City Food – Daulat ki Chaat 2021, Chawri Bazar
The delicatest delicacy.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s just another tiresome evening in the Walled City’s Chawri Bazar. The entire road from the rear of the Jama Masjid to Ashok Chaat Corner is blocked by a massive traffic jam. Gradually the twilight hour arrives, and the light envelopes the dusty bazaar in a golden hue.
Against this backdrop, Aadesh Kumar is sighted with a platter filled with what seems to be freshly fallen snow. This is Old Delhi’s most fabled dessert, and surfaces only in winter. “This time I started Daulat ki Chaat on October 19,” says Mr Kumar. A street vendor, he sells spicy golgappas the rest of the year.
Much legend is attached to the making of the dish. The popular fairy tale is that the “pure” Buffalo milk is whisked with cream under a full moon sky, and it is the night dew—the oas—that sets the resulting froth. Mr Kumar clarifies that “these days we use ice instead of oas.” (Probably full moon night too is dispensable.)
This soft-spoken man in black mask inherited the occupation from his “papaji”, Shri Khemchand, who is selling Daulat ki Chaat some streets away in Kinari Bazar. Every morning both father and son get up at three in their home in nearby Sitaram Bazar and whisk the milk with their respective “mathni” until a great froth builds up by nine. A typical platter holds 15kgs of the dessert. The golden layer on the top, Mr Kumar reveals, is made of kesar (saffron), pistachio nuts, and almonds. Priced at ₹80 a plate, the froth is garnished for the customer at the last moment with bhoora (ground sugar) and roasted khoya (condensed milk). Served with a wooden chammach (spoon), the first sensation on tasting Daulat ki Chaat is as if one had furtively licked a slice of someone else’s prized butter. The lingering sweetness is as airy as a gossamer’s gauze.
Hawked amid the flies and fumes of Chandni Chowk, Kinari Bazar and Chawri Bazar, the dessert is veiled within a fine cotton cloth. “The business is very low so far,” confides Mr Kumar as he takes off his mask, flashing a smile. The dish will disappear by Holi, in March.
The gift of winter