Spotted a Chotiwala outlet as I looked around the Ganga ghats for a vantage point from where to view the evening aarti at Haridwar. Endless tales of nostalgia about their puri-aalu/channas-halwa from a closely-related Garhwali (as much in the know of food as he is of films) had seriously spurred my interest in their fare. Not one to pass up on an opportunity at culinary adventure, I immediately made a note to self to dine there after.
Joined by a friend in this exploration, we decided to give their signature aalu-puri, & chole-bhature, a try. The experience was seriously underwhelming. Waiting for seats to come available at eateries is usually a sign of good things to come; not here. Instead, below average preparations of microscopic quantities of bhaji/chole & gigantic puris/bhaturas was what we got in hastily and indifferently washed utensils. They somehow managed to make even ‘stainless’ steel look otherwise. Shudder. Have eaten better, in more hygienic confines, at remotely located wayside shacks!
Then, turns out, this may not be the Real McCoy. For one, the original is at Swarg Ashram in Rishikesh. Two, there was nary a sign of the rotund, pink-skinned live mascot so very reminiscent of the Chotiwala brand. Gaily painted, kitted out in dhoti-kurta-rudraksha with a long choti-on-attention, and usually found seated at the entrance, he has been the top draw for decades.
Established in 1958 as a modest little place offering quick wholesome meals to visiting devotees, Chotiwala now boasts a multi-cuisine avatar dishing out Punjabi, Gujarati, South Indian & North Indian meals in swanky fast-food environs. While I’m quite wary of establishments that ‘specialise’ in every kind of cuisine, I’m going to reserve final judgement till after eating at Swarg Ashram. Still, a quick stab at internet reviews suggests that the one in Rishikesh is also headed south, and not in a lip-smacking, spicy rasam sort of way.