There is a lot of tension in the air when I meet Rishi Kapoor outside his takeaway kathi roll outlet — 34 Chowringhee Lane — opposite Sri Venkateswara College in New Delhi. Business is roaring, as the usual hungry campus crowd waits impatiently for its orders. It is quite ironic, therefore, that the frenetic pace in the kitchen is what Kapoor is worried most about. With a truckers’ strike and a fuel shortage in the city, he fears he will run out of groceries soon.
“I don’t stock any ingredients. I always buy on the spot — just in time. Today, everything is priced at a premium and more worrying is that nothing might make it to the markets tomorrow,” he says.
The dapper man, just about out of college, blends well into his customers. It is worth noting the story of how he today single-handedly manages three full-fledged takeaway outlets and two standalone counters serving kathi rolls, which probably are among the most popular Bengali fast-food dishes.
“I think the kathi originated when Bengali cooks tried to make something short to eat for the British. But the Nizam’s chain must be credited for popularising it. They still serve the best rolls, though dripping in oil,” he says.
Kapoor set out with big dreams in the hospitality business when he enrolled for a degree in hotel management at Rai University. Little did he know that by his second year there would be no university, as it was stripped of its accreditation by the government. He says that although he was tense, he felt he had “learned enough” in two years, especially how to “turn a recipe into a business”. And when his family decided to move to Delhi, closing their interests in Kolkata, he felt the time was right to start his own business, rather than work as a “steward or butler” in a big hotel.
“I wanted to start a restaurant, but when I came across this property, my mother said it would be best to start small and I kind of liked the idea of working with less overheads. I am planning a restaurant very soon, though,” he says. And credit goes to him — along with setting up his business he managed to finish a correspondence degree in English from Delhi University.
I sample one of his rolls, which are a departure from the usual kathi. Though stuffed with sumptuous egg and paneer, it is relatively non-greasy and mildly spiced. He says that though the roll gets done in a jiffy, its ingredients take a whole morning to put together, as they need to be marinated in spices.
Just as I ask him for the recipe of a special roll, he instead offers me one for a traditional Bengali dish — chingri malai curry, the way his mother prepares it. He admits to never cooking it himself, but the look in his eye suggests he is not bad at putting away large quantities of it. But once he’s done passing the recipe on with help from his mother over the phone, he signs off: “I feel I must try it out now.” Good luck to him.
CHINGRI MALAI CURRY
250 gm prawns
3 tsp mustard oil
3 tbsp chopped onions
1 tbsp fresh curd
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp fresh cream
½ tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch
Salt and sugar to taste
Coriander to garnish
Boil prawns with turmeric and salt. Heat mustard oil and mix in ginger garlic paste. Add the chopped onions and fry till its golden brown. Add Kashmiri mirch, tomato puree and curd and stir. To the resultant paste, add the prawns and a cup of coconut milk. Let it simmer for a bit and add fresh cream. Add salt and sugar to taste. Garnish with coriander and serve with boiled rice.