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The Delhi Choley Bhature Scene is Changing but not for the Good!

The bloggers are rampant and uncontrollable when creating videos about it, supported by the inexplicable appetite of social media content consumers, and it seems that no matter what season of the year it is, there is one equally popular food option during the breakfast, lunch, and dinner timings - Choley Bhature. While every hood in the city has its own favorite, Instagram and YouTube continue to preach the top 5, 7, or 10 places to reach the holy grail of Choley Bhature, and surprisingly, people in Delhi, people from Delhi, those who grew up within the city are as curious and sometimes naive, following every bit of social content to explore a new 'Choley Bhature' destination. While this transformation set in over the last 5 - 7 years, with the post-COVID [WFH] lifestyles also contributing to the cause, the overall Choley Bhature scene in Delhi has changed and not everything about it needs to be romanced with words and not every change should have been welcomed.

The Bhature in Choley Bhature are Losing Their Ground

Ask anyone who has cherished Choley Bhature and you are bound to get some feedback about how the Bhature are getting more emaciated. The stuffing is slowly slipping away, while the size in many of the much-adored CB destinations is getting humbler by the month. It is hard to understand why the size or the filling is undercut when the price continues to rise exponentially. In some of the more prized [actually better branded] eateries, you can expect the price to be 150 and upwards but the bhaturas are largely disappointing. During my childhood, the bhaturas held their ground, they stood apart as a differentiating factor, being an integral part of the benchmark that defined one CB destination better than a newly opened shack. There was an inherent softness to the bhaturas of yesteryears without making them any less crisp on the outside. The filling of cottage cheese was often sufficient to give the bhaturas a distinct personality of their own. Now, the thinner, weaker, and more hollow bhaturas often look like an afterthought. While some Choley Bhature Delhi eateries have managed to hold on to the size, they have compensated by making the roll of dough thinner, ensuring that the priced softness of the interiors of a bhatura is lost for good. Some food bloggers who continue to hunt for emerging Choley Bhature destinations in Delhi often describe the bhaturas as being lighter, flakier, and presumably healthier. Well, to burst their bubble, Choley Bhature is not intended to be healthy. It is about occasional indulgence. The bhaturas should drip a bit of oil into your plate. Tinkering too much with the preparation means that the bhaturas lose their soul - those strands of uncooked but super-hot, slightly fermented maida need to retain their chewiness and all of this cannot be accomplished with smaller and supposedly healthier methods to fry the bhatura. My advice for those who are looking for healthy Choley Bhature joints in Delhi - to get in shape or to stay in shape, make the obvious choice, and just don't eat this stuff. If you really believe that there is a healthier version out there that won't add inches to the waistline, you choose to live in an illusion, and one that costs more, does not taste that good, and still shows up on the weighing scale. 

Once Upon a Time, the Choley in Choley Bhature had Some Sass [and Spice]

I am not sure how close or far Delhi is from the nearest dot connecting the Spice Route that once existed but no matter what I am told about the city's history, the people here adored and loved the rawness and heat that spices promise. People can keep complaining about how red chili powder can be detrimental to your health but please, you are living in a city where merely inhaling the air means your lungs battle at par with that of someone who smokes for a living. Every bit of the ecosystem around us is polluted to the extent that if contamination of air, soil, water, and food was the sole parameter to be recognized as a Super Power, we would own that list and nobody would be within touching distance. So, a bit of hotness, spiciness, tanginess, and sourness that dishes like Punjabi Cholley or Amritsari Cholley should have is nothing to be overtly critical about but then, these are my sentiments, expressed in my personal, journal-like blogging space that does not grab attention and people continue judging Choley for being spicy. I still find so many Choley Bhature outlets in Delhi and NCR serving the food with very little or no spice and still, people need to carry packed juices, drinks, or hydration formulas to overcome the heat. Perhaps something transpired in the last two decades that did not touch the Kapoor clan [my family] that has made people intolerant to all forms of spiciness. Perhaps, there was an undocumented form of COVID that silently ravaged the city during the 90s, and left its mark by altering the original, Delhi DNA of tastebuds. I am not sure what else could have gone wrong but plenty has gone wrong in what people are eating these days - you are not even close to the real stuff anymore.

The Side-dish Epidemic Takes Over

Before Delhi started bleeding away its culture, Choley Bhaturey was served with simplicity. Even the green chutney was not common across all CB spots in the city. About two strands of a pickle and an unquestioned stream of raw onions were all that the people needed. The expectations were met with clarity and generously, as the second and third serving(s) of these simple and smaller colleagues to Choley Bhaturey was never a problem. Now, these humble companions to the main attraction seem to occupy too much space. The plates used in most Choley Bhaturey shops are designed in such a manner that the small onion rings, poverty-struck achaar, and the last remaining descendant of the chutney occupy a section each. While grabbing real estate is not a problem - after all, it is Delhi and we all agree that Zameen is above God but why allocate such compartments to them when the serving size is as generous as the clues found at a murder crime scene?

Invasive, Vlogged-Hence-Good Symptom Continues to Corrupt

The history of Delhi's food scene should be a testament to how the biggest brands have been through the grind, the stardom coming after decades of hard work, having started as a local shack, and then taking giant leaps towards becoming a shop and then, an enterprise with a showroom. However, the existing Choley Bhaturey scene in Delhi seems unrelated to this norm. Today, the desperateness of grabbing comments on social channels means losing sleep over not having enough content to create drama and feed social stories so that the clicks & impressions help to get orders vs the quality & taste, precipitating customer sentiments that can ensure sales. Anything that gets clogged, literally any Choley Bhaturey hub out there, even the most mediocre ones, is akin to getting a heap of orders just because a social influencer pushed for it. Most of these overnight food businesses don't understand the history of Choley Bhaturey and the best practices to prepare it the way it should be, creating more mediocre options that only create more disappointments across Delhi's Choley Bhaturey landscape.

Gastronomic Erosion: The OGs are No More Themselves

Like all other Delhi folks, we keep hearing about Sitaram, Om Ji, and the likes of Bhogal, but ask someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the so-called OGs of this niche are nothing like their glorious past. They have (de)evolved and even those who managed not to fall prey to rampant branding and commercialization have lost their touch along the way. The taste seems corrupted, the flavors are not that invigorating anymore, and the first bite does not bring back flashes of childhood like it used to. Something happened and is happening to the Choley Bhaturey OGs of Delhi while their brand continues to engage the attention of recently converted food explorers, social media content consumers, and the newer generation and the latter cannot be blamed - they just never got to taste the glory of Delhi's Choley Bhaturey landscape and therefore, they believe that what they are consuming these days is perhaps the best BUT that is not true! My best guess is that earlier, there was an aspiration among these businesses, they had a lot to prove, they had a following to create, and they needed the surety that their business would thrive. Once the assurances set in and the tastebuds gradually became more accommodating, the motivation to keep excelling and keep creating as-awesome Choley Bhaturey gave way to assembly-line setups and more acceptance of the fact that even dwindling volumes promised profitability as long as the brand was broadcasted in the right way. I still recall that first bite at Sita Ram's original headquarters at Paharganj - one bite and this childish happiness would come up, surface from deep within and now, I can proudly announce that the Choley Bhaturey my wife cooks beats the living daylights out of any leading Choley Bhaturey brand in Delhi - bring it on Boys [or boys of men who started the CB culture] and be prepared to lose it all...

Yes, the Texture Matters, Even in Choley Bhaturey...and so Do the 'Looks' You Get

It is supposed to be thick yet flowy, a bit of oily fat can float but it should permeate through everything on the plate, and the masala should be hard to decode. The contemporary version of Choley Bhaturey in Delhi seems disconnected from doing the basics right. Often, the stuff gets too soupy and every now and then, it is too damn thick. The island-like aaloo that should stand stoic due to its individual, precooked preparation seems bland, lost, and isolated, almost afraid of itself and that its reality will be found out. I tried the Choley Bhaturey in Delhi at the historic Bangla's recently and found the same thing happening - the dish has lost its soul. Instead of getting their act right, most of these businesses are worried about the accompanying lassi or the facial expressions that should be put on display in case someone asks for a second serve of Choley. Yes, this too has changed! I recall my Pops seeking two to three refills of Choley and that is simply because he has always consumed the sabzi and the main dish in bigger proportions at home and outside - there is no deviant plan in practice here. But the response has undergone a transformation. The shoulders immediately tighten up and you realize that the poor guy in charge of the 'serving business' has been trained to perfection. Get that act right. Ensure that you stare deep into the soul of everyone who seeks a second serve. The look should be ghastly and convey the idea that even such an attempt is ungainly if you happen to be from a "well-to-do" Delhi family. The look should stay in its visually compelling manner throughout, from the moment of looking at you with your half-empty plate mimicking a well-dressed beggar to dipping the big serving spoon in the Dark Hole of Choley and then splashing it onto your plate in a hateful manner, perhaps how the exploitative Europeans would have served morsels of food to the chained humans they stole from the African mainland.

...and you realize, this won't change

This might sound overloaded by pessimism but I have no expectations of our city's Choley Bhaturey ever scaling back their majesticness. This is not because it can't be done, but it is because the story isn't really about CB in the first place. The food choices, the gastronomic ecosystem, the buying habits, and the acceptance of makeshift norms are not about a type of food. It is about the city itself, and it is about the people. We just cannot go back to the organic tastes because we have come that far and drifted so much from what real food used to taste like. Every year as people age by an ear, getting deeper into this maze of excessive commercialization, the simplest indulgences are now a decision, something that needs to be transacted for and this is why I say, the Choley Bhaturey scene of Delhi does not look promising...because WE own it.

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