For the 55-year-old Sanjay Bhatia, creating delicious chaats is not just a professional commitment, but a carefully- learned craft that he has practiced since childhood. After losing his job due to Covid- 19, the Tilak Nagar resident opened a small outlet near his home, called Hygiene Chaat Corner, last September.
Despite such a blow at this age, when he says that he is not doing this work for money, “but for creating an atmosphere of flavourful and authentic food in the city,” you tend to get inspired.
It was difficult to interview him as there was a constant influx of customers on a busy Sunday. Amidst the cacophony of vehicles and nonstop orders, Sanjay informs that he has had many adventures with food in the bylanes of Chandni Chowk while growing up.
“After school hours, I used to scour for delectable cuisine. At least four times a week, I ate Dahi Bhalla from Natraj and feasted on the Chole Kulche from Loton in Chawri Bazaar. We had a general store in Mori Gate and many cooks used to come to buy a range of ingredients. Aware about my interest in cooking, they let me observe them cook. I used to stand beside them till early hours in the morning, as they cooked magic in pots and pans.”
However, at the time when Sanjay had to shift his base to Amritsar due to some family emergency, he with his wife, Rajni, were the head chefs in many restaurants. They continued with the same vocation in Delhi; their speciality being the chaats in North Indian vegetarian food. Now running the stall with his wife reminds him of his old days.
“It was nice to know that your partner too shares your interest. We used to work together in restaurants. Even now, the story is very much the same. We start work from 5:00am till 10:00pm.”
Rajni is happy to see their stall teeming with customers.
“Serving authentic food, without any compromise to the customer’s health is our primary idea. The business has picked up and it is great to acknowledge that many people like our food. I am grateful for this,” says Rajni. For Sanjay, perfecting his craft is what keeps him going.
With mild frustration he adds, it is sad to see the distorted version of many food items being given to the customer, and the unaware customer just runs towards the brand name.
“Like Dahi Bhalla. This dish got popularised since the Mughal era, and is made by many in the city using thin curd. But now, ice is put in it, making it light and thin further. And why should people put curd and onions in Aloo Tikki? It is far from authentic. The crunchy dish is to be made with Masala Paneer, Matar Dal and dry fruits. I also put bananas, grapes and a bit of pomegranate, to give the taste, ” he shows his preparation.
“It is often said that venture into a new field once you have the expertise. This has never been truer in the case of food business because you are responsible for someone else’s health,” he signs off.