Walking through the packed lanes of Lajpat Nagar in Delhi, the smell of freshly baked bread fills the air. Curiosity piqued, one follows the scent and lands up at a stall displaying golden brown bread in various sizes and shapes.
Photo Credit: Prakash Samuel Paul
Manned by a child and a man, the Mazar Ozbik Nanwaey is one of the handful dhabas offering Afghani naan in the crowded alleys of Delhi’s ever busy central market. A tilted small red board placed oddly out of sight, spells out the name both in English and Pashtun.
Lajpat Nagar is becoming a second home to many Afghanis. Our South-Asian neighbours come down to the capital as tourists, medical patients and those seeking shelter away from a war-torn country. The south Delhi locality even has an Afghani colony, complete with dhabas, air ticket booking agencies, restaurants, barber shops. And like all communities, getting to eat native food at the end of the day is a joy unmatched. It is this nostalgic need that these dhabas cater to.
The fluffy flatbread sells most towards evening and makes its way on the tables of Afghani families with side dishes like chicken shorba (a chicken stew prepared with tomatoes and boiled vegetables), dal or other vegetable curries. “In a day we sell about 100 naans and make a profit of about 400-500 which helps us tide over at the end of the month,” says Ravi Prakash Dubey, co-owner of Mazar Ozbik Nanwaey dhaba.
How Dubey (better known as Panditji), an Indian landed up selling Afghani naan makes for another story. Hailing from Benaras, a venerated pilgrimage place in India, Dubey met his future business partner in another dhabha. He and Ghawsuddin (a native of Afghanistan) were working together when they decided to open a place of their own. “It has only been one year but we have managed to do well,” he says.
Ghawsuddin is the backhand man. He stays in the kitchen, overlooking the preparation of the naans. His job is to ensure the dough made of flour (maida), yeast, sugar and salt is well kneaded before it is placed in the tandoor. As wafts of flour float in the air, another worker makes symmetrical prints into the bread with a comb. The baker then keeps dough on cloth wads and places them in the earthen tandoor. Using two iron tongs, he pulls the golden brown beauties out for sale. The Naans sell for twenty and forty rupees depending on their size.
A little boy helps Punditji restock the table serving as a counter. Presentation is important in the trade, and so the process of arranging and re-arranging the breads punctured with symmetric holes continues.
Dr. Abdul Wali has recently arrived in the city and is picking up naan for dinner. He settles on two oval shaped ones and asks the little boy to pack it. It is only his third day in Delhi and the comfort of authentic naan is more than welcome. “I come here (to the dhaba) every day,” he tells me.
Wali has come all the way to seek medical help for his mother’s cardiac ailment . “There is not much technology available in Afghanistan for heart conditions that is why I bought my mother here,” he says.
The little boy interrupts and hands over the naans wrapped in paper, bringing an abrupt end to our conversation.
As Dr. Wali’s imposing frame recedes into the night, curiosity prompts me to self-invite myself for dinner with his family. “Sure, please come,” he says warmly.
Once there, a frail lady opens the door. “Meet my mother,” says the doctor. Slowly each of his relatives are introduced. “We are five brothers, three of us are doctors and two engineers,” he explains. An Afghan news channel plays out in the background and the room falls silent.
Wali breaks the silence and gets up to set dinner, as the family gathers round the table, the naan is placed in the centre. The ladies pick up the naan, each breaks it off into portions for themselves and dip it in the red tinged chicken shorba before it promptly disappears. My mouth is watering and so I decide to dig in and thus bring the curious case of the Afghani naan to a hasty close.