A photo tweeted by BJP leader Harish Khurana on Monday showed Congress leaders Ajay Maken, Arvinder Singh Lovely and Haroon Yusuf gorging on “chhole-bhature” at Old Delhi’s Chaina Ram confectioners, hours before they were to sit on a fast alongwith Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
One of Delhi’s favourite pairings — chhole and bhature — was needlessly dragged into a political quibble for it was not the fluffy, golden bhatura but its more humble cousin, “poori, that Congress leaders were enjoying in the morning,” attests Kunal Balani, the fifth-generation proprietor of Chaina Ram confectioners. “We start selling chhole-bhature only after 1pm. Our poori is the size of a bhatura and that’s probably what caused the confusion,” he says, adding, “Ajay Maken has been a regular customer for years and visits the shop for breakfast once a month.”
Established in 1901 in Lahore’s Anarkali Bazar by Chaina Ram, the sweetmeat shop found a place in Old Delhi’s endlessly teeming Fateh Puri Chowk in 1947. “My great-grandfather started this shop. We’re originally from Sindh but worked out of Lahore. After the Partition, he shifted to Delhi and started selling sweetmeats here,” says Balani. He emphasises on the age-old three-month tasting rule of the shop. “Apart from testing the quality periodically, we ensure no food item is carried over to the next day. We make our products in limited quantities and pull the shutter down when all the food has disappeared from the trays,” he adds.
The tiny shop that stands adjacent to a 17th-century mosque has patrons thronging its threshold. Some have been loyal to Chaina Ram for decades. “I’ve been coming here for 30 years. No occasion in our family is complete without their sweets,” says Kailash Chand, a local jeweller.
The shop has also cast an imprint on the Delhi street food hog’s taste buds with its desserts. The saffron-hued Karachi Halwa, made with starch, desi ghee and dry fruits, is among their most preferred desserts, followed closely by Sev Badam, Pinni and Sohan Halwa. Several awards, some coming their way year after year, only stand as reiterations of the 117-year-old shop’s pull.
But it isn’t just the Congress leaders who tilt towards their savouries. Recently, Chaina Ram clinched the title for the Best Samosa at the Delhi Street Food Awards, by Delhi Food Walks. If only there was a category for a well-camouflaged poori as well.