Back with a bangAug 10th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Food, Lifestyle
On a reader’s suggestion RAHUL VERMA embarks to Jheel and unravels the wonders of Chaman dhaba
There is something picturesque about the word Jheel. You can imagine a placid blue lake surrounded by lush green trees. But the Jheel in East Delhi is not quite like that.
There was a jheel there once no doubt, but there’s no sign of it now. Jheel is a tightly packed residential area where rickshaws, cars, buses and people jostle for space. I went there some days ago, as I mentioned in my last column, to look up a couple of restaurants suggested by reader V. K. Arora. He had urged me to try out the food in Chaman Vaishnon Punjabi Dhaba. This again is close to the tonga stop in Jheel.
What’s nice about Chaman, which serves only vegetarian food, is that it’s like an old dhaba. These days, dhabas all look like glitzy restaurants, with chandeliers and laminated tables. Chaman, on the other hand, is a simple little dhaba, with basic chairs and tables, a kitchen on one side and a tandoor on the other.
Actually, Chaman is an old dhaba. It was started some 40 or 50 years ago by Chaman Lal and is now run by his son, Shunty. I looked at the menu — all written in Hindi. Arora had suggested that I try out the paneer tikka and soya chop tikka which are served either plain or stuffed. “His kadhai paneer and dal tadka are out of the world,” he had said in a mail. The dal, he vowed, could beat Bukhara’s famous dal.
That day, however, I felt like trying something else. So I asked for a plate of shahi paneer and a plate of malai kofta. Both were for Rs.60 a plate. I asked for the shahi paneer not because I am very fond of it, but because it’s a good test. Most restaurants I know murder the dish by drowning it in tomatoes and cream. If you can make a good shahi paneer, you can conquer the world. Chaman dhaba didn’t fail the test.
The shahi paneer was indeed subtle, with a light gravy of spices and cream. The malai kofta was out of this world. I have always had a troubled relationship with malai koftas. The koftas in our house never work out. They are so hard that you can play cricket with them. And the gravy is usually so thick you feel as if you are foraging in a forest. Chaman’s malai kofta on the other hand, was perfect. The kofta with cheese was soft and actually melted in the mouth when I bit into it. The gravy it came in had a wonderful flavour, but wasn’t the least bit spicy or heavy. I ate the two vegetarian dishes with soft rotis, and thought it was one of the nicest meals I’d had.
Even though it’s not easy going to Jheel, I have to go back there for the dishes that Arora has mentioned. Their butter chaap and masalachaap (Rs.70) sound promising.
And I have to eat their tadka dal. Of course, “better than Bukhara” is not really a compliment — for the Bukhara dal in my opinion is highly overrated (and a bit burnt to boot!), but I have full faith in Arora’s taste buds. So I shall gird my loins and return to Jheel. Like Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back.