City Food – Afghan Tandoor, Bhogal
Rotis of Kabul.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The cave is dug out at the heart of the hearth — but it actually is a very special tandoor. An Afghani tandoor. An Afghani tandoor made from the mitti of saddi Dilli.
Due to the longtime tragic circumstances in strife-torn Afghanistan, Delhi has been for many years a home to a great number of Afghan citizens, obliged to leave their homeland for a variety of reasons. Some of the streets in the ‘hoods of Lajpat Nagar and Jangpura are so filled with Afghanis that every shop hoarding is in their script. Gourmands from across the city flock to these places to dine in Afghan speciality restaurants such as Mazaar, Kabul Delhi, and Pakeezah.
But this Bhogal bakery in Jangpura, with a most evocative tandoor, has no name. It is just known as Afghan bakery. This evening, baker Mehboob’s rehearsed arms are slapping in huge Afghani naans against the hot earthen walls of the tandoor lit by a gas burner. Minutes later, he takes them out with two large metal rods, one by one (see photo). He sprays water from a bottle on the surface of each naan before tossing them on the counter.
“The water sprinkling gives a shine to the naan,” explains Muhammed Suleman. The young man is 18, and a 12th standard student at the British Academy in Lajpat Nagar. This being his family’s establishment, he daily attends the evening shift. Right now he is rolling out the naan dough, making incisions onto them with a comb employed for the purpose. The bakery was founded eight years ago by Hussein’s father, Muhammed Dawood, not long after he arrived in Delhi from Baghlan in north Afghanistan. Today, Dawood manages the bakery with his two sons—Suleman and Sohrab—and three karigar (workers) who also are from Afghanistan. The aforementioned Mehboob is from Takhar, while Hasan and Parvez are from Kabul. (Parvez grows agitated when The Delhi Walla accidentally misspells his country’s name while jotting down notes).
Built on a brick platform, the tandoor looks very old, “but it was made just two years ago,” says young Suleman, explaining that a tandoor has to be changed after every few years. The bakery always builds its own tandoor. “This one was made by my father, my brother, our karigar and I,” says Suleman. This tandoor will last for two more years, he predicts.
The bakery is opened every morning at six by Hasan, and Suleman closes it every night at 11. The customers get the rotis wrapped in day-old newspaper sheets.