City Food – Daulat ki Chaat, Walled City
Taste of winter.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It’s just another smoggy morning in the Walled City’s Galli Chooriwallan street. Some people are in masks, many are not. Lazy dogs are snoozing under vegetable carts, and greedy cats are eyeing rejects of meat by the butcher shops.
And suddenly Sanjay Kumar appears with his cart. It has a huge platter filled with a mound of white snow-like substance, topped with what looks like egg yolk. There’s nothing eggy about it though. This is one of Delhi’s most fabled dessert, which appears in winter only.
Daulat ki Chaat is more an idea than a dessert. Much romance is attached to its making. One legend is that the milk is whisked under a full moon sky, and that the morning dew sets the resulting froth. A truly well-made version—and that’s rare to find— is so light that it feels like a whisper to the palate. Toss a spoonful of the dish into the mouth and it disappears, like the first snow on the pavement of cities lucky enough to get snowfalls. The lingering sweetness is as delicate as a cobweb’s fabric.
Made of buffalo milk, Daulat ki Chaat seems to belong to the street — as if it were reluctant to be pro-establishment. You are not likely to see it in mithai shops or in table-and-chair eateries. Sold exclusively on wooden carts or on three-legged mobile stands (called tarona), its sellers are mostly natives from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Roaming about in Galli Chooriwallan, Sanjay Kumar explains he is from Chandausi in UP. Mr Kumar lives with family in nearby Sitaram Bazaar. Every morning he wakes up at three and whisks cream with milk for four hours. Nothing is added into the mixture, he insists, not even sugar. The great froth builds up some hours later. At daybreak, Mr Kumar leaves his house and makes several rounds across the Walled City bylanes. The cart holds 15 kilograms of the dessert, the snow-white surface of which is coloured with golden-yellow saffron, green pistachio nuts and sometimes decorated with (edible) silver foil. Sold for 50 rupees a plate, the froth, just before being served to the customer, is dusted with bhoora (unrefined sugar) and roasted khoya (condensed milk).
Eaten with a wooden spoon, the first sensation is that of licked butter. That impression instantly dissolves. A moment later the senses dances with flavours of pistachio, saffron and khoya. If you don’t take another spoon quickly, the taste vanishes.
Since this cloud of cream melts with high temperature, Daulat ki Chaat vendors are sighted only in winter, from Diwali festival in November to Holi in March. Hawked in the congested alleys of Chandni Chowk, Kinari Bazaar and Chawri Bazaar – amid dust, fumes and flies – the dessert, covered with muslin, proves that beauty can survive in the most adverse circumstances, briefly.