Poha-Jalebi, Khopra Patty and Poison

Dukaan

Only Chhappan Dukaan, Indore's food street, throws up such names.

From a distance, it looks like any other busy commercial street — people heading to cheek-by-jowl stalls, and cars and bikes jostling for parking space. But Chhappan Dukaan in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, is quite different. A little more than a 100-metre strip of road, its 56 stalls and shops (which is why it is called "Chhappan Dukaan") sell just street food. From poha, sabudana wada and jalebi to chaat, dahi bada and lassi, you name a Maharashtrian or north Indian delicacy and you'll find it here. Of course, you'll also find fare unlikely to be found elsewhere. Like the garadu, chunks of deep-fried sweet potato topped with chilli powder, black pepper and salt, or kesaria lassi, made of milk, dried fruit, shrikhand and rabri, or barf laddu, flavoured ice balls.

So, if the ubiquitous street food ever craved for a permanent address in the country, it has to be Chhappan Dukaan. It's one of the reasons Indore is often called the "street food capital of India". There are other street food bazaars in the city like the Sarafa Bazaar, where one can drink a glass of ghamandi lassi, made of curd, ice, sugar and rabri (it got its name from the "conceited" nature of its pioneer, we are told) and bhutte ka kees, which is grated corn seeds.

Chhappan Dukaan was set up by the municipal authorities in 1974, as a food street. It has no parking or seating arrangement, but people don't seem to mind the chaos. They'd rather, it seems, sweat it out for a bite of garadu at Chhappan Dukaan than park their cars or bikes at a glass-and-steel mall and head to its food court for French fries.

Perhaps, it is the Indorean's insatiable appetite for street food that has helped Chhappan Dukaan survive the mall onslaught. Rajesh Dubey, a businessman, for example, carried poha with him to China recently. Says this regular at Chhappan Dukaan, "The city's water makes our food unique.'' There's nothing special about Indore's water, except that it is available in short supply, but for the average Indorean, street food is not a pejorative, but an honorific. "We prefer anything and everything made locally. Yeh taste ekdam alag hai, you don't get it anywhere else," explains Harsh Mehta, as he tucks into khopra patty — a combination of potato and coconut served in a leaf bowl — outside Vijay Chaat, a shop as nondescript as any other at Chhappan Dukaan. It has a modest signboard, a large tawa, a kadhai, steel utensils and a man in a hurry at the counter. It also sells batla patties (made from green peas) and batla kachori (green peas, potato and dried fruit). In the morning, it doles out poha-jalebi, a staple street breakfast dish of Indore.

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