The colder months offer the most magical culinary delights. Winter comes and ethereal frothy looking fluffy white and yellow mounds of the rare ‘Daulat Ki Chaat’ make their appearance in the walled city of Delhi. A popular winter dessert, it is similar to the frothy concoctions sold in Uttar Pradesh towns under the names of Nimish in Lucknow, Makhan Malai in Kanpur and Malaiyo in Varanasi. Nibble it to your liking because with this dessert with the consistency of the most delicate creamy foam, it disappears in your mouth in seconds.
Unlike the tangy and spicy palate that comes associated with a chaat, Daulat ki Chaat is a sweet delicacy, available between November and February. Khemchand Adesh Kumar, a vendor of Daulat Ki Chaat in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, has been making it for over 36 years, says it used to be a delicacy that only the ‘Raja and Maharaja’ could afford. He calls it chaat for “raees” and hence the name, Daulat Ki Chaat.
Describing the process of making this dessert in detail, he says: “A mixture of milk and cream is boiled. It is left outdoors to cool down and let the dew fall on it. Early in the morning, this concoction is stirred using a mathani (traditional wooden churn). The jhaag (foam) that appears is collected, mixed with kesar and dried fruits. It is served with karara (coarse icing sugar) and khurchan. The whole process takes six to seven hours.
The dew is vital to the process. According to Kumar, it is the dew that creates the foam and this is one of the main reasons why it is sold in winter.
DECADENT, BUT DIFFERENT
While many would consider Daulat Ki Chaat, Nimish, Makhan Malai and Malaiyo to be similar, food connoisseurs differ. “Having grown up in Lucknow, I find Nimish or Namish (as the ancient Nakhlauwallah called him) fascinating. It is a simple delicacy, wholesome with elements like khoya and flavours. I find Daulat ki Chaat less frothy, more solid,” says food historian and author Anoothi Vishal.
The traditional method of preparation, Vishal says, was to heat buffalo milk over low heat, making sure it doesn’t boil. When a good part of the water had evaporated, it was left to cool, stirring often so that malai did not form. The milk was left outdoors overnight, covered with a thin cloth, to cool down with the dew. “Early in the morning, this dew-cooled milk was stirred with a little sugar until frothy. The jhaag was removed and kept in an earthen pot with kewra, saffron and elaichi. This was Namish. Plain, no nuts, cream, etc.
Author Sangeeta Khanna, who ran a blog, Khana of Banaras says, “Malaiyo is closer to the Lucknow version. The Varanasi version is unique because it is made in a place known as Thatheri Bazaar and not all over the city. In the last decade, many new places have sprung up that sell this delicacy, but use whipped cream or low-quality trans-fat based glaze to make Malaiyo. It’s all commercialized and is sold all day long. The real Malaiyo melts the dawn moment due to the temperature rise. The quality of the milk and the humidity of the air are extremely important for Malaiyo”. Malaiyo milk – saffron flavored sweet milk left in the vessel after the Malaiyo has been taken out – is also served in Varanasi.
The origin of this frothy decadence is unknown, with little to no mention in written history. “Makhan Malai is not from India. He was invented by the Botai tribe in Afghanistan and arrived in India via the Silk Road. This is what I have read and heard from the elders in my family. When he came here, we accepted him and gave him Awadhi touch. We added saffron, dried fruit and even khoya (condensed and powdered milk). That’s how this dessert came to other places and became popular,” says Mohsin Qureshi, executive chef of the cluster, Lebua Lucknow.
However, Vishal points out, “Namish was an invention of Lucknow and is mentioned by Mirza Jafar Hussain, who wrote about the declining culture of Lucknow in the late 19th century.”
FROM STREET FOOD TO RESTAURANTS
Though mostly sold on the street, this dessert has made its way into fine dining, with restaurant menus like Indian Accent and Haveli Dharampura in Delhi with Daulat Ki Chaat and The Saffron Tree in Calcutta listing Nimish.
Chef Manish Mehrotra, owner of Indian Accent in New Delhi and New York says, “What is available on our menu is more of a Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi take. The Delhi version is different where they add a lot of additives, after making the foam. In Lucknow, Kanpur and Varanasi, they first make a mixture and then air it. But we call it Daulat ki Chaat in Delhi because people here know it by that name. In our New York restaurant we call it Makhan Malai. We have our own version of additives for that. For example, we add rose petal chikki on top, golden almonds on top and serve it with fake 500 rupee bills. Instead of traditionally swirling, the mixture is aerated with a siphon at the restaurant. “The traditional churning process leads to the creation of the foam. And because of fat content and winters, that fat scum solidifies and air gets trapped in it. It is a very scientific thing and we should be proud of having done it for the last 150 years,” says Mehrotra. “It’s pretty popular in New York. When Michelin Star was launching their New York website, Daulat ki chaat was one of the first stories they put on their website.