City Food – Rajma-Kadhi-Chhole Chawal, Around Town
The office meal.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One of the joys of becoming an adult and having a day job is that your mother no longer controls your lunch menu. The food that she would make on special request can be had daily outside of home.
In the world of Delhi’s office food, the trinity of rajma chawal, chhole chawal and kadhi chawal occupies a pedestal as high as Bhrama, Vishnu and Maheshwar.
At home, these dishes, served with steamed rice, cannot be cooked as easily as, say, yellow dal. Preparing them for a meal demands hard work. For rajma or chhole, mother must soak the beans in water overnight, chop great quantities of onions, tomatoes and coriander leaves, and grind the ginger-garlic paste. For a richer flavour, she must use freshly ground whole spices such as fennel, ajwain, cumin and coriander seeds.
In the city’s office areas, such as Nehru Place and Connaught Place, there are roadside shacks dedicated exclusively to these three dishes. At lunchtime you can go there on impulse and hungrily spoon up these childhood favroites without a thought as to how much labour went into their making.
The nameless food stall at Connaught Place, adjacent to Shankar Market, sees long queues during lunch hour. Accompanied with boondi raita, pickles, onions and papad — rajma, chhole or kadhi are splashed over a mound of rice and the customer cleans off the plate while standing on the pavement.
A tie-wearing man may be an executive in his organisation but his afternoon priorities are clear. Not caring for the absence of fine-dining trappings, he cares for his rajma alone.
In South Extension-I, there is a roadside kadhi chawal stall so popular that the food is finished within an hour of its opening. Its main clientele comprise shop assistants, on-the-move marketing agents, security guards, commuters waiting for their bus and students from the area’s coaching institutes.
One often wonders why the holy tie between these dishes and chawal cannot be broken — rajma-roti anyone?
Served with rice