City Food – Basti Bakeries, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti
Taste of a place.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The air in the galli embraces you with an aroma of fresh badam cakes, butter kaju paape, cream rolls and the crispy toasted suji rusks.
The unnamed street is in Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. The source of the scent is Aoulia, a bakery founded by late Nizamuddin in 1976.
The neighbourhood is well-known for historic tombs, and also for eateries such as Husseini Hotel and Ghalib Kebab. But its bakeries remain unknown to the wider world. The entire Basti has only three (not counting the bakeries that make rotis, such as the distinguished Izhar Roti Wale).
This morning at Aoulia, “munim-ji” Babuddin is sitting behind a gigantic pile of rusks. While Ustad Muhammad Salman, in baniyan and pants, is working with his team of “helpers” Aminuddin, Noor Alam and Pappu—all are from UP. The men are filling up baking trays with hundreds of leavened paape that would soon be fed into the oven. Now, an elderly man stops by, asking for a nariyal paratha.
The bakery’s other kitchen is further ahead in the street. Early in the morning, when the Basti is still asleep, the lungi-wearing “mistri” Naeem, Abdul Khalid, Qurban—all from West Bengal—are already on the job, preparing the day’s first offering. A “machine” makes a droning sound as it kneads the flour into dough in a metal vat.
Another bakery lies on an adjacent lane. Shahi Bakery is very small, and is the branch of a larger establishment of the same name that lies on the other side of the Basti, near a centuries-old baoli, or step-well. Founded in 1965 by late Shamsuddin, the bakery recently put up a new rate list for its two bestsellers—rusk and fen (160 rupees per kg).
Last year, the Basti got a new bakery. Similar to its older counterparts, Aslam Bakery serves classics such as zeera puffs, methi marori, and kalonji biscuits. Unlike them, it also makes creamy “birthday cake” with colourful icing. It is close to Aoulia, and in fact refers to itself as “a unit of Aoulia.”
Among all the three bakeries, Aoulia is the most special. It never closes. Come at 2 in the morning. You shall still be looked after.