Julia Child in Delhi – Nafisa Adiraju’s Kutchi Dabeli, Sohna Road, Gurgaon
The great chef’s life in Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Her Instagram handle (@spicestori), that she launched in the beginning of the coronavirus-triggered lockdown, is nothing but emotional atyachar (torture). It is filled with pictures of yummy dishes that seem particularly unattainable in these times of the pandemic, when eating out is a dream. If only it were possible to feed our poor stomach on Nafisa Adiraju’s Insta feed! It is a dizzying exhibit of regional delicacies from across the country—Kothimbir Vadi, Koki, Amritsari Chhole, Kutchi Biryani, Vada Sambhar… Bharta with Ghee Roti.
“I’m completely cosmo,” declares Ms Adiraju, 36. The lady’s a practicing Muslim married to a practicing Hindu. She’s from Gujarat, he’s from Andhra Pradesh. They both live in Gurgaon in the Greater Delhi Region, in a lovely sunlit third-floor apartment on Sohna Road, with their two young daughters.
“My life’s a mix of many cultures, traditions and yes, cuisines,” states Ms Adiraju. Speaking on WhatsApp video, she has sportingly agreed to cook a dish from her native Kutch region. “You won’t find Kutchi Dabeli in Delhi-Gurgaon,” she informs.
This sandwich-like dish is one of Ms Adiraju’s few links to her ancestral land. She no longer has close relatives in Kutch, and hasn’t visited her village, Mandavi in Bhuj, for the past six years.
Her true homeland actually is her birthplace, Bombay. There she spent the first 25 years of her life. A dweller in the Delhi region for three years, Ms Adiraju has by now gained enough experience of both the megacities to conclude that “Bombay is far more cosmopolitan than Delhi.” Looking back at her childhood spent with parents and siblings, she recalls the “cosmo” character of her Navi Mumbai neighborhood. One friend was from Bhav Nagar in Gujarat, one was from Kasaragod in Kerala, and one was from Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. Neighbors included a Sindhi as well as a Punjabi family. “My Muslim parents are very liberal and we would celebrate both Muslim and Hindu festivals in our home.”
Indeed, some of the go-to places Ms Adiraju visits every time she is in Bombay include the trio of Haji Ali Sufi shrine in Worli, Siddhivinayak Mandir in Prabha Devi, and Mahalakshmi Temple on Bhulabai Desai Road.
Sadly, Ms Adiraju’s dining table has strayed far from her origins. The Kutchi cuisine has a negligible presence in her present. One of the reasons is that “Kutch is an arid region, and its cuisine consists of a great variety of grains and less of vegetables”. In Gurugram, Ms Adiraju is spoilt with choices when it comes to veggies, but she rarely gets access to the diversity of grains. In fact, she was originally planning to cook Khichda—a kind of Kutchi Khichdi made with six kinds of grains—but couldn’t get hold of Ghai na fada (broken wheat).
Following her marriage to a Telugu man in 2008, whom she first met in her then office in Bombay (“I was in logistics and he was in products”), she swiftly expanded her cooking cosmopolitanism, and learned vegetarian Andhra cuisine from mother-in-law, Nagaratnam, in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the lunch she rustles out every day at her home is essentially an assortment of spicy Andhra pachadis and kuras. Just last week one of her typical meals consisted of Palak Pappu (arhar dal cooked with spinach), Potlakaya (fried snakegourd) and Annam (white rice)—you can see it on her Insta.
Though this food instagrammar has never posted anything (yet) on the Kutch dish she is cooking today, it is close to her heart. During her childhood in Bombay, Ms Adiraju’s mother, Saira Mukadam, would make Kutchi Dabeli as an evening snack on Saturday evenings. “The family would sit around the dining table, and Mummy would give each of us three kids a bowl of Doodhchai with a plate of Dabeli.”
This afternoon, however, Ms Adiraju is serving this dish as part of lunch to husband, Venkat, and girls, Anitra and Aahana. The photos were taken through the phone screen that connected her to The Delhi Walla.
Here is the recipe.
1 big onion – finely chopped
3 tbsp pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup nylon (meaning “very fine”) sev
1/2 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
3 big boiled potatoes
1 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsp masala peanut
2 tsp Dabeli masala powder
2 tbsp sweet chutney (tamarind and jaggery)
2 tbsp garlic chutney (blend 4 dry red chilli with 15 garlic pods and salt)
1. In a bowl take dabeli masala powder and 1 tbsp sweet chutney. Mix it well.
2. Heat non-stick pan, add oil and dabeli masala mixture. Let it cook for 1 min while stirring continuously.
3. Add mashed potatoes, salt, and little water; cook it for 2-3 min. Potatoes stuffing is ready.
1 . Cut the pav horizontal from the centre.
2. Spread garlic chutney and sweet chutney.
3. Stuff the dabeli masala, sprinkle some chopped onion, peanut, coriander and sev.
4. Take some butter in the pan and toast the dabeli on both side.
5. Garnish it with sev and pomegranate.
A glimpse of Kutch