The taste of a vanishing Delhi.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The magic unfolds in three steps. First, the crisp flaky shell crumbles inside the mouth. Second, the mouth gets all buttery. Third, the filling lets loose its spiciness.
Such are the pleasures of a typical vegetable patty. To get the best in Delhi, you ought to head straight to the Wenger’s Cake Shop in Connaught Place, which is justly famed for its creamy desserts, as well as for its shami kebabs.
But now it is high time to sing praises of the Wenger’s patty.
The Connaught Place landmark is one of the few high-end bakeries in the capital to proudly showcase this baked snack. This is a rare gesture at a time when it no longer seems to be in vogue. For instance, the patisseries in the fashionable Khan Market don’t keep patties (though you may find quiches). The patties are also no longer spotted in the snack counters of cinema multiplexes; at one point the aloo patty was as much a part of the movie-watching experience as the aloo samosa. Instead, that space has been hijacked by burgers and nachos.
While we can spot samosas all across town, the patties are fast becoming our city’s endangered species. In Connaught Place, apart from the Wenger’s, you are most likely to see them only in the humble street trolleys, stacked beside mountains of ten rupees burgers. There are, of course, cheaply-priced transfat patties available in roadside tea shops throughout town, but they are made in industrial bakeries with no stuffing inside. So, they are not the real patty.
Food writer Pushpesh Pant, author of the voluminous India: The Cookbook, calls the patty an offspring of the Anglo-Indian period of Curry Puff. “It’s simply a puff pastry dough which is baked with a filling,” he says, adding that today the patties in Delhi are mostly seen only in members-only spaces such as clubs and officers’ messes. Indeed, the exclusive India International Centre serves four different kinds of patties. Mr Pant blames the downfall of the quality patty to its complicated preparation which does not equal “the return on its investment’ for most bakery owners.
Food writer and curator Anoothi Vishal admits that apart from the Wenger’s, she hardly see patties these days in the capital except for a few places in the Bengali Market.
Mr Pant talks of a food shack in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk that proudly sells something called Japani samosa, which, he says, is actually a mere vegetable patty.
But the Wenger’s patty is holy. It has virtually built a public shrine to the humble patty with four versions made daily in its kitchen—chicken, mutton, mushroom, and the aforementioned vegetable patty.
Food critic Marryam H Reshii, who insists that Delhi bakeries of a certain vintage (older than 15 years) always keep patties, prefers the “excellent” chicken patty served at the Defence Bakery in South Delhi’s Defence Colony Market. Incidentally, the paneer patty at the Maxim’s Cake Shop in Kailash Colony Market, too, is worth a try.
In December 2014, Hindustan Times compared the chicken patties at the Wenger’s and at the famous Sugar & Spice bakery in Khan Market. And the prize went to, you guessed it. “The patty at Wenger’s wins hands down—the crust is flaky and the filling moist and creamy, unlike at Sugar & Spice which was too dry,” declared the newspaper.
And this year chef Manish Mehrotra included Wenger’s mushroom patty as one of the “15 best eats in Delhi under Rs 500” on the GQ magazine’s website.
The elderly Charanjeet Singh, the manager at the Wenger’s, says that their patties are almost as popular as their shami kebabs and that the one with the chicken stuffing rules the roost.
Yet, I’ll ask you to try the one stuffed with potato. After all, it is this aloo patty that used to be widely available in Delhi at one time. Having a bite of it may give you a taste of the city in the old days. Wash it down with Wenger’s cold coffee.
Once upon a patty