Tried and Tasted: How Daulat ki Chaat got it’s name & where to have the best in Delhi
Imagine a moonlit night. A man stands by a pot of thick and creamy milk. He churns it and carefully separates the foam. To this he adds some powdered sugar and flavouring. And then he is ready to serve his Daulat ki Chaat.
“Chaat,” I heard you ask. Indeed it’s called a chaat, though it has nothing to do with the street food that we associate with the word. It’s not tart, nor salted, doesn’t have green or red chutneys or any chillies.
It is a sweet dish – and the most sublime sweet in the world, in my opinion.
When I first heard about Daulat ki Chaat, I was fascinated by the story that went with it. Legend had it that the sweet could only be prepared in moonlit nights. Myths often stand on reason. Quite possibly, because it is a dish that spoils easily, it has to be prepared when the weather is cool, and nights are when temperatures drop. And it needed moonlight, possibly because you had to see what you were doing!
Let me tell you what the dish is all about. Creamy, thick milk is churned, and the froth that forms is kept in a bowl. On this some foams of saffron-infused milk are added for light colouring and flavour. Before serving, a pinch of powdered sugar is added to it.
It’s a winter dish, because it collapses and loses its texture and taste in hot weather. Traditionally, the dessert was prepared only between Diwali and Holi. Even now, it is largely available during this season, though I have seen it being served at weddings even when the weather is warm, thanks to modern cooling methods. In Lucknow, it is known as nimish and Kanpur, malai makhan.
In Delhi, the best Daulat ki Chaat is available in and around Chandni Chowk. There was a time when you could see vendors carrying the sweet in vessels balanced on wicker stands, walking sideways to avoid the sun. This time when I went looking for one of my favourite vendors in Sitaram Bazar, I found that he was selling it from a cart, with a block of ice under it to keep it cool.
Sanjay Kumar and Pravesh Kumar have been selling Daulat ki Chaat for three generations. Sanjay Kumar tells me that it is a laborious process, with the froth being separated from milk and cream. It is stored and refrigerated, and then kept cool when being sold. A helping of the creamy froth goes into a bowl. This is topped with grated khoya and some crushed nuts. They sprinkle some powdered sugar over it, and then top it with another layer of froth, flavoured with saffron. Each serving is for Rs 50 – but I remember the time it was sold for five rupees!
If there’s anything that truly melts in the mouth, it is this sweet. The soft frothy peaks just dissolve, leaving behind memories of a delightful taste and flavour. The sweet feels light, the sweetness is mild (too much sugar will weigh it down) and it can give the softest of soufflés a run for its money.
I once asked my guru, the late Santosh Sharma, who was a walking encyclopaedia on the food of Old Delhi, why the dish was called Daulat ki Chaat. He held that it was because the dish was ephemeral – like wealth. And it was called chaat because of the Hindi word for licking.
There are other versions of the story, but I like Guru Santosh’s theory. Daulat ki Chaat gives you such pleasure while it is there – but part of the charm is that the joy is fleeting.
Easy recipe: Daulat ki Chaat
Put some saffron threads in a little bit of warm milk. When the milk colours and cools, refrigerate it.
Mix full cream milk with cream. Refrigerate overnight for eight hours or so.
Now whisk it with a hand blender. Remove the froth and keep collecting it in a deep bowl. Leave some milk-cream mix aside. Mix this with the saffron milk and whisk again, putting the saffron-tinged froth in another vessel.
Put a scoop of the first mix in a bowl, top it with browned and crumbled khoya, some crushed nuts and powdered sugar. Now add a small scoop of the saffron-flavoured froth on top. Serve immediately.
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