City Food – Chacha’s Sheermal Rotis, Around Town
The magic roti.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This sweet milky roti is usually found only in certain neighbourhoods—Okhla in south Delhi or at the Matia Mahal Bazaar in Old Delhi, for instance.
Sheermal is said to have been first made in Lucknow, UP. The invention is credited to an experimental bazaar cook who prepared the dough by substituting water with egg and saffron-infused milk—according to Charmaine O’Brien’s book The Penguin Food Guide to India.
Rarely baked in homes, the sheermals lie stacked on dhaba counters. The rotis are often covered with a protective net-like material. As if that shall keep them safe from the drain-wet flies.
Some sheermal gourmands assert that the roti ought to be smeared generously with ghee. However, most humble eateries in our city—and sheermal rotis are sighted usually in humble eateries—tend to cut costs by sponging the rotis with refined oil. Some bakers deny the dough even its eggs. In any case, avoid discussing the Delhi sheermal with the sensitive people of sheermal’s homeland. The Lucknow-wallas claim that their ‘Oudhi sheermal’—with its golden-hued top—is the real sheermal. A loyal Delhiwalla will obviously feel agitated but even Sadia Dehlvi, author of a Delhi cookbook, confesses that the Delhi sheermal is actually the baqarkhani roti. “The real sheermal belongs to Oudh,” she gracefully concedes.
Whatever, some of us might like to go the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) way by rejecting both Delhi and Lucknow. You can get reasonable tasty sheermals from an elderly man who goes around town on his “home delivery” bike hawking “Meerut’s Mashoor (famous) Sikander Sheermal”. Hakeem Muhammed Ashwaq Habibullah, aka Chacha, has his sheermals embedded with dry fruits. Originated in nearby Meerut, his thick rotis are so deliciously addictive that you can enjoy them without any curry. Call Chacha at 8920015940 to place an order. Sometimes, however, the ring just goes on and on and nobody picks up. Good luck.