Friday, December 28, 2012

On the Samosa Trail in Delhi




The original article in Hindu Samosa trail in Delhi

Read the full un-edited article here
On the trail of samosas in Delhi

Samosa, the wonderfully oily guilt laden anytime snack filled with potatoes, is actually a random eat, reached out to when the body needs some instant refueling. It is eaten without a second thought. So what can be different about these wonderful triangular contraptions which Muslim invaders / traders brought with them from Central Asian, to go on its trail? A lot my friends, the samosas served in Delhi to a large extent reflects the culinary antecedent of the maker and dishes out the unique flavor of the area. This list is by no means complete but simply whets up the appetite.

The ideal place to start seems with the bite sized samosas which was the inspiration for this piece. In off beat Shanti Mohall, near Gandhi Nagar market which is a haven for export fabrics, I was offered these very tasty light small samosas. Further investigation revealed it was made by Vinod Kumar, who hails from Farrukkhabad and his samosas are called Farrukkhabadi samose.   The filling is mashed potatoes, really smashed to which salt and red chilly powder is added. Vinod Kumar says, “I keep the masalas light and not too heavy.” It takes off from the UP cuisine where the food is seasoned very slightly and is not heavy.  

From the bite sized, it seems natural to foray into the giant sized ones. Yes, weighing between 300 gms to 350 gms each are these giant samosas from the classy Embassy Restaurant in the genteel environs of Lutyens Connaught Place, Inner Circle. Sunil Malhotra, Partner, Embassy Restaurant says, “we have been serving these samosas for over 60 years now. Since we were open throughout the day, there was a necessity to offer snacks. So serving normal samosas was not an option, which is why this large size was experimented with and was an instant hit.” The takeaway outside serves the traditional one filled with cubed potatoes, paneer pieces and matar (peas), with loads of green chillies. It is hot on the palate but the flavours are a distinct take off Punjabi cuisine from across the border. Inside, the restaurant also serves two variants - one filled with Pindi chole and the other mutton.  

From the heartland of Punjab to the Bengali bastion of Chittaranjan Park, here one gets the Singharas as samosas are called. Filled with cubed potatoes fried with groundnuts, boiled chick peas and coconut bits add to the flavor. Dadu’s Cutlet in C R Park, market 2 is one such which sells wonderful singharas only in the evening. Offering Allahabadi samosas is Bengali Sweet House at Bengali Market, Connaught Place. As Girish Aggarwal, Managing Partner, says, “these are filled with well fried dal, which gives it a long shelf life and is ideal for travel.” How small? A kg of the samosas has around 100 pieces.

No account is complete without visiting the gastronomical belly of Delhi - Chandni Chowk. In Chandni Chowk the thumb rule for samosa is to use nearly all vegetables as per the season with alu being perennial. There is a samosa trail here itself. The first place that of Tewari Bros opposite Allahabad Bank. Ravi Tewari, owner is very knowledgeable on sweets pan India and makes a range of samosas. Siya Ram the samosa karighar / specialist says, “We make Mewa samosa with dal, kaju, kishmish which is fried and grounded into fine powder for the filling which are both sweet and spicy. The hare matar ke samose -  green peas, kaju and kishmish in the filling. There is gobhi, gajar and green peas with special handmade masala and more.” A personal quirk which Siya Ram has introduced is a jala like design on the samosa. This results in the samosa having a double layer. The samosas are not heavily spiced a take off from Kanpur where Tewari hails from.

Then there is the theekha (spicy) gobhi samosa at Kanwarji Bhagirath Mal Dal Beeji wale. With over 150 years of tradition, the samosa is still prepared the heritage way with the special masala made in house. As Roop Narain Gupta the fifth generation of the family says, “these samosas can last four days easily.” The masala is finely grounded and the gobhi is literally dunked into it, retaining its flavor together with the masala. The taste firmly grounded Dilli ka.

No account of samosa is complete without referring to the Japani Samosa of Manohar literally a work of art. The shop dates to 1949 and traces its origins to 1924 in Lahore. Umesh Kumar Ratra  the third generation running the place today does not have a clue as to why it is called Japani, probably due to the paper fan like shape of the samosa. Umesh adds, “it has a total of 60 layers. The samosa when it is made is more like a lump. On being fried it opens its petals like a flower giving it its unique shape.” As one eats through the incredibly crisp layers, the filling of alu, matar with very little spice hits the mouth light and heart warming. This is served with piping hot delicious Pindi Chane and an interesting pickle of lauki (bottle gourd) and mango. And if all that sets the tongue on fire, what else stroll back to Tewari Sweets for their sweet samosas. The small samosas are filled with khoya and dry fruits, deep fried and then dipped in chashni or sweet syrup. It is decorated with slivers of almonds and pistachios. The taste delicately sweetened.  End of trail - pure bliss!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bullock Carts in Delhi


Unbelievable! Yes, bullock carts ply in Delhi with as much ease as you and I walk in it. Difficult to comprehend well, I too did. My hunt for it started as I had to write on India’s mighty bullock power. There were realms of data in all publications, but when I wanted to get images see it in action, it was Nada - nothing.

The general refrain, farmers prefer tractors and no one really wants to maintain bullocks. Bullocks were definitely seen as going backwards. The official agencies were talking of hi-tech farms run on modern technology and my insisting on information on bullocks was retrograde. When I quoted figures which said that average land holding of farms was small and fragmented, most farmers still used bullock power and as number prove it was high….at last the doors opened.

The first find, is of bullock carts driven for carting goods in my own backyard….yes cosmopolitan, capital of the country, Delhi still uses it to ferry goods, almost surreptitiously, in the wholesale market areas. The bullock carts are drawn by just one bullock given the space constraints on the roads. The markets of Chandni Chowk, the old market place which houses whole sellers of almost all items – from grains, clothes, tyres, chemicals, spices…..the bullock pulled carts run from the Sadar Bazaar (another whole sale market) to Naya Bazar Anaj Mandi (grain market - from where the goods are transported on rickshaws or physically carried). These though are drawn by a single bullock. It is interesting how the animal neatly navigates itself without any problem in a road with plying Cars, Mercs, Autos, Bikes, rickshaws, Horse carriages…

My attempts to photograph were shunned with a request, you will get us in trouble with the authorities. But the fact is that Bullock Carts are used regularly to run the business and cart goods in the entire Old Delhi area and beyond. One can see it towards Rohtak, Nangloi, East Delhi, Kondli….

Location – Sadar Bazaar, Chandni Chowk, Kondli….
How to get there – Take the Metro or an auto from Connaught Place.
Timings – It can be seen on the roads on nearly all days.
Highlight – It is fun the way the drivers race the empty bullock carts to fill it up for the next ferry.  
Insider Tip – If you are looking to transport goods, then this bit may come handy. Go haggle and understand the system of transportation and the price. For tourist value, like I went, just go, enjoy the site. Once upon a time, travelling in a bullock cart driven by a pair of bullocks was a status symbol. Remiscent of the past. It can have tourist potential, but who cares these days. Take a dekko and store it in your memory for prosperity!!! 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Repair anything that you want The Cooker Man - An unbelievable Repair centre in the middle of Delhi


Have you ever tried to get old products repaired, fretted and fumed on how it was that there was a reliable repair shop once upon a time and that now nothing seems to be right? This shop was discovered by me thanks to my irritated father, who knew about it, in the middle of Lajpat Nagar and kept forcing me to go there to repair my mother’s 50 year old Prestige pressure cooker. The high dome, a hep model at that time has been discontinued by the company and its broken handle was my father’s bane. Try as we might, it was not to be available anywhere. I was content using it with a broken handle. After an irritated session of ticking off and how youngster’s today cannot complete their work, we carted the pressur cooker to Lajpat Nagar. I cribbing sure it was a wild goose chase.

And I must confess, I was quite taken aback by the shop, its size and the depth of the products there. A small 6 by 4 ft shop old, dirty that one might not give it a second look. I must have passed it innumerable times during shopping binges in Lajpat Nagar but for the first time I was stunned by women who had carted their cookers / mixie / toaster….what have you….any model…any brand and voila the old man had a solution. One look at our cooker, he smiled saying yes it has been discontinued….rummaged here there, and came up with not one but a few handles with the rod, screws all together. He wrote the house number on the cooker, asked us to return after an hour or so. And believe it or not! Yes it did seem like Ripleys!!! The cooker stood there with two handles in utterly good shape. My father grinned saying, “what did I tell you, there is nothing that is not available in Delhi”!!!  I still cannot get over the shock of how he was able to find something in that tiny place which accommodated him, his son and two helpers.

Though the old man at the repair centre is short tempered and irritable, he has magical hands. Now, though I have realized he does have a sense of humour too…my subsequent visits with the travails of a pressure pan proved it. He accused me of letting the food get burnt, I told him it was an insult to my cooking. He countered saying, the pressure pan should be used as a cooker and not for frying or regular cooking! I said, “they tell you to do that in the advertisement, He grinned saying, “that is why they come with exchange offers for cooker every six months, follow it and sell it off” !!! I started laughing as two other ladies who had come with the same problematic cookers!!! Get your old electronic products / cookers (including firang ones) repaired and Enjoy a good dose of commonsensical lessons.

Location – In Lajpat Nagar Central Market – it is called Deepak Repair Centre, - it is in a galli popularly called Cooker wali gali.- Shop No. 9, (Pushpa Market), Central Market, Lajpat Nagar, # 29832614.
How to get there – Lajpat Central Market is at a rough distance of about 8 kms from Connaught Place. It is accessible by the Metro, Bus, Cars, auto and cycle rickshaws. Parking is a huge problem though!
Timings – The market is closed on Mondays.
Highlight – He also repairs mixies, electronic gadgets, can tell you where to source parts not available….he is a reservoir of knowledge provided.
Insider Tip – The Old man is extremely short tempered, irritable but a genius when it comes to procuring old parts and getting the product going. It is amazing how comfortable he is when repairing both Indian and International Brands (firang ones!). Yes, many women from Delhi’s upper crust colonies – Def Col, GK I or II, Vasant Vihar….think not twice before bringing their imported cookers to him together with Indian ones. Believe me, even the shapless ones can find a solution here. Speak politely, treat him not as a repair guy but a craftsman who is proud of his skill and you will be rewarded! The sense of relief when one gets in getting an old obsolete product working is REMARKABLE!!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Heritage Walks


The history of Delhi is fascinating and what adds to it is that several of the places, monuments have retained their historical identity and they are still relevant today. A brief peek into the interesting facets of Delhi is packed into the Heritage Walks conducted by many experts from time to time. There are several standard ones, several historians of Delhi do conduct such walks in collaboration with well known clubs or gratis. One of the easiest way to catch a glimpse of Delhi is through the two shows held at the majestic Red Fort and Purana Qila or Old Fort.

The Sound and Light show at Red Fort – Tuesdays to Sundays – Hindi Version – 7:30 – 8:30 pm and English Version – 9 to 10 pm.

Ishq hi Dilli at Purana Qila  – Monday to Sunday Hindi Version – 7:30 – 8:30 pm and English Version – 9 to 10 pm.

Other walks organized include – INTACH conducts heritage walks around Delhi. Details can be accessed from their site – www.intach.org . Delhi Heritage Walks conducted by Kanika Singh includes the Tughlakabad area, Chandni Chowk, Mehrauli…… There are some other walks like sampling of food of Chandni Chowk, the flower markets in Delhi, villages around Delhi….which are run from time to time. Most charge fees, there are a few which are new and more interesting. I will review some of these as we go along. May be in the future, I may start a few myself but not heritage, more contemporary of the present if you must!!!!