The Batasas, Nankhatais and Kahri Biscuits of Dotivala Bakery
|Dotivala The ‘Batasas’ Family of Surat
UpperCrust visits Dotivala, Surat’s oldest bakery, which is known all over India for its Batasas, Nankhatais and Khari biscuits.
|WHATEVER you do in Surat, you cannot come away without buying Nankhatai, Batasas and Khari biscuits from the old Dotivala bakery there. It is located on Ardeshir Kotwal Road, Nanpura, but is known all over Surat simply as “Dotivala”. Ask a taxi or auto driver to take you to Dotivala, and he knows what you mean. The bakery, say its proud owners, the Dotivala family of Surat, has been in existence since the start of the Dutch reign there, it is that old. “There is no proof of the years, but it was started sometime in the late 1700, on Dutch Road, before coming to its current address in Nanpura at least a 100 years ago,” says Cyrus Dotivala, son of the present generation proprietor Jamshed.The story goes that Surat, which was full of Dutch colonies, lacked a bakery for bread, because bread was not a food of India. The Dutch quickly set up a bakery and employed five Parsis to run it. When the Dutch left India, they handed over the bakery with its ovens to one Faramji Pestonji Dotivala, who continued to supply bread to the remaining colonials in Surat. When these gora sahibs also left, there were no takers for Dotivala’s bread. And the bread, which was fermented in toddy for a longer shelf life, soon became dry due to loss of moisture. Dotivala sold it cheaply to the poor.That was when it was first noticed that the bread had developed a light and crisp texture. And because it was low in calorie content, and easily digestible, it was prescribed by doctors to ailing patients. The demand for Dotivala’s bread grew and soon he took to drying it in his ovens to achieve the desired dryness and texture. He also shaped it differently. This became known as the first Irani biscuits. They are still very popular in Surat. And when the ailing patients recovered, doctors then advised them to regain their strength by eating biscuits that had high fat content! So Dotivala created the famous Farmasu, the Surti Batasa or butter biscuits, with excess shortening. And in another brilliant experiment, he took a sweet dal that the Surtis used to make and baked it to create the Nankhatai!The Dotivala bakery has grown and expanded in baking and confectionery in a big way since then. It now does everything from bread to cake, but is especially known for the Batasas, Nankhatais and Kharis. And the bread, of course. “We do pav, bun, rolls, pizza bases, no bruns, there is no demand here for bruns, here the emphasis is on softness and texture,” says Cyrus. “Our buyers include the 3,000-odd Parsis living in Surat, the restaurants, fast food joints, even pav bhaji stalls which make vegetarian pizzas and burgers.” And Dotivala bakes a variety of Kharis, including the common Khari Puff, and flavoured ones like Cheese Khari, Methi Khari, Masala Khari. “It is a puff biscuit, but because it is made in layers, the Surtis call it Parvali biscuit,” says Cyrus.Likewise, the Surtis have their own name for the Batasas. Because these are high in butter content, they call them Makhanias! “The flour for all our products is of the highest quality,” says Cyrus. “We get it from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Gujarat flour is a little weak. Our vegetable shortening we get from Bombay, from Hindustan Lever. And our products are sold all over Bombay, especially where Parsi colonies are located, and at Merwans outside Grant Road Station. We try to sell all our products as fresh as possible. The bakery opens at 8.30 a.m. But the baking begins at 6. We start with the bread. It is not sold in the early morning like at the bakeries in Bombay. The ladhi pav is available here by 11. And subsequently, all the other products.”
Although Dotivala is a family name in the baking business in Surat, theirs is not a monopoly. Other bakeries have come up, some Parsi-owned, and they have tried to take the Dotivala’s Bihar bakers away by offering them higher incentives. But being pioneers in the business, and having survived in Surat itself for over two centuries and six generations due to the emphasis on high production standards and excellent quality, Dotivala is still the most popular and trusted name among bakers and confectioners in the city. There have been changes in its products as well. Toddy, which is alcoholic in nature, was lost to the bakery when prohibition was introduced in Gujarat, and now Dotivala uses a fermenting agent made of hops and potatoes. And when margarine went out, pure ghee had to be used as a substitute. But for all that, the bakery maintained its tastes and standards. “Once you eat a Dotivala Batasa, you will always remember what it tastes like, and we will give you the same Batasa even if you come five years later,” says Cyrus Dotivala.