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Cholay — an economical dish fit for a king

Cholay — an economical dish fit for a king

RAWALPINDI: According to legend, when the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, he was asked to choose one dish that he would be served every day for the duration of his imprisonment. Shahjahan chose chickpeas. Then for the rest of his life, he would remain imprisoned in the Agra Fort, eating chickpeas and looking at his beloved Taj Mahal. Shahjahan’s loyal cook tried to bring variety to his disposed master’s life by adding different flavours to the chickpeas and creating new recipes that would spread through India, from Kabul to Chittagong.

Today, centuries later, some of the many chickpea recipes, perhaps thought of by Shahjahan’s cook, are available in the garrison city. Colloquially called Cholay or Chanay, chickpea dishes are a part of breakfast and dinner alike. The various forms include Lahori Chanay, roasted chickpeas, Alo (Potato) Chanay, Makhni (Buttery) Chanay, Chikar Cholay, Murgh Chanay, Chole Patoray and many more.

While these chickpea recipes vary in the ingredients used, most begin by soaking the chickpeas over night and then cooking them. Cooking involves boiling the chickpeas until they tenderise and then adding spices such as chilies, coriander, salt, turmeric.

The famous Chikar Cholay, which literally means mud chickpeas, uses baking soda to tenderise the chickpeas, tomatoes and other ingredients to the point where they turn into a spicy, delicious mush. In Lahori Chanay, chickpeas are not as tender and the water they are cooked in is retained in the final dish.

Chickpeas are sought after, not just for their unique taste but also for their nutritious value. Chickpeas cut cholesterol, are high in fibre and protein. This protein rich food is economical, which makes it a good substitute for meat.

These famous chickpea recipes may be eaten with boiled rice or scooped up with a hot piece of nan. For breakfast, tender, thick and drier chickpeas are eaten with hot, oily puris.

“The chickpea is highly versatile. One can add mutton or chicken to create a unique flavour,” said Muhammad Kamran, who sells chickpea dishes at a restaurant in Kartarpura.

Murgh Chanay, a very popular dish, adds chicken to the chickpeas. When chicken is added to the water the chickpeas are being cooked in, the soup begins to taste like a stew. This dish is delicious as well as highly nutritious.

“We even add the stew of Nihari or Payee (hooves) and people love it. To make Makhni Chanay, we substitute vegetable oil with butter. Makhni Chanay goes well with Nan, salad and vegetable pickle,” Mr Kamran said.

He said that chickpeas are sold all over the city but being a signature food street of the garrison city, most people buy this dish from Kartarpura.

Former district nazim Raja Tariq Kayani told Dawn that he preferred to have Chanay from Saddar.

“Hameed Kay Chanay has been the most popular place to buy chickpeas for the last 35 years. This outlet cooks excellent roasted Chanay and serves it with pickle, salad and curd. I can eat their Chanay with nan or even with a spoon,” he said.

Hameed Kay Chanay, located at Kola Centre in Saddar has been operating from a stall for the last 35 years. The owner opens his stall at 10am every day; getting sold out at 2pm, he closes his stall. In the last 35 years, he has neither increased the quantity he cooks nor expanded his famous business.

However, a similar stall at Committee Chowk known as Sain Kay Cholay has now expanded his business to establish two more branches on Murree Road and Commercial Market.

Another famous stall is located outside the Lal Haveli which has been the famous residence and political office for Awami Muslim League (APML) President Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

“Sheikh Rashid Ahmed really likes our Chanay and orders it whenever he comes to Lal Haveli,” said Muhammad Sajid, a shopkeeper.

“Most people prefer to have a plate of Chanay and Nan or Chanay Chawal as it is economical. You can have a full meal in Rs50 to Rs80,” said Muhammad Anwar, a visitor at Kartarpura.

“When the dish is available in market at lower rate, we don’t waste our time to cook it at home,” he added.

Zeeshan Butt, a resident of Chaklala Scheme-III, said that he regularly buys chickpeas for breakfast, especially on the weekend. He said adding pickles to the dish brings out its flavour.

“For diabetics, doctors advise chickpeas but it is a healthy food for everyone,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2015

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