Light as air and as flaky as a snowdrop – that’s fan for you, never mind the curious name. They’re made by traditional bakers in pockets of Old Delhi, almost always by the Muslim community, and tend to be concentrated in Muslim-dominated localities – Kallan Masjid near Turkman Gate, Pahadi Bhojla and Matia Mahal. They make the ultimate tea-time snack, and are usually sold along with other treats from the cavernous ovens that work on wood fire: puffs, twists, cake rusks and milk rusks.
I ask Md. Imran of Al Madina Bakery what the recipe for fan is. “Flour, ghee and salt,” he intones. And puffs? “Flour, ghee and salt,” comes the deadpan reply. It takes a certain kind of talent to work with just three ingredients and create a range of products from them, and in the steeply sloping, narrow lane that is Pahadi Bhojla where sunlight is an unknown quantity, Imran and his team bake up a storm. So great is the demand, that the oven is fired several times a day. One shift goes to make dozens of trays of cake rusks. Indeed, during the five minutes or so that I spend in the shop, customers troop in constantly. They’re mainly from the immediate neighbourhood and the warm aroma of fan is tantalizing indeed.
The team is gearing up for the cake rusk shift. Semi-cooked cakes are being cut at the speed of greased lightning and laid side down on the trays. The fire beneath the oven is being stoked with giant poles. I don’t envy their job – it’s cozy enough in the nippy December air, but in the summer months, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Soon, golden brown cake rusks emerge from the depths of the oven, and in the absence of chemical essences, the scent that envelopes the little shop is smoky, rustic and sweet, all at once. The phrase “as warm as a mother’s love” springs to mind.
I walk out with a packet of fan to savour at home, with tea. They’re far lighter than puff pastry, and just as flaky. And with a tiny hint of roasted ajwain seeds, they perk up tea-time immensely.
Nothing in Imran’s bakery costs more than Rs 90 a kilo. Fan costs Rs 56 a kilo, while milk rusk is Rs 48, cake rusk is Rs 70 and French hearts cost Rs 90. There are around 25-30 bakeries around Old Delhi. Al Madina Bakery is in Pahadi Bhojla (off Chitli Qabar). Tel: 55398173.