Winter has arrived here in Delhi. I know this not just because we’re all starting to cough and splutter with the dreaded ‘Change of Season’ ailments. Or because my feet are starting to get cold in bed at night and I can’t quite remember where I stashed our quilts last spring.
No, I know the cooler days are here again because a few days ago I got a call from Babu Ram Kumar to let me know he and his brothers are back in town. The Kumars are from Uttar Pradesh but every winter they’re based in Old Delhi where they continue a family tradition of making Daulat ki Chaat, that ethereally magical dessert that’s like a cross between a soufflé and a cloud.
The lore that surrounds daulat ki chaat is every bit as amazing as the taste. Food writer Madhur Jaffrey remembers it from her childhood in Delhi when a mysterious ‘Lady in White’ brought it in little pots to her family every morning. It is said that Daulat ki Chaat must be made, by hand, by the light of a full moon then left to set in the morning dew. It can only be made in the winter and has to be served and eaten quickly before the sun reduces the vendors’ snowy platters to a milky puddle. I’d been intrigued by these tales for years but for my book on Old Delhi I was determined to get to the bottom of the stories. I pestered every Daulat ki Chaat maker I could find to let me watch them at work but it was the Kumar brothers who eventually buckled under the pressure. And so, last winter I spent several unforgettable hours in the middle of a freezing cold night watching pails of milk being transformed into the food of the Gods. Were angels involved? Or the morning dew? I couldn’t possibly say – at least not until my book, Korma, Kheer and Kismet, comes out in April!
For now, though, don’t miss the brief season. Once almost extinct, for the past few seasons the daulat ki chaat stalls have been multiplying and from now until about Holi you’ll find them at various spots in Old Delhi including Dariba Kalan, Kinari Bazaar and outside the Chawri Bazaar metro station.