City Food – Mohammed Moinuddin’s Butter Coffee, Chitli Qabar Chowk
It was all acacia.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Some cities never sleep. Like New York. Like Old Delhi. Any person living in, say, the Walled City’s Chitli Qabar Chowk will tell you that the sounds of their streets never disappear completely. Not at 11 pm, not at 1 am, not at 5 in the morning.
The renewed restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic have (once again) severally restricted that carefree timelessness—this week a daily night curfew has been imposed between 10pm and 5am due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant. As a result, one of the losses the citizens face is that they can no longer amble to Chitli Qabar in icy midnight for Mohammed Moinuddin’s butter coffee.
This quiet, unassuming man has been serving his signature winter brew for more than a decade. The pavement stall is right in the heart of the congested chowk, serving from 5pm to as late as 2am (in the pre-pandemic era).
Blended with butter, the coffee fills up the body with so much heat that “you feel bulletproof from thandi,” says Mr Moinuddin solemnly. The only substantial piece of equipment in his makeshift café is an espresso machine that produces froth with great fury. The rest of the paraphernalia consists of a pan of hot milk (already mixed with Nescafé coffee powder), a tin of cocoa powder and slabs of yellow Amul butter. All that Mr Moinuddin have to do is to drop the butter slabs into a jug of coffee milk, which he steams up with his espresso machine.”
Served in thick paper glasses, the steaming hot drink tastes… well, buttery. This being Old Delhi, it’s very milky and sugary. And since Amul butter happens to be a principal ingredient, the coffee is a bit salty—like the Tibetan tea.
Till late into the night, the all-men customers huddle around Mr Moinuddin’s stall, gossiping over repeat glasses of the butter coffee. These days, because of the restrictions, Mr Moinuddin says he is obliged to wrap up his evening’s buisness as early as 8pm. Meanwhile, it is 5.15 pm right now and his stall is a mess, marooned in watery chaos (see photo). “The MCD people are repairing the underground water pipes,” he says, exasperatedly.
Half an hour later, the street regains some order. Mr Moinuddin is ready to serve his delicious drink (19 rupees per serving). Alas, the customary thrill is missing. Blame not the earnest man. The true pleasure of butter coffee lies in consuming it during the bone-chilling midnights. That is no longer possible, so one must learn to partake, without ifs and buts, of whatever remains of the pre-coronavirus joys.