City Food - Proust's Paape, Diamond Bakery

City Food – Proust’s Paape, Diamond Bakery

City Food - Proust's Paape, Diamond Bakery

Proust for Old Delhi.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Seven volumes, 3,000 pages, 1.5 million words. Naturally nobody has time for In Search of Lost Time.

Why read the novel anyways when you can live it, and so easily. French author Marcel Proust’s classic is basically about this middle-aged narrator eating a little tea-soaked madeleine cake, the long-forgotten taste of which lets out his suppressed memories, obliging him to recall the events of his life in most minute details. So, dear reader, you can soak in this great piece of literature simply with a tea-soaked madeleine! Delhi and Gurugram have many fancy patisseries for these squat plump cakes, but here’s a far cheaper desi option. Like much of the novel, the famous madeleine episode was inspired from Proust’s own experience. His madeleine moment actually come from a rusk of dry toast, what we Delhiwale call paape.

And the capital’s best paape is sold fresh every evening at 7 at the tiny Diamond Bakery in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar. Easy to spot it–the super-tall chimney is like the area’s Qutub Minar. The bakery’s wood-fired furnace accommodates 30 trays simultaneously. The paape that comes out is intensely crisp and intensely fragile. The crispness disappears the instant of dipping the paape into the chai.

Diamond was set up in 1928 as Ambala Bakery at the next-door Matia Mahal Bazar. The founder, Muhammed Wazir, had started as an apprentice at a British-run cake shop in Ambala Cantonment. His son, Abdul Aziz, later moved the bakery from Matia Mahal to its current location and name. It is now administered by the latter’s son, the camera-shy Iqbal, and his son Furqan. This afternoon, bakers Shamim, Kasim and Rafique are busy with the different stages of rusk-production, while in an inner chamber is enthroned the venerable Kamruddin (pictured), aka Mamu, the most senior baker here, since 40 years.

Mamu is busy with gol paape, a rusk variety slightly more expensive (200 rupees/kg) than the ordinary version (160 rupees/kg). “Because it demands more labour-time and it also has milk, while the normal paape are only of sooji, sugar, maida, groundnut oil, and Panghat ghee,” Mamu explains solemnly, a slight smile quietly breaking upon his lips.

While you may want to try rusks from other nice bakeries as well, the important thing is to eat Proust’s paape in Purani Dilli. Just like his novel, this historic quarter is also a magical petri dish in which time, space and memory blend together to produce a world that is profound and fleeting, sorrowful and delightful.