City Food – Aloo Bhaaji, Cotton Market
Dish for the home-sick.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There they are, lying in heaps — these shallow-fried potatoes in the shape of fingers. It’s only 8 in the morning but Muhammed Ali Khan’s footpath cart, in Old Delhi’s Cotton Market, already smells of the mildly spicy aloo bhaaji.
“My customers are mostly mazdoor (labourers),” he says. “They start working early in the morning, and rather than bread-butter they like to have bhari khana (heavy meal) for breakfast.”
After a pause, he explains, “I know very well what a labourer likes to eat, because I was one too.” Mr Khan is from Kishanganj, in Bihar. He arrived in Delhi 30 years ago, and earned a living as a beldar (construction worker) until he started this unnamed food stall, some 20 years ago.
Apart from the aloo bhaji, the cart has fried fish, a pan filled with steamed rice, and rotis. Parathas are made on order. A quick tasting spree reveals all the dishes to be nice enough, but the aloo bhaaji definitely stands out—crispy and squishy at the same time.
Mr Khan speaks again. “Most of the labourers who come to my stall are from Bihar, and people in Bihar like to eat aloo bhaaji.”
The lane on which the stall stands looks like a boarding house for labourers. One can see their footpath-homes everywhere, with mattresses spread on the sides of the lane and clothes hanging on the walls around. A few labourers have already started their working day, carrying mounds of bricks on their reris (carts). Other are still in the process of getting ready —washing their clothes under a common tap, or taking a quick bath under it.
“We too live right here,” says Mr Khan. By “we”, he means he and his two cooks, currently plopped down on the pavement, peeling vegetables. The wall behind them has a couple of pithhu bags hanging on them. “These have our clothes,” says Mr Khan
You ought to try the stall’s tasty signature dish. Visit the place in the morning, or any time of the day or night. The stall opens from 5 am to 1 am, and the aloo bhaji is made afresh many times during the serving hours.
Potato for the soul