City Food – Bedmi Poori, Shyam Sweets
The classic Old Delhi breakfast dish.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Deep-fried, crisp and very puffy, bedmi poori is a bread made of wheat flour and ground urad lentil. Served with aloo subzi (potato gravy), it is heavier than plain pooris, which are only of flour. An Old Delhi specialty, bedmi’s social origins illustrate the area’s multi-religious character. Consider this:
Walled City > Muslim heritage > Morning Breakfast > Paya Nihari
Walled City > Hindu Heritage > Morning Breakfast > Bedmi Poori
Shyam Sweets, a few minutes walk away from Chawri Bazaar metro station, claims to have a secret recipe for its bedmi poori. But this 90-year-old establishment doesn’t need Coca Cola’s style of marketing gimmick. Sitting behind a glass counter filled with trays of mithais, samosas and kachoris, owner Sanjay Aggarwal, says, “My father was born in this area. I was born in the same house. My son was also born here.” The shop’s founder, Babu Ram, was Mr Aggarwal’s grandfather. Mr Aggarwal’s son, the next inheritor, is the young Bharat. He is standing beside his father. After 100 years, you, I and this father-son duo won’t exist, but, hopefully, Old Delhi and Shyam Sweets would. That is the pull of tradition. It links us to a past and a future that has no place for us.
Two cooks in check lungis and shirts sit on a wooden cot outside the shop. One rolls the dough, the other fry the pooris in a karahi filled with hot vanaspati ghee. Flavoured with red chilies, cumin seeds and ‘secret’ herbs, their dark-brown-almost-red bedmi poori is not the town’s best. Delicious versions are also found in other places, such as Tiwari Sweets in Lajpat Nagar. But food becomes great when it transcends its taste and absorbs the essence of a place. That is why the idea of having bedmi poori in Shyam Sweets is so tempting.
The open-air eatery has no chairs. Customers stand around a small round table. Paintings of gods, including Nandi bull, are pinned on a boundary wall, beside a board displaying an extensive menu (samosa, kachori, guklab jamun, gajar halwa, paneer pakora… bedmi). The sweet shop looks to Barshabulla Chowk-a functioning anarchy of cycle rickshaws and wooden trolleys–and is next to a card store. Chawri Bazaar specializes in wedding cards. Once it was home to courtesans. Most bedmi regulars know each other. Sometimes a young customer in Shyam–usually a trader in the neighborhood-would be seen touching the feet of an older acquaintance as a mark of respect.
The eatery is open from 8 am to 9 pm, but bedmi is available only till 1. Priced at 20 rupees, a paper plate has two pooris, a bowl of subzi and a sour pickle of carrots, green chilies and gourds. When in mood, the serving boy serves the poori on a palash leaf.