Images by Charukesi Ramadurai
Stuffed to the core
by Charukesi Ramadurai
2 February 2010
Established in 1875, says the board. Five generations of frying parathas; that is what Kanhaiya Lal Durga Parshad Dixit’s specialty eatery is about.
I am standing in front of the shop musing over that kind of heritage and taking in the bustle in a distracted manner. All the employees are wearing spiffy red T-shirts with yellow aprons and matching yellow caps which carry the shop logo. I guess there is no such thing as too much advertising, even for an establishment that is over a century old.
Apart from that, it is easy to imagine that nothing has changed over the years. There is something elemental about the way parathas are fried and served in the tiny shops of the parathewali gali (gali meaning lane) of old Delhi. It is as if nobody there has heard of cholesterol and fat and the nasty thing these can do to the human heart. But why think of such things when you can have the most delicious parathas fried fresh in front of you? And with a range larger then you can ever sample - from the staple aloo (potato) and gobi (cauliflower) to the mildly adventurous papad (fried snack) and mirchi (green chilli) to the outright bizarre fillings of karela (bitter gourd) and rabri (a milk sweet).
My friends and I squeeze our way through the narrow benches and find a place by the wall at the end of the room. The boy who looks too young to be working there places the steel plates in front of us, small crevices filled with the chhole and alu sabji. We don’t really need all these accompaniments since each of the parathas comes bursting with flavours. Accha, methi chahiye, yeh lo mein gobi ka laaya, yeh kha lo, (in other words, eat whatever I have got!) says the waiter with a benign smile; we are already down several bits of paratha – shared generously across the four plates, each with different fillings, and we can only weakly nod and take the gobi, begging him to forget the earlier order of methi.
It is fascinating to watch how fast the entire process is; the waiter takes your order (that is just to make you feel happy – in his mind he has already decided what you are going to eat), he goes near the counter and yells the order to the man with the dough. He in turn places a handful of the stuffing in the middle of the rolled out disc and folds it carefully and lets his hands fly lightly over the atta (dough), and then passes it on to the man who handles the frying pan and in a minute, another paratha has made its way into the world.
A kind word of advice: it is best to close your other senses and let taste rule in the time you are there. Focus on the food.