Dalgona coffee is Punjabi at heart

Chetan Mahajan | Updated on April 24, 2020

Sugar and cream: A hole-in-the-wall eatery in Ambala makes its own version of Dalgona coffee   -  ISTOCK.COM

All the choice: The four-item menu at Parkash Coffee House   -  CHETAN MAHAJAN

Bite size: Parkash Coffee House is famous for its cheese toast   -  CHETAN MAHAJAN

Countries around the world are claiming ownership of Dalgona coffee. But an Ambala cafe has been brewing a desi version for over half a century

* India and South Korea claim ownership of Dalgona coffee

* The Dalgona coffee is not just Indian. It’s Punjabi.

Dalgona coffee has become the rosogolla of the coffee world. Nations are falling over each other, claiming that they are the birthplace of the Dalgona. Just like the way Odisha and West Bengal legally scuffled to claim the drippy sweet as their own. For the record, Odisha won. It celebrates the victory formally as Rasagola Dibasa on July 30. The Bongs remorsefully listen to Rabindrasangeet as they burp themselves to sleep.

The two countries claiming ownership of the Dalgona are Korea and India. I hereby stake India’s rightful claim as its birthplace. The Dalgona coffee is not just Indian. It’s Punjabi. I know because I grew up on the stuff.

What is coffee to the rest of the world wouldn’t really work in Punjab. Bitter, watery stuff doesn’t click unless it has alcohol. Anything else we consume has to be rich. Milk and sugar are the prerequisites for the “Punjabi” tag. And our relationship with cream is legendary. So, for us, coffee would have to be sugary, milky and frothy. My forefathers devised this concoction: Combine instant coffee and lots of sugar, add a touch of water and beat it till it lightens in colour and is of a smooth, even consistency. You add thick, steaming hot milk, stir it and voila!Dalgona coffee.This is the recipe for Dalgona on YouTube.

Heck, Dalgona even sounds Punjabi: Patiala, Moga, Dalgona, Ambala... see? Now try that with Seoul or Busan.

But that is not all. There is a little restaurant which makes this an open-and-shut case. The Parkash Coffee House (the correct Punjabi spelling of Prakash is Parkash) in Ambala Cantonment is an institution. I remember going there when I was in Std VIII — I’m 49 now — and enjoying the whipped frothy coffee aka Dalgona. They just call it ‘hot coffee’ at the Parkash Coffee House. I still visit the place at every opportunity. As a true fanboy, I added them to the travel platform Tripadvisor back in 2016.

The shop’s four-item menu has cheese toast, lemon water, cold coffee and hot coffee. Cold coffee and lemon water are summer distractions. What this hole-in-the-wall eatery is really famous for are the hot coffee and cheese toast. I took my foodie family there one summer a few years ago. My pre-teen kids wrinkled their noses and frowned at the basic, cramped table under the single ceiling fan. The noise of traffic from the crowded square outside filled the place. The heat was stifling. My family was unhappy — till the food arrived. The cheese toast — being Punjabi — is loaded with paneer and has no “Yank” cheese. The almost deep-fried sandwiches laden with mixed green herbs, spices and paneer smelled as good as they tasted. The hot coffee — served in a glass — was half-froth and resembled the head on a good dark beer. The food did the magic. Even though my kids are only half-Punjabi, my 11-year-old smacked his lips, rubbed his belly and said, “Good choice, Papa”.

I have photographs of the Parkash Coffee House menu and their cheese toast. But none of their coffee. So, I dug out their number on the internet and made a call.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” replied an uncertain voice in a thick Punjabi accent.

“Sir, I am a writer and am writing an article about your shop. I spent many years in Ambala and remember your coffee well. I have pictures of everything except the coffee being beaten. Would you have one?”

“No. I don’t have any picture.”

“Can you take one and send it to me?”

“Sir, you know the lockdown is on and so the shop is shut.”

“But maybe you can just beat the coffee at home and send me a photo?” ( I could do the same thing but I didn’t want anything fake.)

“No, sir. Sorry.”

“Okay, I understand.” I didn’t want to be pushy or intrusive. “But once the lockdown is lifted, if I still need the picture, can you send me one?”

“Yes, I can,” he said.

“Great. Thank you. So how long has your shop been around?”

“Sixty years now.”

“And you’ve been making the coffee this way this whole time?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’ve always beaten the coffee and used the same recipe?”

“Yes, we have, sir. My father started the shop, and ever since I remember, the coffee has been made like that. And also the cheese toast.”

“Okay. Thank you. I’ll be in touch if I need that picture.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Oh, and what is your name?”

“Parkash. My father named the shop after me,” came the reply.

So, there.

Now you’ll say that Dalgona is also had cold and talk about its many variants. That’s like putting kimchi on pizza and claiming it’s Korean.

Next, you’ll tell me that Ambala is in Haryana and, so, it technically isn’t Punjab. But it’s bang on the border, and if you’ve ever visited Ambala, you’ll know that it is Punjabi at heart. Besides, 60 years ago, Punjab, Haryana and even Himachal Pradesh were a single state — Punjab.

Now, if you’re done nitpicking, can you please direct me to the trademark registration office?

Chetan Mahajan is the author of The Bad Boys of Bokaro Jail and the founder of the Himalayan Writing Retreat in Kumaon

Published on April 24, 2020

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