I’m definitely developing a very pronounced culinary split personality. The past couple of weeks have seen wall-to-wall macaroons and cupcakes for our recent Uparwali Chai tea party events: cake-stands piled high, pastries nibbled, Assam sipped and pinkies crooked over fine china cups.
Happily, I have a seriously sweet tooth but I’m definitely back in the mood for some savoury street fare. Just as well, then, that my friend Rahul Verma, who writes about street food for The Hindu newspaper, has decided to revisit all his favourite old haunts. Rahul first started writing about Delhi’s street food over 20 years ago, so there’s a lot to look forward to over the next few months. Hurrah!
I’d hardly finished reading Monday’s piece about Jain Sa’ab’s Bedmi shop when I was in the car and heading to Daryaganj. A substantial street breakfast was just what I needed to set the right tone for the week and the wide, leafy streets of Daryaganj, dotted with colonial relics and publishing houses make a nice change from the teeming gullies of the old city.
One thing I’ve noticed about some of Delhi’s best street food is the quiet pride shown by the men who make it. No showy displays, no sweet-talking the customers, there’s an almost arrogant ‘take it or leave it’ confidence; here, the food does all the talking. Mr Jain is no exception, he has the intensity of a Gordon Ramsay. He watches his two helpers like a hawk – everything has to be prepared just so – and takes no nonsense from customers. I was left in no doubt that photography of his stall would not be permitted – I was here to eat and not collect souvenirs!
The pride, it turns out, is well-founded. There’s no shortage of bedmi wallahs in Delhi but Jain Sa’ab is in a class of his own. His lentil-laced crunchy puris are served with a deeply savoury, meltingly soft potato and chhole (chick pea) curry drizzled with a sharp fenugreek leaf chutney. But what marks him out from other bedmi shops is the side portion of tangy, sweet pumpkin which gives the whole dish a perfect balance. There’s also a final flourish of pickled carrot and I couldn’t decide which combination made for the most satisfying mouthful – I suspect a return trip may be needed to nail it! One thing is for sure, though, the wonderfully fresh and creamy sweet lassi was the perfect accompaniment. For a sweet final flourish we also could have had a pudding from the bubbling pot of Gulab Jamun. As Jain Sa’ab knows only too well, this is Indian street food at its finest!
Jain Sa’ab: In Daryaganj, from Golcha Cinema on Bahadur Shah Zafar Road turn right until you come to a T-junction, Jain Sa’ab is a small stall on the left