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Amid a quaint but poignant walk around the old town, a presenter of a city walk session quipped, “Look at this shop, they were the first to introduce khasta kachori in Purani Dilli.” We were walking by Jung Bahadur Kachori Wala, a hole-in-the-wall shop in the famed Paranthe Wali Gali in Chandni Chowk. Established in 1961, this legendary shop has been serving kachoris for over six decades, to traders, families and tourists in what remains of the walled city.

The beauty and charm of this relic of a world gone by is unmissable, especially on winter mornings. I was there last on a foggy, dreamy December morning. As I waited, the scene resembled a swarm of bees gathered around a fruit, a swarm buzzing to get a taste of what is supposed to be an enigma. As the wait thinned, we got our dona (bowl made of dried leaves) of kachori, topped with a spicy aloo subzi and chutneys. A wholesome dish, Jung Bahadur today serves its staple fare at Rs 70 a plate. This brings me to our epiphany for the week.

It is believed that the Marwadi community can be credited for inventing kachori, a snack that is often swapped with the word snack itself, in many parts of India. As is with most street food origin stories, the hearty, delicious kachori was primarily served to businessmen who travelled far and wide. Typically, kachoris used thanda masala instead of garam masala in its preparation. As writer and food consultant Sangeeta Khanna explained in one of her works, it is a mixture of dhania and saunf along with haldi, which made it well-suited for dry, hot climates.

Interestingly, the humble kachori surfaced in multiple conversations, recently. Last week, Agnibh Mudi, corporate executive chef of Virat Kohli’s food venture, One8 Commune, mentioned yet another such gem — Shri Ganesh Kachori Corner, near Lakshmi Nagar metro station in East Delhi.

“The first time I went there was almost 25 years ago, with my father on his scooter. Back then, these kachoris were priced at Rs 16 for a serving of two pieces. Today, you get them for Rs 45,” he said. Here too, the aloo subzi remains constant and is in fact set to feature soon in an upcoming special feature under Mudi, under the fine-dine guise of One8 Commune.

Over the years, one of a hand-counted number of things that have remained constant in most of our eating profiles is kachori, which spread far and wide across India. In Jodhpur, there is the khasta pyaaz and mawa kachori, to the chatpati raj kachori seen across fast food joints all over north India, to the lilva kachori of Gujarat and the less-dense hing’er kochuri of Bengal — one similar to the urad dal-stuffed kachoris of Uttar Pradesh. The latter are made mostly on celebratory occasions, and served with aloo subzi, meethe kaddu ki subzi and chutney.

Another variant that’s quite common in Delhi is the Multani moth kachori, a memorable version of which I had the privilege to savour in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur. Known as the land of saints, this historic land shares many similarities with Multan, now in west Punjab,Pakistan. After the Partition, many Multanis settled in and around Hoshiarpur for the familiarity of the land, and its culture. It is said that the moth kachori originated in the migration of the Multanis, which, over time, got adapted into the culinary, and cultural fabric of Hoshiarpur.

This kachori is also a reminder of my childhood, with my aunt hailing from the place.While my aunt’s family, who hailed from Mianwali in west Punjab, were aficionados of the snack, I was quite the opposite. To my rather a pleasant surprise, this version of the kachori had a puffy upper coat, and was topped with a thick and spicy moth dal, with the ubiquitous imli-pyaz chutney served atop.

It is, in many ways, a reminder of the past and the present served on a newspaper cone. It underlines food’s cultural significance and the way it can transcend boundaries, like the humble kachori. Even as we transcend generations, it is an inexpensive, equal and humble snack that has the power to bring this vast, diverse generational land together.

Vernika Awal is a food writer who is known for her research-based articles through her blog ‘Delectable Reveries’

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