By Inderjeet Singh
The Nation : June 24, 2018
He was a permanent fixture next to the Lawrence Garden near the Open Air Theatre entrance on Lawrence Road. In true Lahori tradition we had adopted him as our permanent source of ‘gol gappay’. It was perhaps the quality of the spicy, sour liquid or ‘pani’ (an accessory without which the ‘gappa’ is nothing) that attracted customers to his push cart. This ‘pani’ was made from dried ginger or ‘sonth’ and after we had gorged ourselves to bursting point, we would still have the uncontrollable urge to sip the left over concoction from the ‘piyalas’ it was served in. Then I grew up and left Lahore to take up a career. More than two decades later, when I returned for a tenure in the city of my birth, a nostalgic chat with my siblings brought up the subject of ‘gol gappay’ and ten minutes later we found ourselves at the familiar spot. The cart was there, but had been refurbished with a roof. The ‘gol gappay wallah’ had also changed into someone new, with no qualms on maintaining the hygiene standards of his predecessor. The greatest disappointment came from the ‘traditional snack’ itself – while the small hollow ‘gappay’ were the same, the all-important ‘pani’ had changed to a tamarind based solution, laced with ‘chat masala’. I have since then tried almost every ‘gol gappa’ vendor across the country and found it wanting.
It’s the same sad story everywhere I go. Lahori street delicacies in their original forms have over the years transformed into stuff that are nowhere close to their generic versions. This is so because the food of my childhood required elaborate preparation and pure ingredients, unlike today. Another item that has become almost extinct is the king of street food ‘Chikar Cholay’. Replaced by ‘Chicken Cholay’, the ‘Chikar’ version’ had nothing do with its preparation, except the fact that its color was perhaps greyish brown. This item was sold on push carts with the best ones parked at Ganga Ram and Regal Intersections. Servings were doled out during the 1950s in ‘donas’ made by stitching fig leaves pinned together by thin twigs. Each serving was topped by sliced onion and a dollop of mango pickle and consumed with a couple of ‘naans’. Even on a few days leave home from wherever I was performing my professional commitments, I used to take the five minutes’ walk to ‘chacha’s rehri’ near Ganga Ram Hospital and ‘take home’ this mouthwatering Lahori delicacy. Alas, ‘Chickar Cholay’ have now become so rare that they can be found after driving around Lahore for hours. I have however received some good news lately. There is a surviving ‘push cart’ serving the old fashioned original stuff somewhere near Masjid e Shuhada near Regal Chowk. I am therefore poised to take a trip down south and check out the spot.
‘Peethi ke Ladoo’ is another culinary wonder that is now disappearing in its original shape, although a revised version is available at many places. To me this modern ‘Ladoo’ is bland and not worth touching. Some years ago I was overjoyed to see a ‘ladoo peethi’ stand in the ground floor foyer of a gigantic Mall next to Fortress Stadium in Lahore. When I questioned him as to the absence of an essential ingredient that lends this food flavor i.e. julienned white radish, I was told that the management did not allow its fresh preparation inside the building because (according to them) the process produced an unsavory odor. I had been eating ‘ladoo peethi’ topped with ample quantities of white radish since ages and was appalled at the ‘sensitivity’ of the educated modern palate that was killing an age old tradition.Bakeries were and remain one of Lahore’s high points. I became almost addicted to Lemon Tarts since I can remember, because of Mohkam Din’s Outlet at Nila Gumbad. My mother’s regular trips to Anarkali Bazaar took us past this bakery, where Lahore’s best lemon tarts were available. I recently visited the bakery and bought this lemon topped pastry. Tasting it was a disappointment and looking up I saw Mohkam Din’s black and white photograph gazing down at his successors with regret and pain. I mentioned my observation to the man across the counter. Here again, I am planning another trip to this establishment on my next trip to Lahore in the hope that I can see satisfaction on the face in the glass covered frame.