A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.
Sometimes I think that if I am ever captured by an enemy nation and asked to spill state secrets (“What colour is your nuclear button; who stitched it?”), the bad guys won’t have to use thumbscrews or tickle my feet to get their answers – all that they will have to do is offer me a sandwich prepared with soft, white bread. And I will sing.
What is it about white bread that makes it so exciting? I think, more than anything else, it’s the smoothness of a fresh slice of loaf that gives it its top position in the hierarchy of breads. That is why, every now and then, I find myself going out in search of sandwiches.
Many of the bakeries in town offer chicken sandwiches which are smothered in coleslaw – a mayo and shredded cabbage mix. You get grilled chicken and cheese sandwiches almost everywhere in town, along with the usual cucumber and tomato ones. But these sandwiches don’t excite me much. Instead, I often find myself in Novelty Store, a tiny shop in Jangpura, where you can buy the most delicious sandwiches – prepared with slices of ham or chicken or tuna flakes. They have vegetable sandwiches, too, but I have not ventured there.
But in one part of Old Delhi, you get the most surprising sandwiches, prepared with – hold your breath – sliced fruit. The Jain brothers of the Jain Coffee House have been in the sandwich business since 1948, they tell me. Their main business is selling grain, but the sandwiches draw foodies from far and wide.
I first went there at least 25 years ago with my food guru, who, alas, is no more. The guru lived in Old Delhi and introduced me to many small eateries that few outside the area then knew about.
The place is pure vegetarian and does wonders with fruit. Of course, it’s white bread that’s used there. What adds to the taste is a paste or chutney of dried fruit that is spread on one of the slices. The other slice is smeared with butter. In between, you will find your choice of seasonal fruit – mango, apple, guava, chikoo (sapota), banana and so on – along with a few thin slices of cottage cheese. They add pomegranate seeds or occasionally thin slices of grapes to this, and then sprinkle a special fruit powder over it. And the final outcome is a sandwich that you’ve never had before.
The sandwich makers can be found in Raghuganj in Chawri Bazaar in the Walled City. You enter an old stone arch and walk into an open area which was once a big grain mandi. The mandi is not there anymore, but a few shops are still around.
Every time I have a sandwich there, I doff my cap to the fourth Earl of Sandwich, the creator of the bready delight. One school of thought states that a fond gambler, he didn’t want to waste time over a meal while betting. So he asked for his salted beef to be served between two toasted slices of bread which he could eat while he gambled. More kindly folk believe that he thought of sandwiches so that he wouldn’t have to take a break from work.
Either way, many thanks!
(Rahul Verma has been writing on food for over 25 years now. And, after all these years, he has come to the conclusion that the more he writes, the more there is left to be written)
Follow @htshowbiz for more