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Selling chaat in the pandemic

Dalchand Kashyap, a chaat-seller from Delhi, cooked community meals to feed migrant labourers and made golgappes for takeaway

Dalchand Kashyap of Delhi's Mangla Chat (Image courtesy: @manglachatwale Facebook)

Dalchand Kashyap is a busy man. The 49-year-old chaat vendor from Delhi shot to fame when he was featured in the Netflix show, Street Food: Asia last year. It’s fairly easy to Google his name and find his chaat stall's name, Mangla Chat, and its phone number and location. Delhiites know of his crispy aloo tikki and fried aloo chaats, for his grandfather and father have been chaatwallas before him. But, after the Netflix episode, foreign expats and tourists lined up for his food too.

When the lockdown was announced, Kashyap shut shop, but got busy cooking for migrant labourers and the homeless. In June when lockdown restrictions were eased, he parked his chaat cart in its designated spot, opposite the mithai shop Bikaneri Sweets in the bustling street of phase-1, Mayur Vihar. At first, customers trickled in and then his orders soared during Diwali.

In an interview with Lounge, Kashyap shares what kept him going through the pandemic. Hint: He is an ardent Bollywood fan and Sholay proved to be an inspiration.

What happened when the lockdown was announced?

I have employed about 10 boys to assist me to make and sell chaats. When the lockdown came to force, they decided to leave for home on foot. I told them to wait, but they wouldn’t listen to me. They come from villages in UP. I found out they walked and hitchhiked home. Those weeks, I had a lot of free time, which was spent watching TV. There was news about people walking home and dying on the streets with hunger. It saddened me.

Then, what did you do?

I didn’t know what to do. But, I kept thinking of their plight. In April, I got a call requesting me to help in a community kitchen which was set up to feed migrant workers and the homeless. It was organised by the RSS and the venue was the Laksmi Narayan Temple in Malviya Nagar. For about a month, I would visit every morning and evening and cook rice, roti, daal and sabzi for about 1000 people. There was a lot of help pouring in.

What happened to your chaat business?

We couldn’t open shop, but the customers who had my number would call me for golgappes. Those days, people craved chaat. They would place family orders and come home for pickups.

When did you reopen?

It was June. I didn’t have much help. So, my two teenage sons who are studying pitched in. We would open from 5-9 pm in the evening. There were barely any customers, but people would come for pickups.

What difficulties did you face?

We were managing alright. There were bills such as house rent, schools fees and daily expenses, but I would keep telling myself to not lose hope and courage.

What kind of help did you get?

There were multiple webinars organised by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) to train us on health and hygiene. In one of them, there was Sanjeev Kapoor telling us how to cook to eliminate germs. They insisted on using gloves and sanitisers, but I knew of these measures. I have visited Singapore and Philippines for world street food festivals facilitated by NASVI. During those festivals in 2015, we were taught how to handle food hygienically. I took pictures of those gloves in Singapore and showed them to shopkeepers here. Now, you will find me serving chaat on the street with sanitiser and gloves.

Foreign visitors at Kashyap's chaat stall during the pandemic.
Foreign visitors at Kashyap's chaat stall during the pandemic.

What is happening now?

On a regular day, business is quite slow. Earlier I had about 200 customers and now there are about 50. But, during Diwali, it felt like things were back to normal. In the pandemic, I had foreigners visiting me too. They had seen me on Netflix.

What keeps you motivated?

Mera guzaara chaal jayega (I will manage). Corona is temporary. There is a dialogue from Sholay that I often tell myself--Jo dar gaya, samjho mar gaya.

'The New Normal' is a series of interviews with chefs, restaurateurs and stakeholders in the Food &Beverage industry on coping with Covid-19.

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