Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Art of Spices

One of my friends just completed her graduation in English (Hons.) from Delhi University. I thought she might appear for some entrances for a post-grad in Mass Media and Mass Communication or Journalism, as there weren’t any post-college plans that she had informed me about till a few months back. “Your life’s so chilled out, man”, I would tell her. “Just get yourself a seat in Amity University, fall in love with a dude with a Mercedes or a Jaguar, get married in about two-three years, and your life’s taken care of.”

“Yeah, right, Sarthak Ahuja! You think my dad would let me have such an easy life?” she’d fire back every time. “I want to go to New York and be a Pastry Chef!”

The next that I heard from her, she had applied for a course at the Culinary Institute of America and her dad had consented to her taking it up. Her session starts in January 2012. Till then, she’s interning in the kitchen of one of the top hotels in Delhi. She tells me about her day at work, and it no longer seems like an easy life. If I’m trying to learn the Art of Tax Management and Financial Planning at a CA office, she’s working towards mastering the Culinary Arts. Respect.

While there are some who learn the arts in America, there are others who develop them in shady lanes. It’s the Art of Spices!

The Art of Spices! Sounds nice. So much, that I didn’t wish to give this post another fancy sounding, witty title. It’s fancy in itself.

A small room with a short man making lachha paranthas on a big pan. Smoke rises up from the stove into his eyes and also of those who stand at a distance of not more than a foot from him. Smoke from the 13 odd cigarettes mixes with that from the stove while he rolls chicken, eggs and paneer into the paranthas. Doesn’t sound fancy, does it? But this is THE “Art of Spices”.

The Karol Bagh Metro Station in Delhi is one of the busiest Metro stations in the capital. The Karol Bagh Market has caused it to be so. The Art of Spices is a small eating joint in a back-lane pretty close to the station, but I doubt that even 1% of the people who travel to Karol Bagh in the Metro for work every day would know of it. It’s down a shady alley, which comes to life when the sun sets. Life for it is around fifty people smoking, actively or passively, with sounds of “Bhaiya, ek Double-Chicken Roll” echoing through it till late at night. The place is as famous for rolls as it is for its “shady appeal”. Chicken Roll. Paneer Roll. Egg Roll. Veg Roll. Aalu Roll. Double Chicken. Double Paneer. Egg Chicken. It boasts of more than 30 varieties of rolls, which are mostly permutations and combinations of their basic 4 fillings rolled into a juicy lachha parantha.

I had heard a lot about the place from a couple of my friends who’d be thrilled by the thought of going there and stuffing themselves till they would bloat up and roll back home. I finally made my first visit to it about 4 years back. There are three kinds of people normally spotted there. One, guys who wear slim fit jeans, pointy leather shoes/colored canvas keds, and t-shirts that read “Being Human”. You can easily picture them wearing fitted shirts with click-buttons and a slim neck tie hanging right till the end of their fly. Two, guys who have rippling biceps, tattoos of spokes, roses and skulls adorning their fore arms and who follow Zayed Khan when it comes to hairstyles. Three, guys wearing formals, who come for a little snack after a hard day at work. The third category of people are not very frequent visitors, but don’t mind catching up on a fag with friends every once in a while. Where are the girls?! Oh, they’re sitting inside the cars of the rippling muscles guys.

There’s a fourth kind too. The owner. A young man of about 26 years of age. Rippling muscles again, but sans tattoos. “He could try his luck at modeling”, a friend suggested. But I think he’s better off doing what he is currently occupied with. I bet he’s making more by selling Rolls and ThumsUp than he would by walking the ramp or posing with some Deepika Padukone look-alike.

There are two cooks right behind the big pan on the stove. One makes the lachha paranthas, while the other blankets the filling with the former’s creation. The manufacturing process has an estimated speed of um, two rolls and a quarter per minute.

Being a vegetarian, I’ve just got to put my jaws on the Paneer Roll and the Aalu Roll. If I were asked to put it like every Indian travel show host does, “It is out of the world!” The chunks of paneer are huge! The masala and the pyaaz add to the paneer’s tenderness and sex appeal. Yes, the rolls are “sexy”. I can’t use a better word for them. I cannot expect more enjoyment in less than 50 bucks as long as I’m single. The Aalu Roll is outstanding, too. It’s fried after being marinated in lemon juice, I believe. Makes me do a little Govinda dance. You have to, Have To, HAVE TO try it out. But ofcourse, if you’re a non-vegetarian, the Double-Chicken Roll would be the best option. I trust my friends when they tell me that.

I’m proud that I can shove two rolls and a ThumsUp down my throat on an empty stomach. It’s not that easy, baby. I can challenge you to do it.

The day following my trip to the Art of Spices is not the most pleasant, I would say. My friends haven’t complained of it, but every trip that I have made to my favorite rolls place has been followed with twice the normal number of trips to the loo during the next 24 hours. “There’s something in the paneer that makes your stomach go crazy, man”, says my friend, “The chicken’s quality is good, yaar. Yeh saala paneer ghatiya daalta hoga. Tu Chicken Roll kha ke dekh ek baar”.

The joint is closed on Tuesdays. The owner is a devout Hanuman-bhakt, I believe. There are two more Rolls joints that have opened right next to AOS recently. One of them is Chowringee Lane, and I’m sure it doesn’t need to be specially introduced to all Delhi-ites atleast.

Over-occupied with thoughts of work, I went to the shady lane with my friend one day, not realizing that it was a Tuesday. I didn’t wish to go back home empty stomach, so we thought of settling for a Paneer Roll from Chowringee. To our astonishment, it tasted just the same! I could not tell the difference in taste from the roll that I get on all other days at the adjoining, ruling roll-maker. I was satisfied. “Let’s see how many times you’ll run to the loo tomorrow”, said my friend jokingly. Next day’s toilet-count: Two. “That’s pretty normal by my standards”, I told my friend Rahat. “Chal, sayi hai. Aage se Chowringee pe hi khaayenge phir”, is how he concluded it.

There are certain not so appealing habits of your partner that you don’t mind overlooking. You love them enough to not bother yourself with some little flaws. I love the Art of Spices. “I’m a one roll man, dude”, I told Rahat. I won’t give up on the Paneer Roll that the sweaty cook makes at my lover babe. I’m not eating at Chowringee the next time I go there. The AOS Roll makes me smile a clairvoyant’s smile when I sit on the john a few extra times after a visit. I love Art of Spices too much to mind the smoke, the first two kinds of people, the long hours spent sitting on the john, and the occasional fart of spices.

Image Source:


  1. one word....Delicious...!!!
    You promised me that you'll take me there...and now after reading much more eager to go dude...when are we going???

  2. Dude u have to write one for me tooooo!!!:D:D

  3. I wanna go too Sanjeev !
    thats like the most interesting description of a road-side roll wala I've ever come across!!

  4. Sanjeev and Priyam: Next meeting. Art of Spices. It's just 10 minutes away from my office :D

    Sunayana: I heard you demand for one as a birthday gift. Haha. Hopefully :)

  5. If you are going to write about food places any time in the future, do remind me not to read it please (till m back that is).....I so miss the roadside Indian food.....god dat food rocked.....despite the stomach trouble it could land u into.....all of us wud still get up as soon as we could and gobble it again.....Respect for the Art of Spices and alike stuff.....:).....and amazing writing........

  6. Karan: I think I'll make it a point to ask you to read my posts every time that I write anything even remotely related to Indian food, so that we have you visiting us back more often :P :D

    And, thanks. I hope it made up for the last post's deficiencies :)

  7. waaaaaaaaaah :D

    Love your blog :D

  8. You are definitely a good writer. Never doubted that. It was about showing it off. This is awesome anyway. I must say you are progressing very very well....

  9. Arre, you're toh madly in love with that place! :)
    By the way, you have NO idea how jealous I am of your friend who is going to become a super-awesome chef soon :)
    I want to open my own patisserie someday..

  10. Apurva: Thank you. It's motivating to know that an old blogger liked reading it :)

    Karan: Hahaha. I wish I could like your comment here. Have tried not to be such an immodest narcissist :D

    Disha: Yes, I so am madly in love with it. By the way, I'm going to AOS right now. And, don't you remember? It's the place where we first met, and discussed mobile games :D
    Should I give you a reason to be more jealous? She's baking me a cake on my birthday. Ha B^)

  11. AOS should give you credit for giving them so much footage..!! Free rolls for you..!! very inviting and brilliant.:)

  12. Loved it! Reading this made me hungry. I have feeling I'm going to stop at Karol Bagh station for a roll very soon :P

  13. Aditi: Yes, they totally should. I made a visit to AOS last night, but since it was Rahat's turn to pay, I dropped the idea of bringing up the free rolls topic with the owner :D

    Chitwan: Disha loves the place too. And so does Aanchal. Both of them will have tummies full after half a roll each. Going with them would be fun. You get to eat your roll, and two halves for free :D


  14. very nice.. like the step by step pictures most you have come up with i am tried the similar recipe, you have many of good recipes.. do try to visit my place when time permits love to have your feedback dear ..i have followed u glad if u follow me back.. Have a good day.....!

    1. Totally not a spam comment, Chowringhee. But I feel honored that you like my non-existent recipe and "step by step pictures".

  15. Like your way of seeing things! Still you may do some things to expand on it. Thanks for sharing with us!

    3 star hotels in karol bagh

  16. Amazing! Not to mention I can't believe I've been following your blog for such a long time. chowringhee karolbagh

  17. I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!….. I’ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work restaurant in vijaynagar


If you had 5 Jalebis, how many would you give me for writing this post?

None = You don't deserve any >:O
@ = Soggy and stale! :(
@@ = Stale! :|
@@@ = I'll need a samosa to digest this with! :P
@@@@ = Sweet and Crisp! :)
@@@@@ = I'm opening you a Halwai Shop! :D