City Food – Butter Chhole Kulche, Outside Humayun’s Tomb
Delhi’s best chhole kulche.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The whole world comes to see Humayun’s Tomb. The monument must be beautiful. You ought to head to Humayun’s Tomb for another beautiful reason, too. Just outside the gate is an eight-year-old snack stall that sells one of Delhi’s best chhole kulche (with butter).
The crowd around Mr Jasbeer’s modest establishment this afternoon attests to the deliciousness of his signature delicacy. A family of sightseers who just emerged out of the monument are eagerly standing around the stall. The entire enterprise is mounted on a bicycle. The stove to heat the kulchas, as well as the giant brass cauldron filled with the pre-cooked chhole, are placed on a wooden case that is firmly installed on the cycle’s carrier. The wooden case’s broad sidebars serve as makeshift tables for diners to eat in comfort.
Delhi’s street cuisine is so sophisticated that it is difficult to come across an unsatisfying chhole kulcha. Mr Jasbeer makes it exceptionally well. May be it’s his last-minute tricks that take the dish into a state of sublimity. Just before he hands over a chhole bowl to a customer (30 rupees per plate), he squeezes half a lemon onto it, adds chopped onions and tomato slices, and concludes the act by placing a green chilli pickle on the top. This pickle is heavenly; Mr Jasbeer makes it at his home. In fact, apart from the bakery kulchas, everything else is made in his one-room house in nearby Sarai Kale Khan. A former “beldar” (labourer), the soft-spoken Budaun native says he gets up every morning at five – along with wife, Sushma — and they jointly carry out the preliminary cooking for the day ahead. The four kids stay asleep at that hour.
A few minutes after this chat, the stall suddenly empties of people. Mr Jasbeer exploits the spare moments by ladling out an ample portion of the cooked chickpeas from the cauldron onto a small pan, which he places on the stove’s slow fire. He adds a spoon of water to “further soften the chhole”, throws in a bit of black salt and coarse red chilli powder, plus a good amount of chopped onions and tomatoes, along with a fistful of fresh dhaniya leaves. He stirs the dish with a furious movement of his hand, like a pianist nearing his sonata’s final moments. The next moment, the stall is again circled by a crowd. Mr Jasbeer serves daily from noon till 7pm, after which he pedals the stall back to his waiting wife.