Reminiscence of mother’s cooking has forever influenced people of our generation as fondness of her dishes and tender care live with us everyday. There are special eateries with similar and rare delicacies, which make us travel distances to savour them from time to time. More than anything else, a dish becomes an ultimate endorsement of a place and incredible affinity with its culture.
About 30 years ago, at the tiny cafe underneath Regal Cinema in New Delhi, I saw an old man frying special pooris every morning, and serving it with spicy chickpea curry and pickles. Until I managed to save Rs.5 and tasted one myself, I watched this many mornings while regulars ate this famously known breakfast called ‘chole bhature’. I could still feel that scrumptiously spicy taste that melts in mouth, and I love to have as the first choice when I preferred north Indian food.
Regal cafe’s veteran cook shared the history behind this dish. “Even though known as a typical Punjabi dish, this was originally invented in Delhi in the 1940s,” says he. In the last 20 years chole bhature has travelled across India as a much-loved dish. Just like the popularity of masala dosa spread in north India and beyond, abnormally sized bhature could be seen on most vegetarian restaurants in south India today.
We used to drive 10 miles to Shehan Shah restaurant in Southall for a chole bhature breakfast in London. However, quality and flavour remained a disappointment even in this Punjabi hub. Although the dish has become freely available, the taste is commercially standardised or sometimes vastly different to anything traditional.
Recently, I noticed a crowd outside Kartik Sweets on CMH Road in Bengaluru on a Sunday, and figured out that they have a special chole bhature breakfast on weekends. With growing curiosity and intense craving, I walked in with Ganesh and couldn’t resist the fantastic smell of chickpea curry and hot bhature after a long time. In absolute happiness, we had stomach full of deliciously spicy chole and bhature standing next to a busy queue of people.
Answering my question Sunil Agarwal, the owner, said, “We could offer this every day and perhaps look for a bigger shop. But there is nothing more exciting than seeing a waiting crowd arriving from many parts of Bengaluru to taste it every Sunday.” He was so right. Believe it or not, they sold almost 600 portions that day. Even Ganesh and I will plan our Bengaluru trips around this Sunday breakfast now. It was utterly delightful and matched the perfect taste I have been looking forward to for years.
Passion was obvious at Sunil’s restaurant. Attention to details on taste could be seen on the chef’s efforts. You could imagine the customers’ satisfaction as they continue flocking in every Sunday. Maybe that’s what you lack in many restaurants as they cater for masses and try to have too many items on a menu. This often put unimaginable pressure for the kitchen staff. End result is disappointment and people never remember your restaurant unless they are desperately hungry or otherwise happened to be next to you. So cook comfortable dishes that represent your own taste and culture rather than follow everyone else and get unnoticed in the crowded food world.
Inspired by this new experience of Kartik’s flavour, I made a trip to Delhi thinking of old days and that restaurant under the Regal Cinema. Sadly, there was no trace of that shop or anything similar where I could enjoy my favourite chole bhature. It’s not a complicated recipe to make, yet the quantity supersedes quality in most places.
Like our mothers remind us, “every meal has to be a dream and a surprise, complete by itself and full of love which you will cherish everyday through your taste buds and memory.”
The author is a London-based restaurateur who owns the Rasa chain of restaurants