Crunchy pick of the season

Come monsoon and the urge to eat this bright yellow or golden coloured snack seems irresistible. A juicy corn or bhutta is a perfect accompaniment to enjoy the pitter patter of rains in the season that launches a brutal assault of humidity.

And what is comforting is that one doesn’t have to go far to satisfy the taste buds as every street and corner has a make-shift bhutta stall. They are next to your home, on the way to the bus stop or outside your office or any market in Delhi.

From the young to the old, bhutta sellers can be seen roasting the corn cob over simmering charcoal. The corn is roasted until slightly burnt, smeared with rock salt and lemon to give it the distinct flavour of a roadside delicacy. It is then wrapped in husks or light green leaves to maintain the toasty flavour and changes hands for a mere Rs 15. It is an all too familiar  and heartwarming sight during the monsoon season.

Bhutta business may not be new. Yet, what remains unfamiliar are the struggles that the sellers undergo. Metrolife spoke to some sellers to find out why they opted for a business that only thrives during a particular season. Here’s what they had to say...
A vendor, Kuntla Devi, 65, in south Moti Bagh purchases the bhuttas each morning from Azadpur Sabzi Mandi, Asia’s largest vegetable wholesale market in north Delhi. She gets 1.5 quintal or 150 kilograms for Rs 1,000 and makes a profit “depending on each day’s weather,” she says.

Starting at five o’ clock every evening, a mother and daughter duo can be seen peeling the husks diligently outside Malviya Nagar Metro Station. Urmi, the daughter says, “We spend around Rs 400 each day for buying the corn, the lemons, the coal and the tangy masala but hardly make a profit of Rs 100.” Her mother Gopali, who came to Delhi, 30 years ago from Uttar Pradesh shares, “Corn seems to be making a lot of profit, but ask us and you will know that we hardly save to make ends meet.”

Seasonal crops like corn have one of the largest margin of sale. Rajinder Singh, caretaker of Okhla Mandi says, “We sell eight to 10 tempos of corn each day.” But the tribe of vendors joining this business has increased, making it difficult for the old guard to get good profits. Kishan, a vendor, says, “We have been in the bhutta business for as long as 10 years, but this time, the sellers seem to have increased.” This is the reason why Nathi, who lives in the slums of Hauz Rani and sells bhutta in Saket, has rescheduled the selling time. Now she starts early from around two o’ clock in the afternoon. “Earlier I would start at five in the evening. But now, probability of losing out on customers is high owing to the increasing competition,” she says.

The primary reason for the growing saturation in the bhutta business is because of urban-rural migration, as another vendor, Ravi points out, “Seasonal crops give us our livelihood but due to migration from other states and sectors of work, people seem to have taken up this, in tandem with daily wage at construction sites.”

The business of corn is lucrative still if one looks at other profitable ventures like popcorns and corn kernels that invariably see a preference among movie goers. The roadside business might not be generating much profit, but it has its own fan following who swear by its taste. “It is the healthiest munching option in the truest sense,” sums up Pramod, a resident of Sarvapriya Vihar.

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