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Street Foods of Delhi

Rahul Verma

Let people say what they want to about Kashmir, but I think if there's a heaven on earth, it's in Delhi. I am not talking about the weather-though Delhi’s cold winters warm my heart-and I am not refer-ring to the environ-though there's nothing quite as beautiful as the monuments that the city cradles. I am talking about street food. That, indeed, is heaven. The street food of the capital is in a class of its own. And there are good reasons for that, after all, the city has a rich tradition for street food. The Mughals brought with them, apart from well laden tables for royals, food for the commoner, or the laskhar. The Hindu trading community had their own little ways of snacking through the day. Over the years, different communities took root in the city-and everybody added to the cauldron that is Delhi. What is wonderful is not just that the tradition still rules, but that it keeps growing. Today, chowmein-served from a cart after being nicely fried in a small wok-is as much as a part of the Delhiwallah's food lexicon as chaat papri or kababs. There is a history to street food. The traders would set up shop in the morning, and would start getting peckish as the day progressed. Some would start the morning with a plate of kachoris served with a vegetable dish of potatoes, and a side dish of pumpkins. Others would hail a passing khomcheywallah-men who sold their ware in tall triangular reed baskets that they carried on their heads—and ask for some golgappas-wheat puffs with boiled potatoes and chickpeas, topped with a thimbleful of sweet and sour masala-infced water. On hot summer days, a man carrying a big felt-covered vessel of kulfi would be in great demand. He would cut wedges from the kulfi and hand it over to the client on a plate made out of sal leaves. Some would freeze the kulfi in empty cigarette tins. In winter, the kulfi man would be replaced by the one selling daulat ki chaat-a sublime sweet prepared from the foam of milk, garnished with powdered sugar. Legend has it that the sweet is best prepared on a moonlit night. Even now, you can still get your daulat ki chaat and your kulfi, though it no longer comes in felt-covered containers. The kababchis are still all there, as are the nihari ...

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