Over the past week, I have been going through a sea of change in life. In such times, I’ve always looked for ways to find familiarity. Interestingly—in between all of this—what I realised is that it is not my typical comfort food that I fell back on. What I did was actually something unusual for me; I ordered dessert.
It later struck me that what I did was not very unusual. In my growing-up years, I have spent time in a tiny industrial town in the fringes of Assam. Getting to eat a pineapple pastry from the only bakery there perhaps felt bigger than winning the Pulitzer Prize back then. Top that with my years in Dehradun, where my maternal family comes from and a city known for its old-school bakeries! In the past one week, I realised that what I was looking for was ‘comfort’.
My earliest memories of Delhi, too, were of such bakeries. My uncle would drive me to Frontier Bakery in Karol Bagh for their pista biscuits and veg patties. I soon discovered Wenger’s too—and their incredible plum cake in winter. Life could not have had better things to savour.
As I grew up, I discovered that no matter how many incredible risottos I taste around the world, the joy of the simple bakery delights remains unadulterated. Take buttered bread, for instance. I realised that my husband would not have anything apart from butter-slathered bread on long drives. There is also a system to his love for buttered bread—the butter has to be melted to a certain state, then lathered in excess on light-medium toast. The sides of the toast are then to be eaten first.
The middle should be eaten in one bite—two at the most. You could not ask for something simpler than this, but you also cannot persuade him to eat anything apart from this on most mornings. I found recently that author and friend Saee Koranne Khandekar believes in the ideology of this simple but wholesome dish. This, you realise, has a different level of significance for us today—especially in a world where Michelin-rated restaurants and gourmet delicacies are available at the touch of a button. Despite all the ‘fancy’ snack options, the local mithai stores and bakeries see the heaviest crowds on weekends.
This is also why the oldest food establishments in Delhi still enjoy a cult following—something that’s passed down to generations. Some would vouch that the taste of Frontier’s veg patties has remained the same for years now. In reality, we could never really prove that. Yet, when we taste the same, uncomplicated food, it lends a sense of comfort.
It is this that brings me to look for pineapple pastries in small, family-run bakeries in the alleys of Old Delhi. This is where food is all heart, and I couldn’t possibly ask for more.
Vernika Awal is a food writer who is known for her research-based articles through her blog ‘Delectable Reveries’ .