A Chawri exclusive.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The Jain Coffee House looks terribly modest. Yet it is an essential Old Delhi destination. Situated beside a granary in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazar, it has been serving fruit sandwiches since 1948.

The sandwiches, with mango, apple, chiku, pineapple, and grape stuffed between slices of white bread, are delicacies you will probably not find anywhere else in the Capital.

The basic ingredients of each fruit sandwich, besides the fruit, are white cream, home-made cottage cheese and sugary kesar chutney. Some of the specialities are seasonal, but the rule doesn’t apply to all seasonal produce. The mango sandwich, for instance, is available year round. They also serve toasted sandwiches with a simple filling of tomatoes and cucumber.

The area where the Jain Coffee House is located has a colourful history. A red-light district during the Mughal era, Chawri Bazaar was famous for its legendary dancing girls. Today, it is the city’s wholesale market for water faucets and wedding cards.

Serious-minded city explorers, however, visit the area to photograph crumbling old balconies and try delicious street-side, vegetarian-only snacks such as the frothy daulat ki chaat dessert, gol-gappas and bedmi puri.

If you don’t have a taste for the fruit sandwiches, you might like the savoury namkeen sandwich which is layered with cottage cheese, tomato slices, pomegranate seeds, and flavoured with coriander leaves and light spices.

The dimly lit coffee house is owned by a family of grain merchants from north Delhi’s Kanhaiya Nagar. Mangal Singh Jain sits in the adjacent grain store (the old-fashioned safe box kept beside sacks of grain is striking) while his younger brothers, Pawan and Anil, run the sandwich outlet. There are four assistants, some of whom spend the entire day just placing sliced tomatoes on slices of white bread. The late founder, Lala Shambhu Dayal Jain, the father of the three brothers, had migrated to the city from Shikarpur in western Uttar Pradesh.

The coffee house is decorated with posters of gods — Lakshmi and Shiva. Lord Mahavir, the 24th and last tirthankara of Jainism, looks down on the slab where the fruits are cut. It is difficulty to keep the hand away from a platter filled with snow-white cottage cheese. The blackened electric toaster has been used so much over the years that it looks like an antique piece. There is also a heavy coffee-making machine, the kind one would have found at a wedding reception a decade ago.

The coffee house also serves fruit shakes. But you should wash down the sandwiches with ginger-flavoured chai, one of the best Indian-style teas available in the Capital.

Sadly, unlike its dressier counterparts in other parts of the city, the Jain Coffee House doesn’t have patience for people who like to sit for hours over a single cup of coffee. A Hindi-language notice on the wall warns the customer not to “waste ours as well as your time by idling in the shop”.

Where Jain Coffee House, shop 4013, Raghu Ganj, Chawri Bazar Time 10am – 8 pm Cost The sandwiches are priced at around 60 rupees Nearest Metro Station Chawri Bazar

A fruit taste

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