Bengali Market, a roundabout in Delhi’s upmarket Mandi House area, houses two of the city’s oldest eateries. Nathu’s and Bengali Sweets have been attracting customers with their chaat, sweets and uncompromising quality for more than 80 years.
If there is one favourite snack of Delhiites, it is probably chole bhature and both eateries attest to that. “If you look around, you will find that most people here are eating chole bhature,” says Shreet Aggarwal, 27, who is a third-generation proprietor of Bengali Sweets. The store was founded in 1936 by Bhimsain and Banwari Lal Aggarwal.
Shreet says that the love for the snack is so much that whenever business tycoon Mukesh Ambani is in town, he asks his aides to get it so that he can enjoy it in his private jet.
Kashish Gupta, 25, a fourth-generation proprietor of Nathu’s which was founded in the early 1930s, too said that chole bhature is the most-eaten dish at his store. Nathu’s also adds its own twist to the snack by topping the chole with paneer.
Both outlets are famous for their Delhi chaat, which includes pani puri, aloo tikki, dahi bhalla, raj kachori and dahi puri. Over the years, as Delhi became more cosmopolitan, the outlets started to serve Chinese, north Indian and south Indian cuisine as well.
With globalisation and westernisation of culture, both eateries have also opened their own pastry shops in the market that attract the younger crowd as the area has two schools. “Young people want to hang out and talk for a while. They want to try western dishes like patties, puffs, sandwiches, burgers, risotto, soups and rolls. Hence, we also started a pastry shop,” says Kashish.
Customer loyalty is an important factor behind the success of these outlets. “We retain around 90 per cent of our customers. I think it is because of the taste and quality of our food, which has not changed,” says Kashish.
He says that an elderly woman revisited Nathu’s after 50 years as she remembered that the store owner, the late Nathu Ramesh Ram, Kashish’s great grandfather, had gifted her a sweet when she had first visited the store as a child.
Similarly, Shreet recalls seeing customers who would visit the store when he was a child. He says that he has even seen four generations visit his store, sometimes even together. “Some customers have been visiting the store before I was even born,” he adds.
With its close proximity to Lutyens’ Delhi, the market attracts several politicians and bureaucrats. Shreet says that political leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Shashi Tharoor occasionally visit his shop. Even the US Mission India Chargé d’Affaires, Patricia Lacina, stopped by the store during one of her visits to the country. He recalls that BJP leader and Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani once visited Bengali Sweet House with 30 other people.
“The store is within a five-km radius of the posh areas in Delhi. As this was one of the first few shops to come up in the area, several politicians used to visit the store. Similarly, so did their children who later grew up to be politicians themselves. Therefore, the tradition continued,” says Shreet.
Kashish adds that Nathu’s has been supplying sweets for most events of the Congress. “I have also personally met Sonia Gandhi to have her taste our sweets. Even the other day, we had Ramdas Athawale at our shop,” he adds.
While both shops get their fair share of politicians, Bollywood stars also frequent the two stores. Since the 1930s, stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and more recently Boman Irani, and Anupam Kher have visited the shops. While director Suraj Barjatiya has eaten at Bengali Sweets Shop, Karan Johar has chosen Nathu’s to shoot his upcoming movie. The Instagram pages of the two stores proudly display photos of the several celebrities who have visited the shops (@asliwalanathus and @bengalisweethouse.bengalimkt).
Kashish recollects an incident his father had told him about superstar Shah Rukh Khan. “It was in the early 1990s when Khan was doing his Fauji TV series. He would come to the shop often. Apparently, there was an altercation between the actor and one of the staff members. However, no one knew Khan because he wasn’t that famous at that time,” he says.
While both the eateries serve more or less the same kind of food, neither are bothered by the competition. “The competition helps us ensure we do not let our standards go low. It is healthy,” says Kashish.
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