City Food – Daulat ki Chaat, Walled City
The snow of Delhi.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
An abstraction, Daulat ki Chaat is more an idea than a dessert. A white froth, pop a spoonful of it into the mouth and it disappears. The lingering sweetness is as fleeting as an early-morning dream.
Made of buffalo’s milk, Daulat ki Chaat, a street specialty in Old Delhi, doesn’t belong to the establishment. You are not likely to see it in mithai shops or in table-and-chair eateries. Sold exclusively on wooden carts or on three-legged mobile stands called tarona, its sellers are mostly migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
In Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s signature street, The Delhi Walla met Hukum Singh, a Daulat ki Chaat vendor who hails from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Mr Singh, 16, lives with his brother in Jamuna Bazaar, north Delhi. Every morning he wakes up at half past two and whisks cream with milk. Nothing is added into the mixture, not even sugar. The froth builds up three hours later. At daybreak, Mr Singh leaves his house and boards the metro for Chandni Chowk. From 9 am to 9 pm, with a tarona under his arm and a brass pan on his head, he makes several rounds between the bazaar’s two ends–Red Fort and Fatehpuri Mosque. The pan holds five kilograms of the dessert, the snow-white surface of which is coloured with golden-yellow saffron, green pistachio nuts and decorated with (edible) silver foil. Sold for 10 rupees a plate, the froth, just before being served to the customer, is dusted with bhoora (unrefined sugar) and roasted khoya (condensed milk). (Tell the vendor in advance if you don’t want sugar.)
Eaten with a wooden spoon, the first sensation is as if you have licked butter. That impression instantly dissolves. A moment later the senses sing with delicate flavours of pistachio, saffron and khoya. If you don’t take another spoon quickly, the taste vanishes.
Much romance is attached to the making of this fluff. One legend is that the milk is whisked under a full moon sky and the morning dew sets the resulting froth.
Since this cloud of cream melts in high temperature, Daulat ki Chaat vendors are sighted only in winter, from Diwali festival in November to Holi in March. Hawked in the congested alleys of Chandni Chowk, Kinari Bazaar and Chawri Bazaar–amid dust, fumes and flies–the dessert, covered with muslin, proves that beauty could survive in unlikeliest of places.