City Food – Khajla, Ameer Sweet House & Elsewhere
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It looks like a giant golgappa, or an extra-large raj kachori. Some might confuse it with the enormous bhathura served in a landmark Connaught Place restaurant.
But it is neither of these. This thing is only seen in select parts of Delhi, and only in a select portion of the year.
It is called khajla, and is available only during the sacred month of Ramzan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Soaked in milk, the thick, flaky and sugary khajla is a deep-fried bread of maida flour. It is usually kept for sehri, the pre-dawn meal after which the fasting starts. It is said that khajla’s robustness helps a fasting person to survive the day. “It gives you enough strength to withstand long hours without eating,” says Sabeeha Jhinjhianvi, a homemaker in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Chowk, who lives within a hearing distance of Ameer Sweet House.
This afternoon, the aforementioned mithai shop’s friendly cooks are super-busy in the kitchen. They are making the khajlas. Since the kitchen abuts the shop, as if the kitchen were an adjacent store, its goings-on are clearly seen from the street. The sight is majestic. Most of the space in the kitchen is taken over by the day’s khajlas, hundreds of them. They are piled up into towers, each tower is broad at the base and tapers as it nears the top—just like Mehrauli’s Qutub Minar. Despite the heat of the day and the greater heat emanating out from the bubbling hot oil in the cauldron, the cooks are showing no hint of discomfort. They are in fact in a jokey mood, and are pulling each other’s leg about a Facebook post. Despite the chatter, the work at hand is continuing without a pause. Deepu is rolling out the dough, Arvind is deep frying the khajlas, and Jayveer is ladling each one out as soon as it swells into a balloon.
Meanwhile, a few steps away, two poets in Modern Tea House are sitting across a chippy wooden table. Over glasses of sweet milky chai (malai mar ke), they are discussing what else but khajla. Poet Tasleem Danish is telling poet Muhammed Ayub about his visit to another city where “Bhai, I came across a khajla that was exactly like the khajla of our Dilli, but it was not empty… it was filled with halwa.” The other poet is stunned into silence.
A kilogram of khajla costs 200 rupees.
Food of the fast