Nobody went hungry in Shahjahanabad: Food and flavours from the walled city


Life in the cobbled streets of Old Delhi was a parade of culinary delights, from mathi halwa to meltingly tender meat

Memory is a wierd factor; it thrills you and it traps you inside its confines. As the world languishes in the grip of the pandemic, I usually flip to reminiscences of flavours and meals from a childhood in the walled city of Shahjahanabad, now known as. Old Delhi, to consolation and nourish me.

While the imposing partitions and minarets of the Jama Masjid are memorable, what actually endures is the recollection of the meals that was bought in small halwai retailers and avenue carts, and the kindness of the folks there.

Life in the walled city was a deal with for all ages, and our meals habits intermixed to create what we frequently discuss with as the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb — a cultural melting pot that’s now in decline. Every day was a feast, and empathy and sharing had been simply as plentiful as the meals. We all gave as a result of we had been taught to share if we might — as a result of nobody ought to go hungry.

Mathi halwa, a mix of candy and savoury that got here from a small store tucked in an excellent smaller lane, was a staple breakfast merchandise. Unusual? Perhaps for the straitjacketed palette, however not in Shahjahanabad, the place flavours mingled with ease.

We hardly ever ever ate lunch with out matri kulcha, a spicy mixture of boiled peas with onions and potato. It was particularly enjoyable to have throughout the summers, when most individuals prevented scorching meals. Even at present, you’ll see it being bought out of little tin packing containers on the backs of bicycles round the city — spicy, tasty, reasonably priced fare feeding the hungry.

Gourmet chaat

Then, there was the evergreen Dilli ki chaat for any time of day. There was a chaat to swimsuit each type of style, and completely different retailers boasted of specialities equivalent to pani puri, papri chat and matri chola. A extra obscure delicacy was palak ke patte ki chaat, made from spinach leaves — now served in gourmand eating places as fusion delicacies.

Evening additionally introduced the well-known satpura samosas, which had been twisted seven instances (therefore satpura as the halwai defined) round the border, in addition to aloo tikki, which was filled with potato but additionally with finely chopped nuts fried crisply to tempt you and provide you with prompt ldl cholesterol. The sauce might be eaten by itself — it was that breathtaking. Was it clear on the dusty, slim lanes? We weren’t actually bothered. Everything scrumptious on these streets was clear sufficient for us.

Giani ice cream could also be a well-known model at present, however in these days it was only a small store the place we went each different day to get our fill of kulfi. And in our Punjabi houses, most celebrations had been all the time accompanied by kebabs from Karim’s — additionally a family identify now, however again then, merely the go-to place for good meat and kebabs. We had been voracious mutton-eaters, in contrast to at present’s chicken-obsessed technology. The mutton can be cooked for hours over an angeethi (brazier), with the masala soaking into the meat simply so, making it tender past evaluate.

Fading echoes

The city and its affluence migrated south and we went with it, and the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb started to dwindle. An occasional lunch or dinner exterior may remind us of that style, but the air-conditioned malls might by no means fairly reproduce the smells and tastes of the city of our childhood.

During this pandemic, which forces us to show inwards, I usually prepare dinner these dishes and avenue meals from reminiscence, in order to refresh that reminiscence for myself and for my youngsters who suppose every part could be ordered.

I’m marginally profitable however it heals me and delights them. Together we rediscover the tastes I as soon as knew effectively. I communicate to them of meals and starvation. I remind them of gratitude as hundreds of thousands go hungry. Taste is a privilege.

As a feminist, I by no means thought I might say it, however cooking and feeding is sort of a meditation now. Once extra, all I want is to stroll down the tiny bylanes of Shahjahanabad and eat the meals there.

My youngsters — a set of three ultra-modernists — don’t have any reference to this life. The meals I serve them is a watered-down model of what we as soon as ate. I remind them that the streets of Shahjahanabad as soon as resembled the cobbled streets of Rome, that it’s the seat of unnumbered saints and that, as the saying goes, nobody goes hungry there. They have a look at me in gratitude however largely disbelief. To them, I’m now a spinner of tales. Memory, certainly, is a harmful factor.

The Delhi-based feminist from the 1960s is a meals fanatic and historian.

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