City Food – Seasame Platter, Sonu Gajak & Namkeen
Taste for winter.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are many ways of telling the same story. Same goes for til. The seasame seed exists in many meetha adaptations. The sweet teeth-sticking gajak is the most common. Many street entrepreneurs who hawk fresh fruit juices during the year switch to it during the winter. Such as Kamal in Mehrauli, who has temporarily transferred loyalties from musambi juice to gajak— “imported” from Bhatinda in Punjab.
That said, it will be tough to find a more fantastical til treasury than Sonu Gajak & Namkeen store in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar. The season’s star here is til. Every til thing is made in-house, and with gur (jaggery). The til + gur combo works like a body heater to beat the cold, says Sunny, the young man by the counter. He is the younger brother of Sonu, after whom the store is named. They are the sons of shop founder Ram Bir of Morena—most gajak wale in Gurgaon are from that MP district.
The afternoon air inside is heavy with the soothingly warm fragrance of fresh gajaks. Four karigars (cooks), led by Ustad Ravi, are quietly making these in one corner. It is some sight—wish you were here, dear reader! Most of us encounter the gajak as a crackly crispy room-temperature indulgence, prepared hours or days in advance, but gajak-in-progress is profoundly different—so malleably soft, so super-scented, so greed-inducing.
Gesturing reverently towards the images of gods on the wall behind him, Sunny is all gratitude towards the cyclic teej-tyohar that fill up our months. “During Holi, we make special gunjiya; ghewar sells the most around Rakhsha Bandhan; vrat wale laddus are for Navratri; mathhis are made during Karva Chauth; popcorn and gajak are bestsellers on the day of Lohri…”
Now, he holds a thali filled with each of all the shop’s “til items.” The man suddenly gets senti. “This thandi ki thali (winter platter) is our pitaji ki mehnat (father’s hard work).” Sunny fondly lists all the specimens: “kaju gajak, khoya samosa, meetha hugga, cheeni khasta, til patti, gur bagga, gond dry fruit laddu, soan gajak, choora wale laddu, mungphali patti, gulab gajak, roll gajak, til burfi, pheni gajak, kadaka, gur khasta.”
The til treats will last until holi, when winter ends and “gur in them starts to melt in the rising temperatures.”
Cold season treats