This article appeared in The Hindu
An ode to masalas: Sita Ram Diwan Chand - The Hindu
Read the unedited version here....
I am a self confessed Chole Bhatura freak. I have traversed distances across Delhi to savour the delights / pack them in. I have retraced these epic journeys to devour them time and again. But if there is one batch of Chole Bhatura which wins hands down as prima donna in Delhi, it is that at Sita Ram Diwan Chand at Paharganj. It is very easy to reach the place from the Metro station side, from where one avoids the Railway Station crowd. The streets are wide and it is quite comfortable to travel that far for well, a plate of the best Chole Bhature in Delhi. The cholas are small and melt in your mouth variety. It is mildly spiced. One can taste the myriad spices which explode in one’s mouth. In most establishment the only taste one can feel is “hot” with the overpowering dose of green chillies and ginger combination that camouflages all other flavours. The Chole is more “at home” kind of variety. Yet despite waxing eloquent about this humble typical Punjabi fare
Puneet Kohli, the young third generation person manning it today with his father Pran Nath Kohli says matter of factly, “they are the typical Punjabi Chole Bhature that is made. We do not know what is special about it. People seem to love it and keep coming back for more.” I prod him further, saying there must be a secret to it as thy have managed to survive nearly 50 years, on this one staple. He grins adding, “you ask those who eat it what is so special. They should be able to tell you. We feel it is typical fare but it sells in generous quantities. We have regular patrons who come to us and we have a special rapport with our clientele.”
The rapport is sure, for the establishment sustains itself on this one staple – yes the Chole Bhatura. The Bhaturas are light fluffy paneer bhaturas. It has people queueing for its delight from the opening at 8 am in the morning to its closing at 6 pm in the evening. Puneet Kohli says, “one thing we do not compromise on is the quality. The taste and method of making is still the same as started by my grandfather. The recipe for the masala is the same as is the method for soaking, boiling chick peas or the flour for the bhatura.”
It is difficult to maintain quality especially seeing the humble background the operation began. Puneet reveals his grandfather used to sell Chole Bhature outside DAV School, Paharganj in a push cart. The family came to India from Lahore after partition. His grandfather was called Sita Ram. Online research reveals it was his great grandfather who probably initiated this trade in 1948 selling chole bhature in a cart. Hence the name, Sita Ram Diwan Chand. Sita Ram continued this and in the 80s set up shop opposite Imperial Cinema. The taste was good, and people sought him out. By the 1990, he had managed to buy a small shop near Chanakya Hotel to sell. This became the legendary landmark. In 2008, the current swankier place opened. The décor and uniformed servers can give a Pizza joint a run for its money. The décor is youthful, with posters of the history, the operation is computerized, the red coloured brand logo is everywhere. The outfit delivers through Swiggy and accepts online bookings. The packing is done is trays for individual takeways. Packing is done expertly using a combination of foil and nice plastic boxes. A meethi lassi and kulfi has been included. Puneet laughs, “initially in 1970, it was sold for 5 paisa a plate. Today, we sell it for Rs. 65/- a plate.” The taste as regulars say is still the same.
So what is it that people keep coming back for more? The Bhatura is made with paneer, but the paneer is so light that one can taste it but cannot feel it. The bhaturas are incredibly light and are not heavy. After much prodding on the recipe, Puneet gives out these tiny bits of information, “we soak the chana – Kabuli variety for over 24 hours.” I have also heard that the chole is not soaked but cooked slowly overnight. Puneet scoffs saying, “how can you make chole without soaking it first.” I am still unconvinced since the size of chole is small. Usually when chole is soaked overnight it increased in volume and becomes lightly bigger. The chole is not pressure cooked but instead cooked in drums. No further trick works with Puneet who refused to budge in giving more information. The Chole is cooked with the garam masala which gives it the unique flavour. The garam masala is a special mix made using 14 ingredients. Puneet says, “it is combination of garam masala which gives it the unique taste. It is the play of the spices. We grind our own spices, buy the whole or sabut locally. It is ground in the factories. In the kitchen, the ratio of spice to the chole is added” What stands out is that like home cooked food. It is very palatable and one can easily go in for a second or third helping without feeling greasy and heavy. The food is made in a nearby factory and served at the outlet.
The chole bhature is served with picked carrots, pickled green chillies, with diced onions. Their version of aloo subzi is another killer. The gastronomical expedition is well worth the effort.
They have also come up with ready to eat Chole with a shelf life of 1 year. There is the chole masala and aloo subzi masala with instructions to make it. Chick peas or chole is sold raw as also Bhatura flour
The 14 ingredients of the special garam masala includes – salt, pomegranate seeds, black pepper, red chilli, coriander, cumin, long pepper, big cardamom, cloves, mace, nutmeg…