City Food – Summer Mulberries, Munna Bhai’s Shop
In search of the elusive berries.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are papayas, grapes, apples, bel, pomegranates, guavas, bananas and even the early mangoes.
But mulberries are nowhere to be seen, here in the Old Delhi lanes.
Though it is their season (a very brief one at that), don’t waste your time snooping around for the mulberries fruit carts—you’ll never find them. Except if you are very lucky, and spot an exclusive mulberry hawker passing by with one of those small wooden trolleys (outside the season, these men tend to sell lemons or jamuns). But they are so rare.
If, however, you have no wish to wander around the Walled City lanes in the distressing heat, here’s a secret—a small shop behind Golcha Cinema stocks the mulberries throughout its super-short spell. Munna Bhai’s shop is tucked between two garment showrooms on Sir Syed Ahmad Road. This afternoon Munna Bhai (real name: Om Prakash) has sold almost all of his day’s stock of mulberries. What remains is lying glistening wet in a straw basket. He calls these shehtoot. Carefully picking up a single berry, Munna Bhai starts to speak like a lovesick poet: “Shehtoot are very nazuk. They are very soft. See, they are without any protective leaf cover. They are grown in Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, and also in Sonepat in Haryana. Their season lasts barely 15 days.” He grows silent, and his smile freezes as he gazes upon his berries. A shopper badgers him about the cost of guavas (Munna Bhai sells other fruits too), but he doesn’t respond. His concentration is fixed on the mulberries.
Munna Bhai has a theory on why mulberries are not widely sold in our city streets. “The fresh shehtoot lasts only for a few hours… they can’t survive the heat for long, nor can they travel very far… so only a few people sell them.”
Now Munna Bhai holds a tasting session of his shehtoot, tossing a few into a bowl. He sprinkles a special chat masala on the top. The first mulberry fills the mouth with a juicy coolness, as a sour sweetness invades the senses. The taste is so addictive that one is tempted to attack the berries with the fervour of a new convert. Indeed, you may finish a great amount of mulberries as easily as a packet of chips while binge-watching a TV series.
Munna Bhai’s shop opens daily from 11am to 8pm, though mulberries tend to finish by late afternoon. One kilo of berries costs 200 rupees.
Munna Bhai’s delicate offering