Saturday, April 24, 2010

CHOTIWALA RESTAURANT AT RISHIKESH

Let's go and have 'puri halwa' at Chotiwala's this morning, said my wife. She told me that as children, Chotiwala was their favourite joint for puri halwa in Rishikesh. So off we went across the Ram jhula to the Eastern bank of the Ganges to find the Chotiwala restaurant.
A view of the Ram Jhula by night.
The restaurant was just about opening - workers were still cleaning the place, as it was rather early in the morning. On inquiry, they told us that the place was open. We sat down but were disappointed when we learnt that they had discontinued puri halwa as there was no demand for the product, as people had now become health conscious.

We ordered a chana bhatura and puri aloo for breakfast. While we were waiting for our food, Poonam who was facing the kitchen door, remarked that the kitchen of the restaurant is very clean. A server then brought out a platter with all possible kinds of food and positioned it in the hands of the chotiwala statue in the display (photograph below shows the platter).
In a short while our food was served and we started eating. Immediately thereafter I heard a gentle clap and there was sudden activity in the restaurant. Our waiter hurriedly came and placed a dish containing green chillies and cut onions, which is part of a chana bhatura dish, but had been missed by our server. I remarked to Poonam that this guy looks like the owner. It so happened that the gentleman who had walked in was Shailesh Agarwal, the owner of this Chotiwala restaurant. Poonam congratulated him on the clean kitchen; he was pleased, and asked if he could join us at our table. He then pulled a chair and sat down with us at our table. We got talking and he told us about how the restaurant was started by his father in 1958. It was fascinating to hear Shailesh's story about the concept of Chotiwala and its positioning as a brand name in Rishikesh. As per Shailesh........

In 1958, Rishikesh was one of the important transit points for people from all over who were on the 'char dhaam' yatra, which includes Badrinath. This pilgrimage would take months and people would miss their home cooked food. The elder Agarwal listened to the woes of many a traveller of how they missed home made food.. and thus the concept took shape in his brain. Why not provide people with food that is similar to home cooked food, with minimal spices and oil. Also, he concieved of four types of thali, viz. North Indian, Gujrati, South Indian and the Bengali thali, to cater for the people coming from different parts of the country. In those days when people undertook the char dhaam yatra, they were required to eat food cooked by Brahmins only. These Brahmin cooks were known as Maharaj in UP, and thus chotiwala was born. In those days only Maharaj's used to cook in Chotiwala. Of course, these days the cooks are not necessarily Brahmin, as times have changed.

Chotiwala and Rishikesh have become synonymous and thus the second generation of Agarwal cousins, Dinesh and Shailesh have been fighting over the brand, after having split the original large restaurant into two relatively smaller, though still good sized, side-by-side Chotiwala restaurants, after the passing away of the senior Agarwal in the mid-1990s. Shailesh told us that he continues with the thali even today. He planned to introduce oil-less food also shortly, based on customer demand. The thali at this Chotiwala restaurant costs Rs. 75.00 in the regular restaurant; and more in the airconditioned section, which opens later in the day. It was a treat to listen to Shailesh talk about the restaurant; its history and its future. He rightly said that this business was his passion and it showed in his words, and emotions. He told us that his restaurant serves thalis from Rs. 75 to 200 normally, but have catered for a Piramal group conference at Rs. 2000 a plate... this is more than what a buffet costs in a 5-star hotel.

We enjoyed our food but more than that, I enjoyed listening to someone who is passionate about what he does. I was so impressed by what and how he narrated his thoughts to us that I told Shailesh that I would be blogging about this, and that is the reason for this post - I had to live up to my word; Shailesh's passion had to be put down in words.

15 comments:

How do we know said...

sir.. kya sahi post hai!

Balvinder Singh said...

JP, at certain eating joints you not only get the treat for your palate but also for the soul. This seems to be one such place. Thanks for sharing. And that picture of Ram Jhoola is fantastic. Doing a good job of your lataest hobby i must say and keep it up.

J P Joshi said...

HDWK: Thank you.

Balvinder: Chotiwala is a brand name in Rishikesh, and it is so because of the passion of its original owner. Even now the two cousins stick with the chotiwala Maharaj (they have statue and live models too dressed as Maharaj). However, they are in the process of adapting to the changing palates of the modern tourists/ pilgrims.

Balvinder Singh said...

On a relook at the picture of Ram Jhoola one could even observe the photographer and the lady accomapnying him in form of shadows falling on the bridge. That must be you and Poonam.

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: Good one sir. Undoubtedly you are a fauji.. nice observation... the lady in red is my better half and my shadow can be seen with the camera in hand.

Reflections said...

That was lovely...thoroughly enjoyed reading it:-)!!!

p.s: Never hrd of the puri halwa combination...so puri is the main dish but is halwa the side dish or the dessert????

Balvinder Singh said...

JP, that's called "eye for detail" required during surveillance and counter surveillance operations.

J P Joshi said...

Reflections: Puri halwa is combination that is eaten together and is very commonly eaten in the North on certain days. Sometimes dry fried black chana also forms part of the dish and I love this combination because it gives one a simultaneous salty and sweet taste.

I suppose that is what may have led to Krackjack biscuits. Do you remember the Krackjack ad - 50 - 50?

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: Yes. Once a fauji, always a fauji.

Indyeah said...

Puri halwa brings back many childhood memories.:)


Have never been to this restaurant though have heard so much about it that want to go there just to take a look at what the fuss is all about.
your post makes me even more curious sir.:)

J P Joshi said...

Indyeah: Puri halwa.......

Chotiwala and Rishikesh have become synonymous...Chotiwala has been in business for over five decades.. a long time. Although the cousins have split the business, most people in Rishikesh feel that Shailesh's restaurant is the more authentic 'original' Chotiwala. Shailesh's passion about his business could not be a put-on, I believe. Worth a try at least once. The kitchen was clean, the general restaurant was functional, and the food was 'value for money'. We did not go to the airconditioned part as that opens only at 11 am and so can't comment on that.

Anonymous said...

I love the chotiwala, i knew nothing of the history and merely stumbled across it by chance.
i had always wondered the reason behind things.
I hop they still have Gobi parantha on their menu.
-christian newton

J P Joshi said...

Anon: Yes, they still do! Thank you for your comment.

Harry said...

Hi, J P Joshi, I want to correct your assumptions and experience about your visit to Chotiwala Restaurant. I want to clarify your's and other's opinions. I have asked so many people in Rishikesh about the History of Chotiwala. I have come to know from almost more than 100 people in Rishikesh about the truth of Chotiwala's success as a Brand and synonymous to Rishikesh. Chotiwala was started in late 50's i.e. 1950 by Lt. Shri Kishan Swaroop Agarwal ji with his younger brother, the father of Shailesh. But his father was more involved into arts and drama, but Lt. Shri Kishan Swaroop Agarwal ji was more passionate and dedicated towards the business and spent all his life in the restaurant. His only son and eldest of the family, Mr. Dinesh Agarwal was only responsible for taking and making this brand from just a small one to a global brand all across world. Just due to his passion and hardwork for more than 35 years into business has taken this name so popular that if you think of food, it is Chotiwala.
Just due to Mr. Dinesh's passion and hardwork I have come to know from locals that he with his 2 sons have started a Snack Manufacturing Unit somewhere in Rishikesh so that now they can reach to people with their continued passion for food and taste, which they have been serving for the last 5 decades.

The success behind the Chotiwala as a brand is due to the eldest son of the family, Mr. Dinesh Agarwal, so all credit goes to him, as Shailesh was a notorious kid of the family and very younger to Dinesh.

So, you all must visit Chotiwala Restaurant in Swargashram, which belongs to Dinesh Agarwal.

J P Joshi said...

Thank you Harry for your comment. Like I had mentioned in my blog, the post is as per the what was told to me by Shailesh. I did not meet Mr Dinesh Agarwal. Let's see when I happen to visit Chotiwala once again to clarify on this aspect. Thank you for your comment.