Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dil Kush at Chitli Qabar, sampling the bakeries of Chandni Chowk

 (This article appeared in the Hindu titled 
 Dil Khush at Chitli Qabar - The Hindu Read the unedited version here...)

When one speaks of  bakeries it is places like Goa, Bangalore, Pondicherry… which come to mind. Delhi on the other hand has always been a Mughal bastion with insatiable appetite for Mughalai food followed by evergreen Punjabi cuisine. Bakeries in this Mughal area seem far fetched, till I finally made a trip to Chandni Chowk to sample the goodies. Technically not Chandni Chowk but a tiny area called Chitli Qabar within it. The place is accessible by a turn next to the Golcha cinema on Darya Ganj. A rickshaw is the best bet to get to Chitli Qabar chowk. The path opens out at the other end near Gate Number 1 of Jama Masjid. The market is called Matia Mahal market. Despite the tiny bylanes, jostling crowds there is a certain genteel pace to the place, burkha clad women chip in promptly with suggestions and tips including what to savour, seeking directions is met with an avuncular reply akin to giving directions in a village. There are no count to the bakeries and as one proceeds into the bylanes more bakeries pop up.

The most interesting part of the bakeries is that all of them open early in morning and close around midnight everyday - approximately 7 am in the morning and closing at around 11 pm. The baking operations begin around 5:30 am or 6 am. The market comes alive in the evening around 5 pm onwards. And by closing time, everything baked for the day is sold out. So every item is made fresh daily. During the Holy month of Ramzan, the bakeries are open literally 24 hour a day. There are plenty of bakeries, Diamond, Golden, Asgar, Champion…

One of the most famous of bakeries is Diamond Bakery which has been around for over 100 years, while Asgar Bakery 70 odd years. Rusk Paya is one of the most popular rusk made.. The making of rusk paya is a process in itself taking almost 24 hours on wood fired ovens. It is made of suji or rava and special ingredients. It is interesting to see the workers carefully line the plates of paya with wood briquettes. The paya is first baked, cut and then baked again. So perfect it can safely last a few months. What makes the paya special is that instead of yeast a special masala made of 51 or so ingredient is added. The masala is made everyday, it works like yeast. Baking in the bakeries is done on wood fired ovens, diesel and electric ovens.

The best month to visit is of course during Ramzan when everything that the shops make is on offer. During the other days a lot of these delicacies are not available. Almost all the shops offer rusks or Rusk paya, gol rusk, cake rusk, suji rusk, fruit rusk, Tabarak roti, Sheermaal, Nankathai… Md. Anis explains Tabarak roti and its link with the religious routine from Ajmer adding, it is distributed at the Dargahs just like halwa is distributed during religious fasts. What is made for distribution is a larger sized version of what is available everyday.  The daily Tabarak roti is round almost like the roti or chappatis, 4 inches in diameter. It is made from rava has a very slight sweet taste to it, not really overpowering. It is the addition of saunf or fennel seeds which gives it a unique crisp flavour. It is an ideal accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea, not too sweet but tasty and filling.  Sheermaal, bun like is made everyday. During Ramzan out comes the butter jam sheermaal, there is dry fruits sheermaal, cherry sheermaal, sheermaal parantha.

In biscuits, it is the nankhatai which takes prime place. Both the besan or gram flour and those with flour, suji are also made. An interesting variant is chocolate nankhatai. The nankhatai is topped with a nice crunchy layer of chocolate. No, and the chocolate does not melt even in the hottest season. A lot of these delights are available everyday at Golden Bakery and during Ramzan they simply add more delights. Apart from the usual jeera biscuits, the ajwain biscuits do well. There is macaroons, muffins, Md. Aqil of Golden Bakery says, “our speciality is Dil Kush and Coconut Parantha. Both have their origins in Bangalore and were introduced by us here recently. Every Ramzan we try to offer something new which people like.” So coconut jam paranthas, Dil Khush with dry fruits are delicious variants available only during this season. It is Dil Khush, which is one of the most interesting of products. Made from maida, sugar and ghee, it is stuffed with khoya and cheeries. The outer layer is nice and crisp and when one bites into it, there is a nice delicious khoya flowing into the mouth. It was possibly christened Dil Khush since it makes one feel happy. Coconut parantha is again a huge bun like baked delicacy shaped like a parantha filled with coconut. There is coconut butter biscuits which simply melt in the mouth. During Ramzan, there is milk bread, fruit bread, cakes, dry fruit bread, dry fruit cake, dry fruit parantha…

Aqil says, “we have about 30 – 35 items. All of which are made during the month of Ramzan. Dil Khush and Coconut Paranthas are our special items. No one makes them here. Otherwise the rest are regular fare which every bakery makes.”  Regular or not it is mouth watering and tempting to say the least.  

Do visit and enjoy yourself in the wonderful world of baked products.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Jewellery Galleries and Schools in Delhi

Most exhibitions are private affairs. Huge trade shows have not been successful despite great effort. In the private shows it is the designers like Poonam Soni, Aparna Gujral, Asha Kamal Modi, Art Karat who thrive. MMTC (Mines & Minerals Trading Corporation), a large Public Sector Enterprise organizes its consumer / retail exhibition, a real treat during Diwali (the Indian festival of Lights when the Goddess of Wealth – Lakshmi is worshipped, occurs in October - November depending on the Hindu calender). The best selling period is the Wedding and Diwali. The tradition of Diwali has Dhanteras when jewelry is bought. One of the stories surrounding Dhanteras is that it is on this day that the proverbial nectar was churned from the ocean and Dhanwantri (the physician of Gods) emerged carrying nectar. Hence this day is dedicated to worshipping Goddess Lakshmi. It is customary to buy new utensils or precious metals. Thus most shops are choc a block during this period.   Otherwise most jewelry manufacturers organize in-house exhibition for their clientele in the showrooms itself. Other places for exhibitions are usually five star hotels where it is possible to install high security gadgets for surveillance. Dedicated exhibition halls are yet to take off in a big way. The Export Promotion Parks in neighboring Noida has some well known Export Oriented Units. The Crafts Museum, Delhi also affords for craftsmen from across the country to come and sell their wares in Delhi. Most come and demonstrate their crafts as well. These include Thewa, craftsmen specializing in tribal jewelry in gold and silver from Jharkhand and Chattisgarh.

Formalised courses for studying jewelry design and making are just taking off. However, many of the various techniques like Kundan, mina, granulation or filigree are best learnt at the feet of a master craftsman or through the Handicraft training courses sponsored by the Government. Many of the hereditary craftsmen after picking up the craft from their father or grandfathers proceed to formal schools for more skills. The Gems & Jewellery Export Promotion Council at Jhandewalan runs two training institutes. Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery where designing is taught and Indian Gemology Institute where training is taught on gems. There are six private institutes in Delhi which teach courses in Jewelry designing and Gemology. The National Institute of Fashion Technology run by the Government teaches it in another part of the country. The curriculum revolves around designing and common jewelry making techniques of drawing sheets, wires, soldering……

Other Jewellery Centres near Delhi

Near Delhi, Jaipur is a jewelry makers and collector’s paradise. Some of the finest of craftsmen can be found there. It is also well known for its stone work – cutting, polishing, jade engraving and more. Other well known centres include: Meerut  is a well known centre. It has a concentration of more than 50,000 craftsmen. Amritsar (447 kms), Ambala (192 kms from Delhi) are other areas. Benares or Varanasi (780 kms from Delhi) the holy city is known for its silversmithing and silver jewelry.