City Food – Shikanji, Matia Mahal & Elsewhere
The machine lemonade.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
He fills up the glass with “machine ka thanda paani.” Flicks into it a chammach-full of cheeni. Squeezes a lemon. Tosses in ice cubes. Salt too. Stirs. Your shikanji please.
This is Babloo Bhai’s refrigerated cold water cart in Gurgaon’s Shankar Chowk. His sugary shikanji is simple to make.
Now board a Yellow Line Metro up north to Old Delhi’s labyrinthine galis-kuchas-katras. Here, shikanji-making is more complicated, involving stirring as well as shaking. In a Mohalla Qabristan alley, this rainy afternoon, shikanji maker Hamid is standing behind his “shikanji machine” — a wooden cylindrical vessel wrapped in red. The scene is precious. To spot a shikanji walla with this hefty apparatus is becoming as rare as sighting a photographer-flaneur with an antiquated 18*24 cm plate camera. The vessel contains a steel jar filled with ice and sugared water. The jar’s lid is topped with a handle called kulfa. Next moment, the shikanji man holds the kulfa with both hands, vigrously rotates the weighty jar around the vessel many times over, shaking the water inside, which cools down to a freezing point. The airy space between the jar and the vessel is lined with salted ice that further lowers the temperature. On receiving a customer, the friendly chap takes off the kulfa, ladles out the chilled sugared water into a glass, squirts out lemon juice into it.
Despite their gradual fading from the streets, two new shikanji machines popped up just last month in Walled City’s Matia Mahal bazar. Decoratively wrapped in plastic grass, and adorned with plastic flowers. The stall is being manned by Muhammed Wasif, of nearby Chatta Chuhiya Mem. The young man is wearing a red Turki topi, the cap that poet Ghalib wore in 19th century Delhi. Looking glum, he castigates the freakish month-of-May rains. “It’s not hot, people aren’t thirsty, our shikanji isn’t selling as much as it should.” He picks up his chai cup from the counter, taking a sip, thoughtfully. The shikanji machine is available in Lal Kuan for 5,500 rupees, he says.
Tucked between Golden Bakery and Kallan Bawarchi’s kitchen, the stall is across the street from Zam Zam Perfumers, right outside King Saloon barbershop.
The machine-made way of life