From Ashes to Balls

In the days when I used to frequent trains, one of the (parentally unapproved) food items available at Asansol station was the Litti. Laloo has spread Litti Chokha across the railway network, on trains as well as stalls in railway stations across the country.  New Delhi Station, Platform 12

Litti is essentially a ball of dough baked in the dying embers of a fire. Fancy litti variants have a filling (usually sattu), simple ones are left to fend for themselves. Its very similar to the traditional Rajashthani bati (of the dal bati fame) but without the ghee.  It can't really be eaten by itself, some kind of accompaniment is required. On Asansol's railway station it was a kind of wierd tasty sauce, but more commonly its something called chokha - a brinjal-centric mixed veg mash not very different from baigan bharta.

A tent in front of Thakur Mall sells littiIt was with some interest, therefore, that I read a Mid-Day article describing it as North India Vada Pao. Inspired by the article, I went in search of Mumbai's litti vendors as part of my cycle rides around the city. I must say, it was not an easy Litti balls in abucketGetting the litti out of the ashessearch; not being familiar with Mira Road or Bhayander, I focused on the Western Express Highway. I found it difficult to locate places mentioned in the Mid-Day article - lots of asking and going back and forth resulted in disappointment - they had either closed or moved. After a couple of visits to the area around Dahisar check naka (and with some help from a local juice-seller), I finally located a litti seller, right in front of Dahisar's Thakur Mall. As you can see, a signboard is not exactly the kind of thing you should expect.

The process of preparing litti is just as basic. In this case, the lunchtime crowd was consuming a fair number of these balls, so unlike a roadside vendor the cook was preparing them mass scale - about thirty or so buried in the embers and picked out from the ashes when done. The chokha was more aloo than baigan, but it was spicy and quite wonderful. I was given a steel plate with the chokha and two littis, and a bench to sit on under a tent. There's dal and rice too, but a lot of people skip it. The hard-crusted balls hide a soft interior that goes very well with the spicy, mushy chokha. Its probably very healthy too; the litti has no oil and the chokha next to nothing.

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