City Food – Radhe Radhe Karhi Chawal Wale, Anand Vihar
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He gave up his career as a cab driver. But his white cab remains a necessary element of his new career. Vikas Sharma started his pavement lunch stall two weeks ago. The cab is the stall. Its boot is the food counter.
The menu is always the same – three gravy-based dishes of rajma, chhole and karhi, along with plain boiled rice. The signature dish is karhi, for that is the name of the stall – Radhe Radhe Sharmaji Karhi Chawal Wale.
A cloth banner printed with this name is draped across the length of the cab, and it is in direct view of pedestrians here in Anand Vihar, a short walk from the interstate bus terminus.
“These days, cab-driving doesn’t fetch much earning,” says Mr Sharma. Based on his experience, he says the coronavirus pandemic and ride-sharing companies have directly hurt the earnings of independent drivers like him. However, the switch to catering wasn’t virgin territory for him “because I’ve previously dabbled in this line”.
Now a passerby pauses, looks at the banner, appears to be in two minds, then timidly asks for a plate of karhi chawal. Mr Sharma nods, picks up a disposable bowl, fills it up with boiled rice over which he pours two or three ladles of karhi along with two pakoras. He sprinkles garam masala on the serving and tops the dish with sliced onions. The customer moves towards the side and begins his lunch.
This stretch of Anand Vihar is crammed with food carts targeting the bus terminus crowd. Mr Sharma’s establishment is unique in serving substantial home-style meals. The rest of the stalls are doling out chhole bhathure, parathas, kulche and Maggi noodles.
A cab driver’s work is extremely hectic, Mr Sharma says. But his life as a food stall entrepreneur remains equally hectic. Every morning he gets up at four to prepare the dishes at his home in Bhopura. “My wife contributes equally to the cooking,” he says, urging that her name not be shared publicly. The dishes are ready by 9am, and he opens his stall an hour later. This being early days of the new venture, Mr Sharma cannot confirm it to be a success yet, “but all the dishes get over by the time I leave for home [at 4pm].”
And now another man slows down. He, too, asks for karhi chawal.
The stall is situated next to a shopping mall, right in front of a shelter for homeless people.
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