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Street smart
FOOD

As the wise man said, you gain some and you lose some. I only wish that we wouldn’t keep losing some of our treasures. I was struck by this thought a few days ago when I spotted a man selling daulat ki chaat — a wonderful frothy dessert prepared with the foam of milk. I was in Old Delhi, biting into a hot kachori, when I saw the vendor standing with a basket of daulat ki chaat. I quickly bought some — because the sweet is not just delicious but difficult to come by these days.

Another street food item that seems to be fading out of our lives is something called a kulla. This is a mouth-watering snack that not too many people know about. Made out of a potato or a tomato, the kulla was once sold in Old Delhi street corners. Unfortunately, like daulat ki chaat, you hardly get to see it these days.

Yet, unlike the preparation of daulat ki chaat, which is a laborious process, kulla is easy to put together. The vegetable is scooped out and filled with peas, chickpeas, pomegranate seeds and tangy masalas — and you pop them into your mouth as you would a juicy phuchka.

Fruit kulla

The phuckha is known all over the country, albeit with different names, but the kulla never became a rage outside Old Delhi. However, the kulla has its small but avid fan club. I am one of its card-holding members, as I suppose are the chefs at The Metropolitan Hotel in New Delhi.

A few weeks ago I was surprised to see that the hotel, which has an Indian restaurant called The Chutney, had organised a kulla festival. And being a luxury hotel, it did it in style — by incorporating a whole host of kulla variations in the menu. They filled all kinds of fruits and vegetables with a mix of ingredients and spices — and came up with such exotica as a cucumber, red pepper and zucchini kulla. Of course, the traditional potato and tomato kullas were there as well (see recipes).

In the by-lanes of Old Delhi, it was the potato and the tomato kulla that ruled. In the olden days, and to an extent even now, Old Delhi was divided into Hindu and Muslim pockets. The Muslim pockets had street corners where you could get your kababs and biryanis, or halims and nahiris. The Hindu pockets had different kinds of chaats, kullas, bermi puris and kachoris. Of course, every now and then Muslims would go to the Hindu pockets and the ostensibly vegetarian would sneak into the Muslim localities to taste the food on the other side of the neighbourhood.

The Hindu bania, or the trader, was a busy man. He would sit in his shop, taking care of customers and making entries his red, cloth-bound ledger. All this was hard work, so the trader kept an eye out for passing vendors. He would stop a man walking by with khomcha — a cane basket with a stem — which would be full of something aromatic and delicious like a kulla. The vendor would take a sal leaf, put a piece of kulla in it, and hand it over to the trader.

The trader would get back to work, and then hail the man with the dahi vada. Then he’d wait for the vendor with a basket of samosas. Or perhaps he’d stop the man on a cycle carrying a degh full of crispy kachoris and a potato sabzi.

Those were simple days. Now you need to jazz up some of these old snacks to garner eyeballs. Not surprisingly, the kulla festival at The Metropolitan introduced some interesting innovations. For meat lovers, some of the stuffings were with minced chicken or minced lamb. And there were even fruit kullas — with stuffed bananas, water melon and apples.

The fillings in a kulla are of different types — and can include anything from green peas and cottage cheese to chickpeas and boiled potatoes. A dash of lime juice goes into the street food kulla. The festival kulla, on the other hand, had an array of sauces — from the sweet saunth, made out of tamarind, to the hot green chilli chutney and mint sauce.

The last time I had a kulla in Old Delhi was about four or five months ago. I had gone for some kababs and got happily waylaid by a kulla seller. I could smell his potato from a distance and had to stop for a quick bite. I took the potato half — full of little bits of fried potatoes, chickpeas and green peas, and topped with spices and lime juice — and bit into it lovingly. For a moment, I forgot all about my kababs.

I am happy that The Metropolitan thought of holding a kulla festival. That’s one way of reviving these lost memories. A healthy demand for kullas, no doubt, will lead to a vigorous supply. Let there be kullas!        

Stuffed tomato kulla

Ingredients

4 tomatoes
10gm steamed sweet corn
10gm boiled potato
5gm chopped green chillies
5gm chopped ginger
10ml lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Chaat masala, to taste

Method

Mix all the ingredients barring the tomatoes. Blanch the tomatoes and de-skin them. Cut each piece horizontally into two. Scoop out the pulp and seeds and then fill the pockets with the mixed ingredients. Place them on a plate facing upwards and serve.

Stuffed potato kulla

Ingredients

4 potatoes
10gm boiled chickpea
10gm steamed sweet corn
10gm boiled potato
5gm chopped green chilllies
5gm chopped ginger
10ml lemon juice
Salt, to taste
Chaat masala, to taste

Method

Mix all the ingredients except the four potatoes. Deep fry the potatoes and cut them horizontally into two. Make a deep pocket in each potato, leaving a thick shell. Fill the pockets with the mixed ingredients. Add the scooped out bits of the fried potato to the mixture if you wish to. Place on the plate facing upwards and serve.

Courtesy: The Metropolitan Hotel, New Delhi

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