Eat first, pay later

Eat first, pay later
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First Published: Sat, Feb 17 2007. 03 59 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Feb 17 2007. 03 59 AM IST
 Our honourable judges are busy men, so I doubt if they have had the time to hang around Old Delhi, eating gol gappas and aloo tikkas. All that I know is that the Supreme Court of India wants to do away with roadside cooking. Shops all around Delhi are being sealed and, among those who have been asked to pack up their kadhais, are the street vendors.
For me, at least, life is not going to be the same again. As a food writer, I spend considerable time walking down the maze of lanes they call Purani Dilli. And it’s an experience that you just can’t beat. It rejuvenates your spirits and teaches you some good words that somehow escaped your lexicon of colourful phrases. And it feeds your soul, as well as your mouth.
I go to Old Delhi on two occasions: when I am in a blue funk and when I am not. There was a time when I used to drive up to the Old Delhi Railway Station and then take a rickshaw into one of the famous lanes of Old Delhi. The Metro has changed all that—I just whistle my way straight into the heart of the Walled City aboard the Metro.
I know I am somewhere near Khari Baoli when my nose starts to twitch. There is a heady aroma of masalas in the air, for this is the street where all kinds of spices are sold. The shops are lined with mounds of colourful condiments and you veer your way through little hillocks of yellow turmeric and orange chilli, towards the little stall that sells hing kachori, a crispy savoury tempered with asafoetida.
But Old Delhi is not just a foodie’s paradise; it’s a bit of civilization as well. I remember the time I tried to pay a chaat vendor before I had been given my plate of yoghurt-doused, chutney-tossed bhalley with boiled chickpeas and potatoes (seasoned, I may as well add, with juliennes of ginger and freshly-ground black pepper). The vendor, a venerable old man, looked at me and said gently: Eat first, pay later. In other parts of Delhi, if you try eating before paying at any food stall, they’ll make you feel like a piece of mackerel.
But then, these are people who have given their lives to their passions. There is one lassi-maker in Naya Baas, off Khari Baoli, who has been around for so long that even a friend’s grandfather remembers him from his nikkar days. And even then, says the grandfather, the lassi maker was a gnarled old man.
The names of all those shops are nice, too. I am tired of neon-lit signboards that speak of shoppes and marts. Here, the names smell of wet earth. There is Pakori Mal and then there's Chajju Mal Kallu Mal. It’s another Delhi—in the madding crowd, but far from it. And just one day, I want to see a black-robed gentleman there, quaffing the spicy water oozing out of gol gappas.
 
Rahul Verma is a food columnist. Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Feb 17 2007. 03 59 AM IST
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