I’ve been a Bombay girl all of my life, and I have been quite a vociferous participant in many a Bombay- Delhi debate. I mean tell me one Bombayite, or one Delhiite who has never indulged in this silly argument at least once in their lifetime. It’s almost like the never failing Pavlov’s experiment. Put one Delhiite and one Bombayiite in a room, right after pleasantries are exchanged, a discussion on how one city reigns supreme will take over and emotions will suddenly run at an all-time high.
So while I enjoyed being a part of this mindless banter, God had other plans. 21 years later I met K, the very typical Delhi boy, walked into my life and the rest is history. And yes, I hated him at first sight, but that’s how all love stories begin don’t they? But, friends and countrymen from Bombay, no the Delhi boy didn’t have it easy. Our love story could actually make for quite a pot boiler of sorts!
Once we got married in 2007, K took me to Delhi – to his childhood – to the little lanes where he played cricket—to the mohalla where one Kalu Bhaiyya made the best tikka toast – to Kavenders’ for that huge milk bottle of the most awesome cold coffee—to Vaishnav for the best chaat—to Nirulas’ for their chocolate sundae –but his favourite remains the divine Chhole Bhature from Chache di hatti in Kamla Nagar. A visit to this really tiny hole in the wall shop that has been selling piping hot pindi Chole with pillowy soft bhature for over 30 years, is on top of his priority checklist whenever K visits Delhi. No matter how crunched we are for time, the pilgrimage to this shop gains precedence over everything.
My first trip to this iconic shop shall remain etched in my memory forever. We left K’s Noida home at around 9 am on a Sunday, to have a breakfast of Chole Bhature. The Bombayite in me just couldn’t come to terms with the fact of consuming something so heavy for breakfast. I mean who has Chhole Bhature for breakfast? Have you guys not heard of kanda poha, upma, thalipeeth or idli wada? But since I was the new bride, and was very much in love ( I still am, but you know it’s been close to 10 years, now :D) I quietly followed and was patient through his banter during the drive, that we had left a tad too late, and that all would be over by the time we reached. When we finally made it at around 10 am, I was shocked to see a long, really long meandering queue outside the shop. Aah, I’ve married a Delhi boy after all, I thought to myself. We patiently waited for close to 40 minutes to get to the counter and I must say it was worth the wait. The really dark, fabulously spiced Chole served with soft bhaturas and a side of fresh onions and fiery green chillies — this was one of the most sensational food experiences of my life.
While we stood there eating, our plates perched on a high stool, a very cheerful group of Punjabi aunties was watching us. One of them walked up to us and congratulated K on his wedding, just like that. K struck a conversation instantly and told them how he had brought his new Marathi mulgi bride to get a taste of Delhi. There, that was enough. In a conversation that had begun for not more than 5 minutes ,these ladies had taken K to be their long lost son and all of them told me how I should learn authentic Chole bhature and stuff him with it at least once a week. In a matter of minutes, I was given a piece of paper which had all the ingredients of that dark secret spice, scribbled on it, all in Hinglish of course. Tips and instructions were given. They blessed us and while they walked away, one of them made me promise that I would never take Delhi out of their Delhi boy!
So I have kept that promise, and I do make Chhole Bhature for K , at least once a week. And for 9 years now, I have followed their instructions to the T. Why? Because I strongly believe that tradition should not be tweaked. Ever.
The very authentic Punjabi Chole have a beautiful blackish brown hue. For eons I was dropping a tea bag in, while I soaked the Chole overnight. It was only after those aunties parted with the traditional recipe did I know that I was doing it all wrong. While the tea lends that dark teak colour to the Chole it also gives off its bitterness to the lentil. The age old tradition is to drop some dried amla into the Chole and water concoction for the overnight soak. THAT is the secret to achieving that rich black colour.
Serve the Chole with piping hot bhaturas or fresh kulchas from the bakery. If you’re feeling lazy, just have them with some sliced bread. Fresh onions, green chilles and mango pickle are the perfect partners to the meal.