Coming across a guy who was two days into an indefinite fast and yet doling out piping hot parathas was reason enough for me to break my walk.
I mean how weird can things get?
So I stopped to chat up with the bearded and long haired Nikhil Thakur who runs the 6 month old Lassi te Parrontthe, the cart beside Kepchaki Momos and a tattoo shop at the Carter Road Khao Gulley (food street)
Nikhil explained that when you are by the the heat of the stove flipping one paratha after another, your hunger gets lost somewhere and I guess his commitment to his cause helped too.
I had meant to try out his parathas for a while so decided to make a rare stop between a walk and do so.
And come on, even walkers at the Olympics refuel themselves during the races.
Chances are that with the Olympics being held at London parathas and lassis would be as natural as isotonic salts and glucose bars.
Turned out that a large part of Nikhil’s inventory was sold out even though it was just 9 pm on a Friday night. He wanted me to have his spinach corn cheese paratha but it was over.
The hottest selling paratha I was told.
“That’s Bombay for you” I said with a scowl when I heard this.
I mean corn and cheese parathas? Would be scorned at in the land of the Khalsas I am sure.
“What about alu, gobi, mooli?” I asked
“I would go for the alu” said Nikhil.
“Ok make me a gobi and pack an alu for me'".
He took the out the pre-prepped paratha from a foil below and started making my paratha.
Nikhil told me that he sells 50 to 60 parathas per day.
“Are you sure? There are 50 to 60 people here right now.”
“It looks like that” said Nikhil. “Often 3 to 4 people have 1 paratha’.
Nikhil and his helpers,whom he hired after starting of alone initially, make the paratha stuffing (all raw barring the mashed potatoes in alu), knead them into the paratha whole wheat dough and roll them out and stack them in foil packs. This happens from 12 to 4 pm before they hit the shop.
“Saves time rather than starting from scratch when the rush is there”.
Nikhil has 3 induction burners. Once he gets an order he puts out the paratha on a dry pan on a stove. After it roasts he adds ghee on both sides and flips them gently till the parathas acquire a nice brown crunch.
He then puts the paratha on a sal leaf plate, decks it with a dollop of butter, adds a chilli and a mango achar on the side and serves it.
In reality what happens is far more chaotic then what you just read might seem.
Nikhil & his helper man 3 stoves. Often simultaneously. Take orders. Collect cash. Make conversation with customers and friends who drop in and keep an eye on the parathas all through…occasionally ducking down to take out some butter milk and lassi for customers. These drinks are are served in earthen mugs or kulhars.
In between the chaos some of the parathas get a tad crunchier than the others. Though not burnt! Or Nikhil forgets that someone is waiting for an alu paratha and gives the last alu paratha to a customer who came later. Or is confused about which paratha is which and has to break them to realise which one is gobi and which one is alu.
Is this madness normal or a result of fasting for 48 hours I don’t know but it all adds to the fun if you ask me.
Or ask the lady in red, a customer, who patiently waited while Nikhil’s assistant tried to photograph Nikhil and me and then herself took my iPhone from him to click our picture so that the sous chef could get back to making her parathas.
Thank you for your patience Sabina.
26 year old Nikhil is an ex stock analyst who was looking for ideas on what to do next when the markets tanked. He came up with the idea of a paratha stall during a chat with participants at another fast last year. That was the Anna Hazare fast unlike the Baba Ramdev one this time.
The plans for Nikhil’s paratha stall took shape with the help of his aunt who is also his favourite cook. This lady from Amritsar in Punjab, the Holy Land of parathas helped him get his act right in the first month and showed him the recipes and techniques before he took it on and as his business grew had a couple of helpers to help him. Nikhil himself is Sindhi but come from a house where the Sikh holy book of the Guru Granth Sahib is revered. Some of this devotion comes into the divine parathas I am sure.
Nikhil who once ‘ate all meat, drank and smoked everything’ is now a vegetarian teetotaller. He brings in a touch of Ayurveda into things and skips anything ‘white’. So whole-wheat and not white processed flout/ maida, powdered gur (jaggery) and not sugar, rock salt instead of processed white salt…and green plates made of leaf instead of white thermocol or plastic plates.
OK I made up the last bit.
The jaggery led to a rather strange taste to the lassi. The lassi had a dollop of fresh malai but was a lot thinner and less sweet than many lassis one has had. I am not a jaggery fan and the lassi had a distinct taste of jaggery.
Made me wonder where my jaggery loving fellow Bengalis are when you need them.
The butter milk on the other hand, chhaas with mint, that I had as I waited for my parathas was brilliantly refreshing. Nikhil said that the chhaas acts as an appetiser.
As if you needed one with the aroma and sight parathas being made in front of one.
And how was the paratha?
I took my first bite without the pickles.
I was whimpering like a happy puppy.
No dish that had cauliflowers in them ever had such an effect on me.
The parathas were thin…crisp…you bit into their carby goodness and then hit the soft security blanket like finely chopped cauliflower filling with sharp flavours of green chillies and rock salt bursting through. The paratha was so full of taste and goodness that you honestly didn’t need any pickles with it.
Not that one minded their presence because the pickles were pretty exquisite too.
Easily the best paratha that I have had at Mumbai and one of the best overall.
A plate of sizzling goodness.
Only a true daughter of Amritsar could have conceptualised these. Only some very earnest hands could have made these.
On the way out I asked this yoga guru disciple, stock analyst turned paratha maker what his plans for the future were.
Nikhil smiled and shrugged and took out the last of the parathas to make for the night.
Update: We went back the next day. Same chaos. Nikhil is 72 hours into his fast.
The chhaas still as good. The methi paratha that Nikhil recommended…. Holy mother of God!!!!! It was so good. The texture of the whole wheat paratha, the methi and spinach spiced stuffing and all cuddled with butter. We got an alu paratha home which tasted pretty well even an hour off the pan.
And sample this conversation between a traditionally dressed aunty who had come with her husband and middle aged son with Nikhil:
Aunty: Alu ya gobi kaun sa acchha hain (is potato better or cauliflower)
Nikhil: Alu. I don’t eat gobi. I don’t like it. But if people like it then what the f@#*. I am ok with it and we make very good methi parathas too.
The aunty scampered away and whispered to her husband who went and whispered to their son.
They had quite a few parathas after that with a big smile on their faces.
This was not an ‘anonymous’ review. Nikhil and I know each other after he wrote a rather sweet mail to me on the Finely Chopped facebook page.
The mail read:
i just opened up a nifty little food space selling lassi te(and) parrontthe, at carters.
i was flying already in my head after reviews from mid-day and the conde nast traveller..
but my other friends much more cooler said "oh you're not covered by finelychopped yet?", and dismissed my place totally as if i didn't exist at all.
do review my place at the earliest convenient time.
thanks for that,"
I finally made it to Nikhil’s shop quite a few weeks later intrigued by the sight of the fasting young man whipping out parathas.
I paid for the parathas though I still owe Nikhil 30 Rs which I will pay next time I head that side..
Given all the food shops there I find it prudent not to carry too much cash when I go to Carter Road for a walk.
OK, on a more serious note, here’s a disclaimer that the post or Finely Chopped has nothing to do with Baba Ramdev or his fast.