City Food – Randeep’s Carrot Halwa, Civil Lines
A farmer’s cold season offering.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
December arrives this week. The chill is set to intensify. To a certain generation, the winter would be invested with sun-drenched courtyards. In these smoggy times, one hardly gets that kind of sun. Besides, what’s that about the courtyards? That too in the so-called Millennium City of Gurgaon, really?
One winter tradition has survived however— the steaming hot carrot halwa.
To Randeep, the cold season means shifting his livelihood from agriculture in his UP village to street vending in Gurgaon in the Graeter Delhi Region, where he hawks the carrot halwa in a mobile cart attached to his bicycle.
This afternoon Randeep is peddling along a side-lane in Civil Lines. The halwa is spread evenly into a gigantic platter. But there’s something odd about Randeep’s halwa. The carrot halwa usually looks red, but this one is almost as white as Shimla’s snow. “No no, my halwa is cent percent red,” assures Randeep. It’s just that the halwa is generously dusted with the white gratings of khoya.
Additionally, the platter is covered with a red cloth to protect the halwa from dust. “The red color happens to be very eye-catching and immediately gets the attention of passersby,” argues Randeep. With a certain swagger, he points to a small burner placed under the platter. “It keeps the halwa warm throughout the cold day.”
Parking the cart by the wayside, Randeep patiently explains that he is a farmer but learned making the carrot halwa “out of majboori.” A “small farmer” like him cannot entirely depend on crops and so “I supplement my income by selling this dish in Gurgawa every winter.”
Randeep launched his street food career seven years ago. “I picked up carrot halwa by chance… maybe because I spotted two or three such sellers during my early days in Gurgawa when I was still figuring out what to do here.” Whatever, the man’s winter sojourn in Gurgaon is hectic. He gets up up at “five or six” in the morning, in his rented room near the bus stand, and soon afterwards walks the short distance to the Subzi Mandi to buy carrots. Once back in the room, he peels and grates the huge quantity of carrots, and singlehandedly goes about with the rest of the exhausting preparation (“I have to stir continuously”). The halwa is ready in a few hours after which he hits the streets. He returns home by 8 or 9 at night.
The taste of winter