New Delhi: Tea, pakoras, jalebis, coffee, books, cigarettes and rum...but how can Indians romance the rains without the good old bhutta? Few things can match the subtle high of biting on freshly-roasted corn on the cob amid raindrops falling all around.
Come monsoon and entire families turn vendors as they line up in rows on the streets, fanning bhuttas over charcoal in a synchronised manner - a drive through Delhi, Punjab or even Uttarakhand in north India unveils similar scenes.
It`s difficult to pass by a makeshift bhutta stall and not be captivated by the delectable aroma of roasted corn. The way a vendor dips half a lemon in chilli-salt powder and then assaults the corn cob with it sets you salivating in anticipation.
Talib, 27, sells peanuts, watermelon and corn cob, depending on what time of the season it is. A month back, he wrapped up his watermelon cart and went to the Okhla mandi in the capital to stock up on bhuttas.
He has priced the corn cob at Rs.4, Rs.5 and Rs.10. Ask him why the different prices and straight comes the reply - the `grahak` or customer.
"No one minds paying Rs.10. I charge Rs.5 from those who are poor. After all, this is one snack both the rich and the poor have off the street -- not worrying about the hygiene," says Talib, while peeling the skin off some more bhuttas.
Even as he gives himself a self-congratulatory grin, a largish, market-ready woman and her dainty daughter stop by his stall. He doesn`t even have to give them a sizable glance to gauge their money-spending abilities. She pays Rs.10 without an iota of protest.
The bhutta vendors are out on the streets like every time. Even before the first rains, scores of vendors, mostly migrants, make a beeline for the wholesale vegetable markets and stock on corn cobs -- providing them a means of livelihood for the next two-three months.
Mainly produced in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in India, maize has for long been an a monsoon relish, way before boiled sweet corn made its way to urban markets.
Neha Kapoor, who likes her maize smeared with lemon till it starts glistening. "It`s the best snack for the evening. It`s so affordable that you don`t even mind having it every day," Kapoor told reporters.
But affordability is just one of the virtues of the humble snack, its health benefits is another.
Corn is said to be high in Vitamin B1, B5, C, apart from being rich in fibre which helps in easing bowel movement.
"Bhutta is one snack that doesn`t give me any guilt. Though my mouth waters for jalebis and samosas as well, they don`t help my weight which is already ashamed of itself," chuckles Rhea, who works in a publishing house in central Delhi.
Apart from the charcoal roasted variety, there are many who like their bhuttas boiled.
Though its more commercialised and sanitised type is available in markets in the form of sweet corn, it`s the low-end street variety, laden with copious amount of tamarind paste that seem irresistible in the rains.
"Me and my friends used to go out every evening to eat chhalli (corn) in monsoons. I still remember the chatni (sauce)... it used to be so hot. These days, I hardly get any time," says IT professional Asha Sirodhar, 38, recalling her good old college days.
Then there are some who make this preparation at home. "We prepare the sauce at home and get corn from outside. Though it doesn`t match the street one, it helps satiate the craving," quips Swati, another corn lover.