Till about few years ago I had not been introduced to Soufflé and till about couple of years ago I wasn’t even aware of its Indian cousin !! Big deal ?
Let me unfold the story for you now …
A few years ago, in a small town in North, a local cook was treating me and my family to some of his excellent preparations, though all typical North Indian dishes. We all enjoyed it thoroughly and appreciated him a lot for his skills. At the end, when it was time for the dessert, he very proudly, brought on the table his priced preparation of the evening. In a large serving plate, there was a baked, a big mount of pale yellow casted lump with an opaque jelly-like texture having a cherry placed on top of it. The moulded lump was surrounded by a light yellow sweet sauce spread all over the plate. Although, the look was not very great but since it was brought with lot of love and looked something unfamiliar, I had to give a soft yet questioning look to the presenter. He took pride in announcing that he had prepared a Soufflé for us. I scooped out two-three spoonfuls from the lump and poured some sauce over it in my plate.
The first spoon in my mouth and…..it was a sweet concoction tasting pungently of raw, uncooked eggs. The sauce was awfully bad. Was not able to decide whether to gulp it in or take it out. I had to appreciate my server for his efforts and thoughtfulness. However, had to apologize to him that it was our fault of not informing in advance that I am almost allergic to eggs and no one in the family eats eggs. I had to make it up to avoid eating that dessert any further myself and also to save my family from tasting and the embarrassment which could follow. Anyways, we complemented and suitably rewarded the cook for the excellent dinner albeit the curtain call and took leave of him. While we still remember the goodies he served, we also can’t forget that dish and the experience.
My love affair with the Soufflé was a non-starter. So, for quite a few years I didn’t undertake the adventure to even go somewhere near Soufflé.
Then, a few years ago, one evening I was having a long discussion with Prof Aloke Kumar in Kolkata in my favorite restaurant Mocambo. Whenever we meet, it is he who takes on the responsibility to order food, knowing very well what the foodie in me would relish. We shall discuss some other time on what all great dishes Mocambo and other places in Kolkata serve. Today I will talk only about my almost aborted and then restarted love with souffle. Coming back to the topic, after our dinner, Prof whispered something into the ear of the server. Minutes later, he brought us a chocolaty fluffy pudding set in a glass with a twig of green mint placed right in the center of it. It was tempting.
I couldn’t resist the great looks of the dish and instantly scooped out a spoon out of it and tasted. Ooooh…..it was a fluffy creamy spoonful which was mildly sweet with a predominant chocolate flavour besides other subtle flavors. The spoon vanished on the palate no sooner it hit the mouth. A quick succession of 2-3 spoons on the palate gave some patience and brought me back to my senses. I realized it was divine in taste and yes…..it was chocolate Soufflé !! Since then, if I am staying overnight in Kolkata, most of the times, a visit to Mocambo on Park Street is a must and has to wind up with this Soufflé.
I am sure, most of us enjoy Soufflé once in a while and quite a few may not have been introduced to it yet, like I wasn’t. Before moving ahead with the more interesting part, let me talk briefly about Souffle, for it would be easy for us to relate with what I shall talk about in the later half of this story.
As per Wikipedia, Soufflé is a baked egg-based dish which originated in early eighteenth century in France. It is made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients and served as a savory main dish or sweetened as a dessert. The word Soufflé is the past participle of the French verb souffler which means “to breathe” or “to puff”. The base provides the flavor and the egg whites provide the “lift”, or puffiness to the dish.
A well prepared Soufflé is a treat in itself and would never give a taste or even an after-taste of egg on your palate. In fact, it is a divine preparation, light to eat having subtle yet amazing flavours.
Now, we have its Indian Cousin too, our very own version of Soufflé. I have been living in Delhi since birth and claim myself to be a foodie of some sort but let me shyly admit that I was not aware of it. One day, I stumbled upon the information about it while reading a food book, that too written by a Scottish journalist, Pamela Timms.
The dish is known as Daulat ki Chaat !!! Heard of it ?
Pamela Timms, in her book entitled Korma Kheer and Kismet, a foodie herself, describes how she spent five seasons in Old Delhi exploring different foods and trying to nearly unearth the secretly guarded recipes of some of the popular dishes. Towards the end of the book, she describes Daulat Ki Chaat – snack of wealth. In her words, ” ….Daulat Ki Chaat is probably old Delhi’s most surprising street food. It resembles uncooked meringue and the taste is shockingly in its subtlety, more molecular gastronomy than raunchy street food, a light foam that disappears instantly on the tongue, leaving behind the merest hint of sweetness, cream, saffron, sugar and nuts….”
Daulat Ki Chaat is available in Old Delhi Only (though it’s closer versions are available in Lucknow as Nimish, as Malai Makhan in Kanpur and Malaiyo in Varanasi). It is prepared only during colder months of December to February or at the most till March. It is advisable to have it fresh during the early mornings because with the first rays of sunshine, the froth starts to collapse. It is an experience in itself which would leave you wondering what was it and how would it had been prepared.
Although, the recipe has been an exclusive preserve of a few traditional families and is a closely guarded secret, but over the years, a few versions of the recipe have surfaced, though not fool-proof. It is said that the pure buffalo milk or full cream milk is mixed with cream, rose water and a leavening agent, normally described as Samundary Paani and is left for hours on an ice slab. Then it is hand churned for long in the wee hours of the morning in the light of the moon. The froth risen from such churning is delicately collected in a separate wide vessel and is kept outside for the dew drops to pour over it which helps it to settle. One needs to know how much of dew is just right for it to set. Too less or too much of dew could spoil it. The set aerated froth is then mixed with Saffron, grated Khoya, Castor Sugar and Nuts before serving. This is a close estimate of the recipe.
Fascinated by the description in the book, the resolute foodie in me, this year was waiting for the December chill to somewhat set in. I restlessly waited till the first week to get over and by the advent of second week, on an early morning of a Saturday, drove to Chandni Chowk with friend Sanjay. Right at the entrance to the legendary Paranthewali Gali, much to our delight, was this vendor selling this divinity – Daulat Ki Chaat. Wasting no time, ordered two servings with our mobile camera ready to capture each of his moves, as if not to miss any action of a celebrity.
First, he scooped out a couple of spoons from the pile and let it rest there. To it, he added the saffron laden frothy concoction followed by a dash of castor sugar and khoya. Mixed the ingredients with his spoon, transferred it to a paper bowl and sprinkled some more grated Khoya and some castor sugar over it, before handing over the divine bowl to us to savor. First spoon on the palate was hit with an aerated creamy textured froth which was complemented with a mild sweetness of sugar, hint of flavour and aroma of saffron and the crunch of Khoya. No words can describe the experience and before you recover from the divine shock of aroma and flavours, the bowl is empty, leaving you craving for more, yet more. In nutshell, it is amazing and a must try. It is a loss that you can’t carry it back home, although they have packing arrangements and do claim that it won’t collapse for few hours. One did carry back home a little quantity but it’s better, much better to have it there.
And yes, it’s named Daulat Ki Chaat as it is actually a wealth in itself – expensive and inexpensive. A small bowl costs you Rs 50 and before you realize it is finished. One can’t do with just one bowl or few spoons of it. Yeh dil certainly maange more….and yes I plan to pay at least one more visit, if not more, this season before it fades away.
Finally, I am unable to decide, if the Chocolate Soufflé at Mocambo, Kolkata (a foreign dish) is better or our own Daulat Ki Chaat is better.
To sum up, I present here few facts of the both. Both are light, aerated and fluffy with amazing yet subtle flavours. One is prepared with egg s and other base ingredients and is baked. The other is time consuming, hand churned and a natural ingredient- morning dew drops play an important role in the final product. But both are heavenly to taste and experience. Soufflé, I am sure, you needn’t travel to Kolkata for it. One can find it everywhere all the time but Daulat Ki Chaat is available here in Delhi 6 and that too during particular months and in the mornings only.
I leave it to you to take your call but surely, those who can, go to Chandni Chowk in Delhi during next one month or so in the early hours and experience the Magic Of Flavours.