For the past month, the bakeries of Old Delhi have been especially busy. Their ovens have been churning out various types of delights for the Ramzan feasts.
We walked past Sikander Bakery a couple of days ago, and found them making their popular rusks.
|The popular Sikander Bakery is super-busy.|
They were making rusks.
Indian-style rusks originated by happy accident. They have their beginnings in the city of Surat, which was the biggest trading port on the Western coast of India during the reign of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. The Dutch had a settlement in Surat, and they established a bakery there, teaching the art of baking bread to five Parsi gentlemen.
When the Dutch left Surat (I assume somewhere in the early 1800s), one Parsi gentleman called Dotivala took over their bakery. Business was not good; as locals did not eat the kind of bread that Dotivala produced. In those days, bread was fermented with toddy sap, to prevent spoiling. But old bread would lose moisture and become hard. When he was stuck with old surplus bread, Dotivala sold it to the poor at low prices. Soon he discovered that these hard breads were very popular with people, who dipped them in tea to soften them. So Dotivala began to deliberately harden his bread, through a process of drying them in the ovens a second time. And thus the "toast biscuit" or rusk was born. If you want to see what Dotivala makes these days, you should check out their website. They still have toast biscuits.
The same "double-baking" method is used in the bakeries of Old Delhi:
|Soft bread out of the oven after the first round of baking.|
Ready for slicing.
|The slicing process.|
|Rusks going into second round of baking.|
Bakeries are typically small operations with a
single bhatti (oven). This means the only way to
handle the Ramzan rush is by working extra hours.
In the photo below, you can see rectangular packages of rusks, wrapped in clear plastic.
|Pheni or feni, does not need cooking as it is already fried|
|Pheni is sold sometimes in |
long thin threads
Sheermal is a sweet bread; usually the dough is sweetened with milk and sugar, and flavoured with saffron. It is popular in Old Delhi but many bakeries only make them during Ramzan or other festivals. Sheermal probably has origins in Iran, where they are almost twice the size of the ones below, and they are commonly sold in the markets. The Irani sheermal seems much thinner too.
|There is also khajla, deep-fried, flaky and melt-in-the-mouth.|
Like pheni, khajla is also usually eaten in the
pre-dawn hours for Sehar.
Photo courtesy Nadeem Khan
|Coconut Parantha, a mild-tasting unleavened |
bread flavoured with coconut
(also from Nadeem Khan, thanks Nadeem!)
|The soft Khamiri Rotis, baked in tandoors are hugely popular|
|In the foreground is a pastry called "fein" or "fan".|
Behind that are the always-popular cream rolls.
And of course, there is also that awesome delight, the nankhatai, about which I posted some time ago.
|The Nankhatai Man|
With all these treats, one would think the bakeries in Old Delhi are prospering. But it's quite clear that they are in fact, struggling to stay afloat. There aren't as many of them as there used to be. Everywhere in Old Delhi you see branded biscuits and other packaged eatables from big companies; so I am sure they are taking away a big chunk of the bakeries' business. I don't know how long these bakeries will survive.