City Food – Nankhatai, Around Town
A buttery treat.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Nankhatai is like Indian English – a foreign import slapped, beaten, fermented and baked by Indians till it gets desified. Invented in Surat, the port city of Gujarat, and tracing its origins to 16th century Dutch colonisers, nankhatai is an egg-less Indian cookie, greased with desi ghee. It was first made by the entrepreneurial Parsis in Surat bakeries, which were set up by the Dutch who left India in 1825.
Though the Dutch could never make it to Delhi, their legacy has been left behind in these crumbly cookies sold in the city streets. The bakery is the cart itself. The bhayya prepares the dough by mixing in suji, maida, besan flour with khoya, sugar, desi ghee, cardamom powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. He then shapes the dough into dozens of circles, which are arranged on a large platter and placed on a coal-fired salver. The platter is covered with a karahi and the little moons are left to steam.
Now wait for five minutes.
The expert way Bhayya kneads, bakes and serves the cookies suggests that nankhatai-making was in his blood. Most probably his father and grandfather had lived and died as bonded labourers in the poverty stricken farm fields of Indian countryside. Bhayya had come to Delhi in search for a better life and instead of pulling a rickshaw or becoming a coolie, the accident of fate conspired to make him a roadside baker.
OK, five minutes are over.
Eaten while still hot, a nankhatai is soft, buttery, a little powdery and, because this is a Delhi street, very sweet.
Where Look around in pavements; especially common in Old Delhi alleys Price Rs two for one
Give me one
Bhayya’s expert hands
The bakery is open
Ashes to ashes, nankhatai to nankhatai
Hot and buttery
Baker by choice?
Bhayya, is it hot?
Accident of fate