A gift from Bihar.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Eclipsed by Mughlai and Punjabi cuisines, Delhi’s parallel world of Bihari food is invisible to all, except the millions of migrants from Bihar. Tracing it is like mapping a secret city: litti chokha in Mayur Vihar, aloo bhujiya outside New Delhi railway station, sattu paratha at Mamu ka Dhaba in Jawaharlal Nehru University, and a mithai called lai, which is sold at the Bihar stall during the annual trade fair in Pragiti Maidan.
From April to August, a man sells sattu ka ghol–a drink unique to Bihar and its surrounding regions–in Turkman Gate, one of the four surviving gateways of the Mughal-era Walled City. The incursion of this muddy brown chiller in the land of rose drink has gone unnoticed.
Roasted gram powder, sattu is Bihar’s staple; it is stuffed in parathas, downed with milk, and eaten with rice. When mixed with water, it is called sattu ka ghol. Most Biharis prefer the sour version, in which the drink is flavoured with lemon juice, salt, roasted cumin and–if you are feeling overtly indulgent–crushed mint leaves. The Delhi pavements are ruled by the sweeter edition: sattu + water + sugar.
The sattu drink usually lies covered in a bucket, along with blocks of ice; extra chunks are kept on the lid to ensure that the ghol remains cold. Our man at Turkman Gate sits on the pavement, and spends the day sweating under the burning sun. His refuge is a tattered tarpaulin sheet or an umbrella that sways in the oven-hot breeze.
Most customers are auto-rickshaw drivers, rickshaw pullers and daily-wage laborers. Many of them are migrants from Bihar. The man ladles out the drink in a glass; the larger portion is priced at 5 rupees and the small is at 3 rupees. The heat-stricken workhorse takes the first sip, and the summer surrenders. The senses are cheered up by a pleasantly cold sensation and the lethargic body is filled with energy. The hard-working man–his mouth freshly sweetened–re-begins the day with a new vigour.