For the food lovers, the very cold weeks of Delhi has some compensation which gives them a reason good enough to take a stroll. You will find the market full of vibrant fruits, spinach, mustard leaves, peas, and carrots. Indeed, this is the best time to see the Indian food culture. A speciliaty of winter season is that you will find new season’s jaggery called gur all over India. The pushcarts groaned under tons of freshly made rocky lumps of crystallized sugar-cane are commonly seen.
In the narrow lanes of Chandi Chowk, there is a meat Dhaba known as Ashok and Ashok that serves jaggery with mutton korma. It is believed that jaggery helps the ghee (clarified butter in which korma is prepared) go down. The arrival of jaggery into the Indian market during the winter months will see the tiny lanes of Gali Batashan flooded with chikis (They are sticky discs that are studded with cashews, peanuts and even rose petals).
One of the great highlights of the winter season that makes it foray into the streets of Delhi is ‘Daulat ki Chaat.’ From October onwards till March-April you would see a milky dessert which melts as soon as it is placed in the mouth. All through this bazaar, a common sight would be snowy platters of this chat sold by the vendors. Do not expect this chaat to have punchy spicy flavour as it is a dessert. It closely resembles the uncooked meringue and taste is shockingly subtle. It is raunchy light foam which disappears as soon as it kept in the mouth.
You can expect daulat ki chaat in the coldest winter months because with the first ray of sunlight it begins to melt. The legend behind this God’s own street food is difficult to trace but the dish has all the hallmarks of a Mughal culinary splendour. Here we go with a legend about Daulat ki Chaat narrated by Madhur Jaffrey:
“Early in the morning an old lady in an immaculate ankle-length skirt and a well-starched white muslin bodice and head cover appeared at our gate. On her head she carried an enormous brass tray and on the tray were mutkainas which were partially baked red clay cups containing the frothy ambrosia. The recipe was and always has been a complete mystery. When the woman was asked about the recipe she just used to say this……
“Oh Child! I am the only woman to make this dish in the entire Delhi. Your grandmother and I have known to each other for so many years. How do I make it? It needs all the right conditions. I take milk at first and then add dried sea foam to it. Then I pour the mixture into clay cups. I have up to the roof and leave the cups there overnight in the chill air as the most important ingredient in this is dew. If there is no dew the froth of this recipe does not form and if there will be too much dew it will be bad. So, I have to leave it to the mercy of Mother Nature overnight. If froth is good, I sprinkle some khurchan (milk which has been boiled till all liquid gets evaporated and the sweetened solids are then peeled off in thin layers. Finally I sprinkle pistachio nuts over it.”
Though it may just be story but the taste of “daulat ki chaat” in the narrow lanes of lingers on the taste of those who have ever tasted it! On your gastronomic tour to India, you will find the same preparation sold in Lucknow by the name of Makhan Malai or Nimish in Lucknow and Malaiyo in Banaras.