The taste of morning.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At night, people in Old Delhi eat weighty dishes such as kebab and biryani. In the morning, the traditionally-inclined might prefer the hefty combination of paya and nihari, but many opt for poori, subzi and halwa. Some even go for porridge and butter toast. But between the morning prayers and the breakfast hour, many Walled City dwellers wash down their sleepiness with the inevitable sweet milky chai, which they usually complement with fen, the subject of our story.
Flaky and crisp, fen is one of Delhi’s most democratic bakery products. Priced at rupee one, it is a teatime companion for the homeless, too. The rickshaw-wallas mull over the pointlessness of the new day by soaking fen in their tea. The Times of India readers do the same while musing over the state of the world.
During the day break, fens are stacked in the tea stalls across the streets and alleys. They form a picturesque backdrop to the 7am scenes of children going to school, and beggars still asleep on the pavements.
Fen is as small as a baby’s palm. Its crumbly facade is streaked with shades of brown. Made of maida flour, it is so flaky that when you hold it in your hand, slivers of its outer skin immediately start to peel off by themselves. Some stay, some fall down.
The classic way to eat fen is to first dip it into your tea. Only then you ought to raise it towards your lips. It is an exquisite moment as your mouth feels the fen's moist outer surface giving way to its hidden crustiness. Now, take a sip of the tea. The hot brew rushes in, along with the few crumbs that were left behind by the fen. This, too, is joy.