It is past midnight and we are in queue with two bikers and an autorickshaw driver before a thela serving paranthas. Only two varieties are available right now — aloo and aloo-pyaaz — but nobody’s leaving without their plate. Other food joints in the city have downed shutters and most streets are dark and quiet.
The space under the Moolchand metro station is buzzing. “Moolchand Parantha” is the name of a food, an eatery and a stretch of road. Two eateries and a scattering of thelas rustle up delicacies, mostly paranthas, but also pizzas, throughout the day. This thela, however, is only for paranthas. The thela is the ancestor of the major eatery of the area, Moolchand Parantha. It comes to life for an hour after midnight.
For the rest of the day, it is Moolchand Parantha and another well-lit eatery called Sanjay Chur Chur Naan that draw most of the crowds. A cafe next to them looks desolate in comparison. “The thela is where the story of Moolchand Parantha began in the 1980s. Three years ago, we opened the big eatery but thele mein emotional touch hai (We are emotional about the thela). We have to wind up the eatery at 11.30 pm, but we start to sell from the thela for another half an hour after that,” says Deepak Khattar, the owner of Moolchand Parantha.
Close to midnight on a weekday, Moolchand Parantha is packed. One group is wearing backpacks over white shirts. They are the sales team of a retail outlet in DLF Promenade in Vasant Kunj, around 14 km away, who have come here to celebrate. “I come here with my family whenever I get the time. They use the right amount of masala and give a whole serving of Amul table butter. The paranthas are also reasonably priced; at Rs 50, you can get a decent meal here,” says Ravindra Chaturvedi about choosing this place over the restaurants of the mall.
Other diners range from homemakers to Google executives and college students. Kitchen tables are heaped with trays of stuffing — cheese, chilli garlic, mince chicken, aloo-gobhi, aloo, soya bean and peas, among others. Each platter is accompanied by pickle, dhaniya chutney and a pack of butter that convinces one to stop counting calories. The drinks of choice come in kulhars — earthen mugs that are a rarity in Delhi — and a popular sweet dish is the phirni.
“We have a variety of flavours in lassi, from strawberry, black currant and mango to dry fruits,” says Khattar. At Sanjay Chur Chur Naan, there is a pick of Aloo Pyaz Chur Chur Naan and Nutrela Chur Chur Naan, among others, as well as pizzas and soya chaap. Beverages range from badam milk to anjeer ki lassi. Each kitchen is attached to an eating space, though most evenings find people standing outside, around cars and bikes, with plates resting on seats and bonnets.
“It is safe here and I come here with my family,” says Hiteshi Arora, who has turned the seat of a Scooty into a table for paranthas. The stretch is well-lit and peopled with diners, autodrivers and rickshawpullers. “I work through the night, so I eat paranthas. It is tasty, healthy and filling,” says Sunil Kumar, who drives an auto. The bikers, out for a speed thrill, passed Khan Market, but stopped here, “because you don’t get the taste of Moolchand Parantha anywhere else”.