Walking around Kamla Nagar in north Delhi, you stumble upon a number of hattis (eateries). There are Kake Di Hatti, Om Di Hatti, Bille Di Hatti, Sardar Di Hatti, among others. One of the oldest and most popular among them is Chache Di Hatti in G-block market, close to Kirori Mal College (KMC), Delhi University. “Any student who has studied in the North Campus definitely knows about our shop and would have come here at least once,” says Kawal Kishor Saluja, the second-generation owner of the shop. And, he is not exaggerating. The eatery has been a haunt for several generations of students. Actor Amitabh Bachchan, who studied at KMC, used to jump over the walls of his college to gorge on the famous “Chacha ke Chole,” reminisces Kawal Kishor, 65.
The shop derives its name from Kawal Kishor’s father, Pran Nath Saluja, who was lovingly called chacha by the students and the locals around. Pran Nath, who hailed from Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan), migrated to Delhi, with thousands of other Partition refugees, when he was in his early 30s. He found a home in Punjabi Basti, close to Ghanta Ghar, and, armed with his special recipe of chana masala, he started serving the popular “pindi chhole”, which has, over the years, come to define Delhi’s food culture.
Before he set up shop in Kamla Nagar, Pran Nath roamed the streets with a push cart. “He used to go to the nearby colleges and the railway office on Mall Road till one of the students said that he didn’t have to carry such weight on his head and offered to buy him a shop,” he says. The space was bought in 1957 and the shop continues to run from there . “The only difference over time has been that we used to sit and serve earlier, but now we stand,” adds Kawal Kishore, who has been coming to the shop for over 50 years. His son, Gaurav Saluja, 32, helps him run the business.
If you visit at lunchtime, you will be welcomed by a long queue — customers either get the food packed or use the two tables on the street to savour the meal. Order a plate and you will find chhole bhature, cut chillies and onion, and khatti imli ki chutney, made with tamarind, coriander, mint and green chillies. But the magic of the dish lies in chana masala, still made with Pran Nath’s recipe. One can also buy packets of chana masala. “People who found it expensive to buy a meal at the shop requested us to sell it separately, so that they can make it at home,” says Kawal Kishor. It is one of the reasons why the shop is famous.
If you have had enough of plain bhatura, you can also opt for the one stuffed with aloo, which is also a speciality. “We used to serve samosa and tikki, which were discontinued after my father passed away in 1996. Initially, we only made plain bhaturas, but students requested my father to stuff them with aloo. He used aloo masala, prepared for tikkis, to make bhaturas, and they eventually got popular,” he says, adding that, back then, eight pieces of samosas and tikkis were sold for one rupee, with chhole on the side.
For the father-son duo, the day starts at six in the morning and the preparation of the meal takes about four hours. “It takes three hours for chole to boil. Meanwhile, maida is kneaded, onion and chillies are cut and the chutney is prepared. We start serving at 10 am, and, by three in the afternoon, everything gets over,” he says.
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