City Food – Nadeem’s Cream Rolls, Sadar Bazar
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The stuff he hawks is rustled out in Ghaziabad, UP, and sold miles away in Gurugram, Haryana. The two places are bridged by the bulk of Delhi.
According to Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), which will soon conduct a new census of street hawkers, there are as many as 500,000 vendors in the capital. Our protagonist is technically not among those, for he mostly works in Delhi’s satellite cities. But his everyday experiences cannot be profoundly different from his capital counterparts.
Nadeem was spotted many seasons ago outside a lane of pickle shops in Gurugram’s Sadar Bazar. This afternoon, he is sighted not far from the aforementioned lane. He is holding that same, or similar, glass case stacked with those same kind of cream rolls. The young man lives in Ghaziabad, picks up the fresh rolls every morning from a bakery, after which he commutes towards Gurugram—sometimes on the metro, sometimes on the bus.
Frankly speaking, Nadeem’s “factory wale” cream rolls are too sugary, the cream somewhat crusty. His primary customers tend to be “rahgeer” walking on the streets, including labourers and rickshaw pullers, he says, adding that a single piece costs ten rupees. The taste of the roll apart, he always ends his day successfully with an empty case.
An exceptionally fortunate and talented street food hawker can command a cult following—Instagram reels are packed with food vlogs of such gali-nukkar stars. That said, a plate of golgappa or jhalmuri hawked on the streets is sometimes also available in the dust-free ambiance of restaurant-like settings. But a true street snack belongs to the chaotic outdoors, and eating it on the street, standing beside the hard-at-work hawker, briefly unites the customer with very many fellow citizens of very many backgrounds patronising the same seller. Plus, a particular street stall’s offering is permeated with the daily life of its owner.
As Nadeem walks towards a nondescript park, the glass case lies perched on his left shoulder. A “rahgeer” approaches. The vendor’s eyes dart around urgently, and rest on a low platform, atop which he keeps the glass case. He carefully takes out a roll, leaving the airtight arrangement of the cream rolls undisturbed. One hand holds the roll, the other quickly opens a paper pouch filled with tutti frutti that he sprinkles on the cream. The pouch was inside his shirt pocket. Later, on entering the park, the vendor settles down under a tree, and opens his lunch box.
There’s a logical reason why Nadeem isn’t sighted daily in this market. He often strays into neighbouring districts as well, but operates less often in Ghaziabad, where he lives, “because there are many cream roll wale there, some of them are my own relatives.”
After finishing the meal, Nadeem exits the park, becoming a part of the street crowd that includes a vendor of rat poison, who too might be like one of those 500,000 vendors of Delhi.