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Not rich, just chaat

RAHUL VERMA partakes of the rare North Indian dessert Daulat Ki Chaat.



Dollops of Ambrosia: Daulat Ki Chaat at Old Delhi's Nai Sarak. Photo: S. Subramanium.

THE WORLD, as far as one can tell, is divided into two. There is one section - the overwhelming majority, who have never had Daulat Ki Chaat. Most of them, in fact, haven't even heard of it. But, then there are some - a tinylot, who have never been the same ever since they had their first spoonful of this exotic delicacy. Daulat Ki Chaat is not a sweet-and-tangy preparation, as the name suggests. It's not quite clear why it's called a chaat, because it has nothing to do with bhallas and paapdis in curds and tamarind, a roadside dish that one generally associates with the word chaat. It is actually a sweet dish, a tradition of North India that's slowly disappearing with time. There are some interesting legends about this sweet. It is mostly made in winter, and old-timers believe that Daulat Ki Chaat should only be prepared at night.

And there are some who insist that the dessert, made out of foams of milk, has to be whipped in moonlight. Legend has it that the dish is perfect only when the moon is out and beaming its silver light on the world. There was a time, long years ago, when it was not that difficult to find a man selling Daulat Ki Chaat. You could always spot a man in the towns and cities of North India who would know how to whip up a perfect dish. What most aficionados of the dessert knew was

that they had to make a beeline for the sweet-seller's early in the morning if they wanted to lay their hands on it. If they reached there by 10 a.m. or so, they knew they would find his handi empty. For, it's not a sweet that stays. In the olden days, it was such a tedious work to make one donga of Daulat Ki Chaat that it was never found in large quantities. Even now, if you walk around the gallis of Old Delhi looking for some Daulat Ki Chaat, you are likely to find it somewhere. If you have done enough good deeds in your life, you are bound to come across a man pushing a cart with a huge thaal - a flat-bottomed vessel generally used for kneading a large ball of dough for rotis - with a mountain of white, foamy cream spilling out of it.

Nandu's cart

There's a man called Nandu who can sometimes be spotted near Kuccha Pati Ram in Bazaar Sitaram with his vessel of Daulat Ki Chaat atop a hand-pulled cart. Daulat Ki Chaat is prepared by whipping the foam of a pot of milk till it turns into stiff white peaks. Traditionally, it's a winter dish, because its peaks tend to flag if the weather is not cold enough. But now that ice is readily available, Daulat Ki Chaat doesn't have to be a winter's delight. Still, it somehow tastes better when the temperature dips.

There was a time when the vendor used to whip the milk with his bare hands. Several hours of work would lead to just one pot of the sweet. It's a bit easier now. Those who make Daulat Ki Chaat tend to use an electric churner to whip the milk. Occasionally, some cream is added to it to give the foam a thicker consistency. Watching Nandu prepare a dona is like observing an artist at work. He puts a layer of the milky foam in a plastic glass and then he sprinkles some boora - which is coarsely powdered sugar - on it. He then tops it with small bits of khoya. The icing comes in the form of a final dollop of foam tinged with saffron.

It's an incredible sweet. For one, it's light and fluffy and disappears in the mouth just as you get to taste it. Two, it's not overly sweet. Three, as those who have had Daulat Ki Chaat will know, it's another word for ambrosia. And four, even as prices go spiralling up, a plate of Daulat Ki Chaat still costs just Rs 10 or 15 - and that is real value for money.

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