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We economists have a dirty secret. We’re quite clueless. No, really.
Take for instance, the case of amritsari kulche. The kulche are about as closely related to their Delhi counterparts as the average barrel-chested Sikh is to your wiry daalkhor UP baniya.
Born of a thick dough of maida layered several times over with ghee, stuffed (typically) with spicy mashed potatoes, grilled in a clay tandoor, and then generously smeared with butter, the amritsari kulcha lands on your plate as a piping hot, crispy, flaky flatbread that goes perfectly with sour tamarind-and-onion chutney and a gravy of mildly spiced chhole. It’s no wonder that a breakfast of kulche at the neighbourhood dhaba is about as much of a daily ritual in Amritsar as a visit to the Golden Temple – the latter probably made all the more necessary by the concomitant anxiety over your arteries.
Having located a solitary amritsari kulche shop in Rohini, an area of Delhi crawling with well-to-do Punjabis, an economist would glumly mutter words like “monopoly” and “high demand”, and predict outrageous prices, poor quality and bad service. Nudge him a bit more and he might brighten up with phrases like “supernormal profits” and “free entry”, and tell you that in short order you should expect the city flooded with amritsari kulche shops, with competitive prices, good quality, and flowing milk and honey.
Break Fast Point, a modest shop located in the Prashant Vihar market in Rohini, is a debt for which it’ll be hard to repay Tania.
Run by Mukesh, the shop is devoted purely to catering to the neighbourhood’s burgeoning demand for amritsari kulche. Despite a constant stream of phoned-in orders, Mukesh does a good job of giving his walk-in customers personal attention, and after a short wait for a table, service is prompt. The kulche themselves are reasonably priced and delicious, very much on par with the ones we fell in love with on a recent EOiD trip to Amritsar. The six of us who landed in Rohini on a Sunday morning about a fortnight ago comfortably ploughed through two kulche each, along with glasses of lassi and cold drinks. A good kulcha is golden crisp on the outside without being too dry, and rests lightly in your stomach. I reckon the secret to both is the generous application of ghee (rather than oil) to separate the layers of the dough. Of course, getting the mix of spices in the filling right must also be crucial, but I doubt Mukesh would tell us the exact recipe for that!
Mukesh is originally from Amritsar, and set up a kulche shop in Chander Nagar in east Delhi more than a decade ago. Over time his business has deservedly expanded, and now includes three shops in different parts of town.
Yet, in a city brimming with Punjabis, I find it hard to believe how difficult it is to find a place that sells the Amritsar staple. Is it that Delhi’s Punjabis immigrated largely from west Punjab (now in Pakistan), while the penchant for a kulcha breakfast was localized to east Punjab? Is it that the dish is a recent innovation that is now migrating to Delhi?
I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure glad Break Fast Point cocks a snook at the dismal scientist in me!
Location: A-76, Shop No. 5, Prashant Vihar, Lancer Convent School Road, Delhi 85. Ph. 9810080082. The nearest Metro station is Rohini East. Map.
The other two branches are at: BK-1/4, Shop No. 2, Kaila Godam Road, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi 88 (Ph. 9212045475); and Shop No. 5, 30, Satnam Park, Main Road Chander Nagar, Delhi 51 (Ph. 22023203).
Prices: Rs. 45 for a plate of two kulche with the accompanying chhole and chutney.