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Chole Bhature, Kala Chana, Nobody Can Cook Chickpeas as We Do, Writes Kunal Vijayakar

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What The Fork​​
Have you ever watched someone deeply immersed into his smartphone, with plugged in headphones, and industriously flicking screens as if in a trance? The chances are that this hostage is watching an Instagram Reel of a trending song, to which some kid, teenager, adult, grand-mother, even infant is doing the catchiest hook step. It’s a revolving door of such videos that everybody I know today keeps flicking and watching. It’s become a hypnotic, enslaving and addictive national obsession. Sure, this social media trend may have made hundreds of nobodies into stars, but there’s one real star who is addicted to watching, scrolling and is hooked onto something completely different. Something quite off-beat and more or less idiosyncratic. Cricketer, Virat Kohli is hooked onto watching Chole Bhature videos in his free time, and he allegedly watches hundreds of them.

Now, this is a man I can easily identify with, not just watching food videos, but a man with a passion and interest in Chole Bhature. That is, unfortunately, all we have in common. It’s one of my favourite foods as well, and Chana or Chole has been my go-to meal since I was really little. We used to cook Kala Chana (also known as Black Chickpeas) nearly every other day at my grandmother’s house because that’s all I would eat. The preparation was quite simple. The Chana was soaked overnight, and cooked in a simple tempering of oil, mustard seeds, Hing, curry leaves, chilli powder, Haldi and Garam Masala. The chana turned really soft and silky by the time all the water had been dried out and I ate them with soft ghee filled Khakhras.

Having been brought up on Chana, and possibly it being, the only vegetarian food I ate beyond potatoes, I’d look for Chana at every restaurant I’d visit, even as a child. Till today, Butter Chicken and Chole still remain my two favourite dishes. Cream Centre’s original outlet at Chowpatty, walking distance from where we lived, popularised Chana Bhatura in Mumbai. The Chana tasted distinctively north Indian, unlike the Chana made at our Maharashtrian home. It was so difficult to figure out the recipe for the Cream Centre Chana. Till today, the Channa Bhatura is cooked in a medley of secret masalas, and oil with full green chillies. This chana is made with Kabuli Chana (Chickpeas or Garbanzo), which are white and large unlike Kala Chanas, which are small and dark brown legumes. This large white Chana, when cooked by Cream Centre, comes out as dark brown, smooth, soft and chatpata and must be eaten with large, deep-fried, hot-air filled Bhatura.

But Delhi is the place for Chole Bhature or Chole Kulche. I know I could start an argument over which are the best Chole or Pindi Chole in Delhi, but I will give you my preferences. For my money, the best Chole are at Chache Di Hatti near Delhi University, North Campus. Soft, spicy chole served with rings of onion, tangy chutney and Bhature, which can be had plain or stuffed with aloo.

My next favourite is Sita Ram Diwan Chand near Imperial Cinema. The shop has been serving Chole Bhature since 1950. The Chole, dark and slightly oily are served with two medium-sized Bhatura with a special aloo sabzi made with potatoes in a spicy, tangy mix of spices.

Kwality, that old institution at Connaught Place, much like Cream Centre in Mumbai, serves traditional Chole with oversized Bhatura. The flavour and taste of the Channa Bhatura hasn’t changed in the last 70-odd years that Kwality has been serving Delhi solidly good food.

And then there’s the dark, nearly black, oily chana, with one piece of potato at Odeon Sweets at Gole Market in Delhi. Just the right amount of spiciness, garam masala, and sourness, served with Punjabi pickle and green chillies and onions along with a fluffy, crispy chewy Bhatura.

Finally, there is Pindi Chana. A classic dish from Punjab, distinctively different from other Chole recipes, that’s because the Pindi Chole made in the North is cooked without onion, garlic or tomatoes. They too use white, large Kabuli Chana, but they boil the chana in tea leaves to give the dish this dark colouring and add just a few spices, often with just a little ghee. This is a solidly good, wholesome and actually healthy meal to have. I know chickpeas are popular all over the world especially in the Mediterranean and Arab world but nobody can make them like we desi do.

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