the doorstep of a neighbouring house, the parapet of a broken wall, or the seats of a parked scooter. The heat and taste had driven both of us in a tizzy and we hardly remember the act of eating the nihari. But what I do remember is the sight of two shiny plates after having mopped spotless with soft, piping hot khameeri rotis. The usual helpings of nihari are for Rs 15, but you can order the larger size for Rs 25. Rotis are for Rs 2 each.

If you happen to do a Google search for “Kallu nihari”, it so happens that the EOiD blog post I wrote on September 2, 2007 comes up as the top hit. I would hazard this is how Hirak first chanced upon our little blog. Here are some relevant excerpts from that post:

… even before we could see the shop itself, a reassuring throng of customers came into view. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Kallu’s shop is even more modest than Haji Noora’s in Bara Hindu Rao, with just a small tiled area serving as a place to sit on the floor and eat. Its proximity to the tandoor means that in this weather, sitting inside the shop makes Dante’s Inferno sound like a nursery rhyme. Consequently, most people prefer to find a spot outside, be it the doorstep of a neighbouring house, the window ledge on an unsuspecting wall, or the seats of a parked scooter… Despite my induced gustatory amnesia of the whole event, I am certain the nihari must have been good, because in minutes both Vinayan and I had used the soft, piping hot khameeri rotis to mop up our extra-large plates of nihari to the point of sparkling… Price: The usual helpings of nihari are for Rs. 15, but you can order the larger size for Rs. 25. Rotis are Rs. 2 each.

Apart from the similarity of the text, it is sad that the readers of SpiceRoute will be misled by Hirak’s article on at least two counts: (a) they’d think Kallu’s nihari can be had on a “muggy afternoon”, whereas it’s never actually served before 5pm or so; (b) they would expect prices to be the same as what existed in 2007, when I originally wrote my post.

Be that as it may, let us follow Hirak as he discovers the EOiD post on Daulat ki Chaat, published online by me in October 2006.

Post our nihari tasting session, we moved towards a hidden gem of Delhi street food – Daulat ki chaat. As we both passed by an inconspicuous vendor swarmed with flies and the local cognoscenti, both hovering around a demure white platter perched on a three-legged contraption. I knew better than letting this one pass by. (And before you hygiene freaks turn up your snooty little noses, the platter was well covered with a muslin cloth, so only the cognoscenti and not the flies actually got a taste of the goods.)

The grand preparations begin at 2a.m every day and they insist that their only contribution is to churn some creamy milk and whip up its froth. This whipped froth of milk is set in a large brass pan, and some khoya and finely sliced pista are sprinkled on top. A big spoonful simply vanishes in the mouth, and has a very sophisticated, understated sweet taste to it. Any reasonable person would demand a princely sum for such an ethereal treat. Yet in the by-lanes of Shahjahanabad, a dona of Daulat ki Chaat makes you lighter exactly by 10 bucks.

Allow me to reproduce excerpts from the original EOiD post:

On our expedition for a breakfast of nihari yesterday, Abhik and I chanced upon one of the true hidden gems of Delhi’s street food — Daulat ki chaat.

I’d already been tipped off about this by a Rahul Verma column from some time back, so when Abhik and I passed by an inconspicuous vendor with flies and the local cognoscenti buzzing around a demure white platter perched on a three-legged contraption, I knew better than not to screech to a halt.

(and before you hygiene freaks turn up your snotty little noses, the platter was well covered with a muslin cloth, so only the cognoscenti and not the flies actually got a taste of the goods.)

They start making it at about 2 o’clock at night, and insist that their only contribution is to churn some creamy milk and whip up its froth — the rest is the magic of the winter dew. This whipped froth of milk is set in a large brass pan, and some khoya and finely sliced pista are sprinkled on top. … A spoonful of it just vanishes in the mouth, and has a very sophisticated, understated sweet taste to it.

Any reasonable person would demand a princely sum for such an ethereal treat. Yet in the by-lanes of Shahjahanabad, a dona of Daulat ki Chaat sets you back by exactly 10 bucks!

Again, not only does Hirak copy and paste directly from my blog post, he also significantly misleads his readers in two respects: (a) his chronology makes the reader imagine that it is possible to get Daulat ki Chaat in old Delhi after a nihari-eating session on a “muggy afternoon”, whereas in reality Daulat ki Chaat is available only in the winters, and generally only uptil about noon; (b) the price of Rs. 10 actually dates from 2006, and I am happy to know that the chaat vendors have managed to raise their prices in these last three years in step with overall inflation.

Hirak now goes to his “favourite chaatwaala”, Hira Lal, whom I just happened to have written about in this blog in February 2008:

While chaat was still on the menu, we didn’t want to ignore my favourite chaatwaala in Chawri Bazaar, who always managed to serve us something special.

At night, once the paper traders of Chawri Bazaar have downed their shutters and the throb of commerce has quietened to a murmur, Hira Lal Chaat Waala’s shop stands out with pride. For four generations, people have come here for their choice of snacks – alu chaat, fruit chaat, alu tikkis, and even pao bhaaji.

But hiding amongst the goodies is a charming nugget that is hard to find outside these parts: kulle, or kuliya, as they are fondly called, are made by scooping out one of several vegetables into cup shapes, which are then filled with chick peas, pomegranate seeds, various tangy spices and a dash of lemon.

Here are parts of the original EOiD blog post:

… That’s when he’d dragged us to his favourite chaatwaala in Chawri Bazaar to show us something quite special.

In the night, once the paper traders of Chawri Bazaar have downed their shutters and the throb of commerce has quietened to a murmur, Hira Lal Chaat Waale’s shop stands out like a beacon by a darkening sea. … For four generations, people have come here for their choice snack — alu chaat, fruit chaat, alu tikkis, and even pao bhaaji.

But hiding amongst the goodies is a charming nugget that is hard to find outside these parts: kulle, or kuliya, as they are often fondly called, are made by scooping out one of several vegetables into cup shapes, which are then filled with chick peas, pomegranate seeds, various tangy spices and a dash of lemon.

The next paragraph Harik can proudly claim as his original:

On our way back, we wondered at the wide diversity of cuisine, Delhi streets have to offer. The latest craze of the town, steamed momos, vegetarian and non-vegetarian (it can carry anything) and the accompanying hot red chutney, can beat even the Moroccan harisa. You can find it anywhere and everywhere, turning all ambitious Tibetans into entrepreneurs.

He isn’t quite done yet, because his “Bengali sweet tooth” has led him directly to the recent EOiD post on Kuremal’s Kulfis:

Though we manage to abstain from the street version of the original dim-sums, the Bengali sweet tooth led us to a place called Kuremal’s Kulfi.

And the novel discovery I made there happened purely by chance. ‘Stuffed Kulfi’’ – a variation that comes in the fruity flavours of orange and mango. The stuffed mango kulfi is made by taking out the mango stone and most of the flesh and fillling it with rabri, or plain kulfi mix. When frozen, the skin is peeled away and the ice sliced to give a fabulous combination of rabri and frozen mango flesh.

Pamela Timms, an EOiD member and avid foodie, writes a wonderful blog of her own. She originally wrote a piece on Kuremal’s for her blog in April this year, but since several of her foodie adventures are with the EOiD gang, she is kind enough to allow me to republish some articles on this blog. Here are the matching excerpts from her post, which we published on April 26, 2009:

I’ve recently discovered the ‘Stuffed Kulfi’ — the orange and mango are particularly delicious. The stuffed mango kulfi is made by taking out the mango stone and most of the flesh and filling it with rabri, or plain kulfi mix. When frozen, the skin is peeled away and the ice sliced to give a fabulous combination of rabri and frozen mango flesh.

Meanwhile, Hirak bravely soldiers on:

After exploring almost all the lanes and bylanes of the Walled City, we headed to relax in an al fresco lounge. Sitting and watching people dunk pieces of pita into hummus and babaghanoush had me immediately thinking of characteristically bland chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus. And of the earthy flavour that our streets infuse in those very same grains of of gram, turning them into deliciously delightful Choley Bhaturey.

Indeed. What disturbs me most is that a few hours in front of the computer screen reading the EOiD blog can give Hirak the heady feeling of having “explored almost all the lanes and bylanes of the Walled City”, when after three years of tramping those parts, I am acutely aware of having seen only a fraction of that labyrinthian wonderland.

Nonetheless, his writing makes for tantalizing reading – an “al fresco lounge” with hummus and babaghanoush is mentioned, but never named. On my first read, I had credited this para to Hirak’s own creativity, until I carefully read another post by Pamela on our blog. Some of the introductory lines of her post on Sitaram Dewan Chand’s Chhole Bhature go like this:

… chick peas? Synonymous with hairy hippies in bedsits and tubs of slimy supermarket hummous? Then came Chana Bhatura and I discovered I could actively crave something involving chick peas.

Aha! There you go — Hummus! And to wit, no mention of a place to eat it!

Having set the stage Hirak now delves whole-heartedly into Chhole Bhaturey:

The next morning, still hung over from our previous day’s food cocktail, we decided to see the other parts of Delhi. We also decided to visit the most popular joints of all time like the Evergreen in Green Park and Nathu in Bengali Market with their maginificent balloon-sized puffed-up bhatura. In my early days the accompanying chana was just a sloppy, sludge-coloured distraction. I used to dip the bread but I’m ashamed to admit the chick peas often went back to the kitchen barely touched, however, not any more. Eateries like Sita Ram Dewan Chand in Paharganj offers ‘unlimited chana’ and can be termed as one of Delhi’s finest street food joints.

And here is what Pamela had written in that post on Sitaram Dewan Chand:

… I admit what first attracted me to this dish, in places like Evergreen in Green Park and Nathus in Bengali Market, were the magnificent balloon-sized puffed-up bhatura. In the early days the accompanying chana was just a sloppy, sludge-coloured distraction. I used to dip the bread but I’m ashamed to admit the chick peas often went back to the kitchen barely touched… I’m now more likely to eat at the kind of joint that offers ‘unlimited chana’. Like Sita Ram Dewan Chand in Paharganj, where Hemanshu and I headed last week in the latest leg of our mission to persuade Delhi’s finest street food joints to part with their secret family recipes.

Hirak now conscientiously writes his own conclusion to the article:

The journey went on to find those nooks and corner of our very own Dilli and now I am 40minutes up on the treadmill, already waiting for another such gastronomic journey soon.

Bravo! I must admit this blog has been languishing for I have been far too busy with other work. The image of Hirak, waiting impatiently for material for his next virtual “gastronomic journey”, is just what I needed to get back to writing. For that Hirak, and for being such a sincere flatterer, I thank you.

Sitaram Diwan Chand: Masterclass & Recipes

When conniving Mughal upstart Aurangzeb imprisoned his father, Emperor Shah Jehan, in Agra Fort in 1657, he told him he could choose just one thing to eat every day for the rest of his life. The old man chose chick peas because the prison cook told him he would be able to make something different every day of the year.

Until recently, I would have snorted in disbelief at this – chick peas? Synonymous with hairy hippies in bedsits and tubs of slimy supermarket hummous? Then came Chana Bhatura and I discovered I could actively crave something involving chick peas.

There are very few deep-fried foods I can resist and I admit what first attracted me to this dish, in places like Evergreen in Green Park and Nathus in Bengali Market, were the magnificent balloon-sized puffed-up bhatura. In the early days the accompanying chana was just a sloppy, sludge-coloured distraction. I used to dip the bread but I’m ashamed to admit the chick peas often went back to the kitchen barely touched.

Sitaram Diwan Chands Chana Bhatura
Sitaram Diwan Chand's Chana Bhatura

It’s hard to say how things changed, all I know is before long the bhatura was merely the vehicle for scooping ever more of the soft, creamy, spicy peas.

I’m now more likely to eat at the kind of joint that offers ‘unlimited chana’. Like Sita Ram Dewan Chand in Paharganj, where Hemanshu and I headed last week in the latest leg of our mission to persuade Delhi’s finest street food joints to part with their secret family recipes.

That Ones Mine
That One's Mine

From their small shop in Chuna Mandi near the Imperial Cinema, Sita Ram make what many Delhi-ites believe to be the perfect Chhole Bhature. Certainly many customers, including leading industrialists and movie stars, travel great distances for their daily fix.

When we arrived at about 9am, the two or three tables outside the tiny kerbside restaurant were already buzzing with customers on their way to work. We managed to put away a plate each in no time.

Every mouthful was memorable but particularly those where I managed to cram in paneer-laced bhatura, chick peas, onion and pickled carrot, all at the same time. I strongly urge everyone to do this sometime soon and take a moment to give thanks for what’s going on in your mouth. I bet those 8 years in Agra Fort just flew by.

We spoke to fellow diner, 72 year-old Gulshan Jaggi who has been coming to the shop since 1948, often several times a week, even though he no longer lives in the neighbourhood. He maintains the Chana Bhatura is as good now as it was then, “I have tasted Chana Bhatura all over Delhi,” he said. “But here the chana is unique, very delicious. They maintain the standards set down by their ancestors.”

The Great Men of Chana
The Great Men of Chana

After we’d polished off a third plate, Pran Kohli, the current owner, took us through the history. His grandfather, Diwan Chand, arrived in Delhi from what is now Pakistan at the time of Partition in 1947 with little more than his recipe for Chana Bhatura. For almost 30 years, he and his son Sita Ram pushed a handcart around Paharganj before moving into their present shop in Chuna Mandi.

Pran Kohli joined the business straight from school in 1984. and has done little to alter the winning formula handed down to him – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, I say. The secret, he says, is to treat even the most humble ingredients with respect. “This is a cheap roadside dish, but we use good quality ingredients so it’s better than others. We don’t want to compromise.” The result is food infused with love and care; a perfect combination of flavours and textures which, like all of the best street food in India, is a world-class feast.

The Recipes

Chana
Chana

Chana

Soak 1kg chick peas overnight. In the morning, boil the chick peas in fresh water for 30 minutes then add 25g bicarbonate of soda (according to Pran Kohli this speeds up the softening of the chick peas and aids digestion)

Brown 300g chopped onion in oil or ghee. Add 200g yogurt, 200g chopped tomatoes and 1tsp turmeric. Cook on a low heat for about one hour until the mixture is a deep reddish colour. When the chick peas are ready, drain off the cooking water and mix with the tomato and onion gravy. Add 20g salt, 20g black pepper, 30g dried pomegranate powder (anardana) and 15g garam masala – Sita Ram Diwan Chand’s mix, which they make themselves, contains black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, coriander, cumin and something called ‘sud’ which I haven’t found a translation of yet). Mix well and add 200g potatoes made as follows:

For 1 kg cooked potatoes, chop 200g onion and cook in oil with 200g chopped tomatoes and 1tsp turmeric to make a gravy then add 10g salt, 10g black pepper, 5g red chilli powder, 25g dried pomegranate powder and 20g garam masala. Cook the gravy until the masala is roasted.

Bhatura

Bhature
Bhature

Mix 1kg plain flour (maida) and 1tsp baking powder with approximately 400g water (enough to make a soft dough). Knead well for 7-10 minutes or until dough is soft and springy. Put in a bowl and leave, covered with damp tea towel for at least one and a half hours.

For the bhatura stuffing, finely chop 300g of paneer and add 10g salt, 5g cumin seeds, 5g garam masala, 5g black pepper, 10g chopped fresh coriander. Press a handful of stuffing into each small ball of dough before rolling out and frying.

Sita Ram Diwan Chand’s Chana Bhatura comes with slices of onion and pickled vegetables (carrot when we visited but varies according to the season) and both play an important part in creating a perfect combination of flavours.

Pickled Carrots

Pickled Carrots and Green Chillies
Pickled Carrots and Green Chillies

Wash and cut up 1kg of carrot into long chunks and steep for a few days in 2 litres of ‘sour water’ (water containing 25g black mustard seed, 10g salt, 5g turmeric). Wash the carrots, add 10g salt, 5g red chilli and mix well.

[This piece was originally published on Pamela's personal blog. Photographs by Hemanshu Kumar]

Kuremal’s Kulfis: Masterclass and Recipes

The best ices in Delhi? It’s a big claim, but these are kulfis with a pedigree.

The Kuremal family have been making kulfi in the old city since 1908 when Pandit Kuremal left his ancestral village in Haryana at the age of 8 to seek fame and fortune in the big city. He learned the kulfi business in an Old Delhi Halwai (sweet shop) and by the time he was 14 had his own pushcart selling just one flavour: plain rabri. Word spread and over the next 40 years Kuremal built the business to a multi-cart affair.

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Faqiri Muamalaat

EOiD trips are always an adventure, but the vegetarian excursions are a particular delight. Not because we’re all militant meat-haters. Quite the reverse in fact. However, despite the fact that most of us believe a meal without meat is no meal at all, our leader, Hemanshu, is committed to providing an equal opportunities dining experience.
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Karim’s

It’s been written about ad nauseum. Throw a stone, and you’re liable to hit a foodie in whom it inspires a religious zeal the Imam at the Jama Masjid next door would envy. If you hear my friend Nishant talk about it, you’d think he’d been to the Rapture – and got an autograph.

Like a tutu-clad elephant in the room, Karim’s has hitherto been respectfully ignored by this blog. But what better time to make amends than just after having held a record-breaking EOiD gathering there?

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Sancho’s

There seems to be a terrible paucity of good Mexican food joints in Delhi.

One of the options that has been around for a while is Rodeo’s. Frankly, I haven’t even tried their stuff yet, but that’s only because I keep hearing very mixed reviews about the place.

A week ago, I was in the mood for Mexican and called up Harneet for ideas. That’s when I got to know about Sancho’s in South Ex [update: the location has now shifted to Connaught Place]. My experience was good enough to suggest an EOiD outing, and so yesterday seven of  us landed up there for some dinner.
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In celebration of offbeat Delhi food