City Food – Browning the Onions, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The younger cook is standing by the fire. The elder cook is peeling the onions. The Delhi Walla meets them one evening in central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. The cooks belong to a bawarchi family in Old Delhi.
They are preparing browned onions for a wedding banquet the day after. There are two cauldrons on the fire. Both of them are bubbling with oil, says the younger cook. A goat is tethered to a tree. She will be cooked tomorrow, the elder cook says. Surrounded by hundreds of onions in pans and canisters, he is looking like the king of onions.
The younger cook picks up a pan filled with peeled onions and tosses its entire content into one of the cauldrons. There is much hissing sound. The younger cook briefly stirs the onions with a ladle. He then picks up another pan of peeled onions and empty it into the other cauldron on the fire.
By now, it is dark. The flames are leaping wildly around the two cauldrons. The younger cook is fatalistically watching the flames as if he is a mourner standing beside a pyre in a ghat in Benares. “It’s done,” he solemnly declares.
The elder cook gets up and together they lift one of the cauldrons and empty it on a cot covered with old issues of The Times of India. The younger cook spreads out the browned onions evenly on the cot with his ladle. The work has still not ended. There are more onions to be peeled and many more to be browned. The flames show no exhaustion.
An evening with onions