City Food – Ramzan Khajla, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti & Elsewhere
The fasting snack.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
An almost fully round moon is hanging in the 10pm sky. But its enigmatic majesty has been hijacked by a handful of similarly rounded things. They are hanging much lower, by a chord, along a street, here in Hazrat Nizzmuddin Basti (see photo). They too look like moons, but crispy moons that would have been deep-fried in desi ghee.
These are the sweet flaky khajlas, made by the cooks of Mehboob-I-Ilahi mithai shop. Rustled out of maida, the unique snack is available only during the sacred month of Ramzan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. You are certain to find it in eateries and stalls surrounding the city mosques, such as Jama Masjid in Gurgaon’s Sadar Bazar, or the Jama Masjid in south Delhi’s Zakir Nagar. The khajla tends to be consumed in sehri, the pre-dawn meal after which the fasting starts, and is eaten by soaking its broken shards in milk.
The snack pops up on every Ramzan because it is said to give lasting resilience to a starving stomach, a homemaker in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Chowk once told The Delhi Walla. In fact, she lives within a kebab’s throw of Ameer Sweet House, an eatery that gets particularly picturesque during the khajla season. The mithai place’s kitchen is visible from the street: Most of the space in it is taken over by the day’s khajlas, hundreds of them, stacked into towers. While the cooks continue to work with the efficiency of a factory production line. One afternoon, Deepu was rolling out the dough, Arvind was deep-frying the khajlas, and Jayveer was ladling each one out as soon as it swelled into a balloon. Indeed, some of these khajlas look so gigantic that they can make for a typically haunting Grommy fairy tale, in which the kidnapped kids would be trapped inside one such specimen and would have to eat their way out to freedom.
Whatever, tonight at the aforementioned street in Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, people are walking nonchalantly, no one is looking up at the hanging moons. Suddenly, one of these swollen khajlas partly bursts, a few crumbs fall on a passer-by’s shoulder. Unaware, he walks on.
Snack of the season