Chalk another one up for Shashank.
Several months ago, when the delicate evening chill meant you could look forward to winter rather than mourn its passing, we’d done a wonderful Navratra trip to Bazaar Sitaram and its precincts.
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. Incandescent lamps light up a stack of fruits in a blaze of colour, and the warm aromas from the griddles draw you irresistibly in. 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. Of course, the regulars like to have theirs just so: “bina nimbu ke, bhaiya“, “masala thop ke uncle!”
You can get your kuliya made from cucumber, sweet potato (shakkarkandi), tomato, potato, apples, and if Shashank is to be believed, even pineapples in season. My favourite though, is the banana, which is slit lengthwise to allow space for the fillings, and provides the ideal contrapuntal sweetness to the sour masala. You could call it an authentic, All-Indian Banana Split!
Of course, Hira Lal’s is not the only place you can get your kuliya. As a matter of fact, just a few paces away on the other side of the street is another popular chaat shop, this one named Jugal Kishore Ramji Lal. This too has been around for four generations, and by Asmita’s account, they do a fine job of their kuliya. Her description revealed a slight difference in the recipe — they apparently fry their chick peas, while Hira Lal’s place likes to simply boil them. Sadly, they tend to shut shop a little earlier in the evening, so when I was in those parts last weekend, I didn’t get a chance to give them a try. But I will, next time!
Price: Rs. 30 for a small plate, but prices tend to vary depending on what fruit or vegetable the kuliya uses as a base.
Timings: Hira Lal’s shop shuts by 10pm at night, and tends to remain open all days of the week. Jugal Kishore Ramji Lal certainly shut shop by 9pm, perhaps much earlier.