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That crunchy delight

Think of kachori, think of Fateh, the venerable 84-year-old man still plying the timeless favourite of one and all at Raj Niwas Marg. RAHUL VERMA takes a bite.

Photo: S. Subramanium.

It is business time for Fateh Kachoriwala at Raj Niwas Marg.

FOR ALL kachori lovers of Delhi, Fateh has been something of an enigma. Most serious students of this crunchy savoury have heard of Fateh, for the name tends to crop up in any conversation revolving around the humble kachori. But hearing about Fateh's kachoris is like listening to somebody tell a ghost story: Everybody knows somebody who has seen a spook, but no

one seems to have seen one personally. A ghost storyteller will say: "This is true, because it happened to my Aunt." And, likewise, the Fateh fan club would insist that Fateh's kachori still existed, but nobody was quite where it was to be found.

For those who like their kachoris, this can be a bit frustrating. And street-food lovers are known to go to every nook and corner of a city in search of a good kachori. Kachoris make for great breakfasts, and there are people who make it a point to go looking for a plateful in cities famous for their kachoris - from Meerut, Agra, Kanpur and Mathura to Varanasi, that bastion of satvik food.

Kachoris in Delhi

In Delhi, some of the best kachoris are to be had at Ansari Road, Dariba and Bazaar Sitaram.

But then, the high priests of the kachori cult had intoned that you hadn't seen the world if you hadn't tried out Fateh's stuff. So, Fateh remained not just something of an enigma, but a bit of a challenge as well. Any kachori enthusiast worth his or her salt knew that to be counted among the crème-de-la-crème of the kachori lovers' club, a visit to Fateh was a must.

So, a trek was organised one sunny morning to the intestines of Delhi in search of the elusive Fateh. An old student of St Xavier's gave detailed directions to the place, pointing out that Fateh had fed generations of hungry students of the school on Raj Niwas Marg. The map was followed to the last T, but there was no sign of Fateh there. Did the place exist at al?

But, just when the search was being given up for good, an old jungle saying came to the mind. When you are lost, goes the proverb, just get in touch with the nearest panwallah. A panwallah's help was dutifully sought. He scraped a betel leaf with a bit of limepaste, wrapped it up neatly, and then pointed desultorily to a garden umbrella spread out over a cycle in one narrow gully. That, he said, was Fateh's kachori counter.

Fateh's is on a little lane off Raj Niwas Marg, next to the Gujarati Samaj building. The famous kachoris are assembled on this very bicycle. Two huge bags filled with kachoris hang from

the cycle's handles. The rest of the stuff lies on a slab on top.

To test the waters, a solitary plate of kachori was ordered. It took a while coming, because there were some 20 people already assembled there and placed their orders. But the wait was worth its while, for the kachoris at Fateh's are put together like a choreographed act.

The way to go

Unlike most other kachori makers of Delhi, Fateh uses boiled chholey - the kind usually served with kulchas - with his kachoris. A group of three men go through the motions with clockwork-like precision. One of them picks up a small stainless steel utensil and takes out some of the boiled chholey, mixes it with some salt and masalas, and then places it on top of a kachori. The plate moves to a helper who tops it with chopped onions and green chillies. Then, a third person

sprinkles some masalas on the kachori, and then douses it with a spoonful each of a sweet and a sour amchoor-based chutney.

The plate goes back to the second man who now garnishes it with slivers of ginger and fresh green coriander leaves. And the plate is handed over to a client who seems to have lost all control over his salivatory glands.

Fateh's kachoris are excellent. Though kachoris are usually served with a hot sabzi, made either out of potatoes or pumpkin, the chholeys at Fateh's give a different taste to the khasta kachori. Some more plates were ordered, the kachoris were savoured and a fond farewell was bid to the three surprised men by the bicycle.

Finally, the citadel guarding the famed kachoris had been breached. Fateh, after all, means victory.

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