Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Khaman Dhokla

While the streets of London are paved with gold, the streets of Pune are lined with numerous non-descript halwais. Pretty much anything that is not a Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, Karachi Sweet Mart or Kaka Halwai is a non-descript halwai. The one thing I like about these halwais is the layout of their stores. Barring the odd one that goes against the grain, pretty much all stores are rectangular with the shorter side serving as the storefront. All goods are behind a counter to one side of the store and the other half serving as ‘browsing area for the patrons. As you enter the store a mildly enthusiastic man imitating one of Henry Moore’s reclining sculptures greets you. He is usually the owner or at least the one in charge of the cash. Chances are, you’ll also be greeted with an insincere offer for some tea or coffee. You’re best advised not to accept, as it is quite an inconvenience for all parties concerned. Nod gracefully and move on. As you make your way into the store through the omnipresent swarm of flies you pass numerous brightly coloured sweets placed in perfect pyramids. Jarring yellow sev’s, saturated jalebis and many such delicacies. At about 3/4th of the length of the curved glass showcase you will come across a youth hanging out in a baniyan that once used to be white and way too enthusiastic for the job he is doing. These stores usually sell 3 kinds of foods—sweets made from milk and milk derivatives. Papdi, sev and fresh potato wafers (which are actually really good) and some hot snacks like Kachoris, Samosas and Khaman Dhokla. If you live in Pune and choose to buy your sweets from places other than Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, Karachi Sweet Mart or Kaka Halwai there is something seriously wrong with you and you need to seek counsel soon. Budhani makes the best fresh wafers in Pune, but at the core they all taste pretty much the same. They key to a non-descript halwai’s success however is the hot foods like the samosa, kachoris and such. The khamang dhokla remains my favourite among the hot foods at these shops as you can never find it in a restaurant. For some reason it’s only available at these small in-between shops. In my Pune days, my high-school days actually, there was a small shop called Ummed at Dynaneshwar Paduka — a seedy looking joint by all standards, the kind girls think twice about stopping at; mostly because it is frequented by vagabonds such as myself. This Formica decorated store had enough mirrors to give you vertigo and had a thin layer of oil on pretty much every surface. But the man made a mean dhokla. Besides its proximity to my school and being on the way home there was nothing much worth mentioning about this store. As a 16 year old, my immune system was at its peak and could tackle any ‘extras’ this store threw at me. Especially, when they poked a hole with their thumbs in my kachori to make way for some chutney. I was addicted to the Ummed Dhokla drenched in tamarind chutney for many, many years. I’m not sure if Ummed has survived the latest spate of ‘development’ that Pune has gone through. Maybe a new building came up in its place and Ummed moved to new location; perhaps one with less mirrors, moderate Formica surfaces and store help with better laundry ethics.

2 cups Chickpea Flour (Besan)
1/2 cup Water
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Oil
Pinch of Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Juice from 1/2 Lemon
Salt as per taste

For Tadka (Tampering)
1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
1/2 tsp Asafoetida
1/4 tsp Cumin Seeds

For Garnish
2 tsp grated Fresh Coconut
2 tsp Cilantro

Mix all ingredients for Dhokla in a bowl and beat it with a whisk till the Besan is completely dissolved and doesn’t have any lumps.
Allow the mixture to sit for 10 min.
Pour the mixture in a lightly greased Dhokla tray.
Steam the tray for 15 min.
Mixture will rise and the surface will have a smooth skin.
Remove from heat after 15 min and allow the tray to cool.

In a small pan take 1 1/2 tbsp oil and place it on medium-high heat.
Add all Tadka spices and heat till mustard seeds start to crackle.
Pour the hot oil mixture over the Dhokla and spread it evenly with a spoon
Garnish with fresh coconut and cilantro.
Cut the Dhokla into 2” squares with a knife.
Serve with tamarind chutney.