Tuesday, October 11, 2011


The chap who first declared that there was a silver lining to every dark cloud knew what he was talking about. I thought of him warmly the other day when I was at a heart hospital near Friend’s Colony where a friend was undergoing a heart surgery. Naturally, we were all worried out of our wits. But when you are troubled, there’s nothing as effective as food to get your mind off your worries. That’s when the silver lining bit hit me. There I was, I told myself, just a kilometre or two away from one of the nicest eating places in South Delhi. So I tootled off towards a restaurant called Purani Dilli.

I first went there a little over three years ago when it had just opened. I wanted to check and see if it was still there – in Delhi, after all, restaurants open and close in the blink of an eye – and if the food was as good as it was when I was last there. Allow me to give you some good news, and then some more good news. The restaurant is very much there. And the food is as good as ever.

This time my journey to Purani Dilli was fraught with excitement. I first took one of those grameen seva tempos and got down at Batla House just after Jamia. From there I took a rickshaw and went up to Badi Masjid. Purani Dilli is right next to the mosque. The last time I had driven up there, but found parking such a chore that I decided to take a rickshaw this time. But in case you want to drive, I would suggest you go down an alley next to Purani Dilli, and park somewhere there.

I wanted to take some food back to the hospital for friends and their family, but the gathering there was mostly vegetarian. The couple of meat loving friends there declined to accompany me. They probably thought that since they were in a heart hospital, they needed to show respect to their arteries. So I had a nice meal all by myself.

A waiter came and placed a bowl of onion rings, lemon pieces and a green chilli in front of me. I asked for half plates of haleem and nahari (Rs 135each). But the helpings were enough for two. Two large bowls were placed in front of me – one containing haleem topped with green coriander leaves, crisp onion strips and ginger pieces. The nahari had lots and lots and lots of ginger in it. I squeezed a lime wedge over the haleem, and one mouthful told me that it was delicious as I remembered it to be. The meat, the lentils and the cereals -- their flavours enhanced by spices -- had been mashed perfectly.

The nahari, again, was superb. The meat on the shanks – cooked over slow heat -- was very, very tender. And though it had been prepared with heavy spices and masalas, I loved its taste. I broke a piece of a soft roti, wrapped it around the gravy and popped it into my mouth. This was life, I told myself.

I went back to the hospital, and found everybody talking about heart, diet and exercise. Vegetables are the best, I said, and burped quietly.



GULLU MEATWALAI never got to thank Gulshan, but it was because of him that I got married. More than two decades ago, I used to woo my would-be wife with Gulshan’s meat curry. His was the most famous meat stall in town those days. Everybody swore by Gullu’s meat, which came in a delicious gravy of thick keema. He used to sit outside the State Transport Authority office on Rajpura Road, and was thus known as Authority meatwallah, or simply Gullu.

I used to buy a full plate of his famous meat – and he used to pack it for me in an empty milk powder tin. If I remember correctly, it cost about Rs 20 or Rs 22. He would give me several rotis with this, and there was enough to feed three or four people.

I later heard that Gullu had a heart attack and closed shop. That was bad news, because he had fed a generation of hungry souls. But after all these years, I suddenly started hearing his name again. A good friend who lives in Mall Road kept urging me to try out someone called Gullu at Malka Ganj. There could be many Gullus, I said to myself – and didn’t show much interest. But then last week, I went to visit my friend, and thought I would look up the Gullu he was raving about.

And what a surprise – this place is run by the old Gullu’s son, Sulabh Arora. It’s called Gullu’s, and the address is shop no. 2, Main Road, Malka Ganj (Phone, only for enquiries: 9871363435). The shop has been there for more than 10 years.

To reach Gullu’s, take the road that goes to the old Sabzi Mandi from Hansraj College. You’ll find the shop on your left. I used to go to the old Gullu’s when it was just a roadside eatery. Now it’s a big takeaway, though quite a few people take the food and eat it in their cars, or by balancing the plates on their car bonnets.

The food is still good, but I am afraid not as good as the father’s. The meat keema comes in four portions – small, medium, full and large -- and costs between Rs 100 and Rs 385. Meat chawal is for Rs 90 a plate. I had the meat keema and enjoyed the barra (Rs 150). The dry chicken (Rs 135) was a little undercooked. The mutton had been cooked in its thick gravy of minced meat with tomatoes and black pepper, a dish that was the senior Gullu’s speciality. Junior’s was not bad at all, but I think he needs to enhance the spices a bit.

The place is open for both lunch and dinner. He even sells a vegetarian thali (Rs 110) and a non-veg thali (Rs 125). The latter consists of meat keema, keema kaleji, snacks, pulao and roti. Sabzi chawal is for Rs 80.

Well, I am happy to know that the father’s legacy is being carried out ably by his son. Someone, somewhere, I hope, is buying his keema meat – and successfully wooing a girl.


Sunday, September 06, 2009


Long years ago, when Delhi-ites thought lasagna was some kind of a garlic, there was Paharganj. When the fashionable eateries in south Delhi hadn't come up, nondescript restaurants in this crowded market area had the most authentic pasta and steaks you could have in the city. The foreign backpacker – living in India on shoe-string budgets – had zeroed in on Paharganj for its cheap hotels. And Paharganj, in turn, had morphed into a huge continental bistro.

The food was truly continental, so much so that the few Indians who went there found it a bit too bland. And the waiters used to sneer if any hapless Indian diner asked for a bottle of ketchup or Tabasco sauce.

Now, Delhi is splitting at the seams with what they call conti food, but Paharganj is still there. And I was glad to see last week that one of my old favourites -— Metropolis -– continues to do well.

Metropolis, said to be 78 years old, is one of the many continental restaurants in Paharganj, which is truly eclectic when it comes to food. You can get all kinds of cuisine – from Israeli and Italian to Greek and French. And, in the evenings, when the traders leave the area for their homes, Paharganj starts to look like Manali, albeit without the mountains and pine trees.

Metropolis is easy to locate. If you get in from Panchkuian, keeping Ramakrishna mission on your right, you'll find a T-junction ahead of you. Metropolis is right there, on the left. It's quite a big restaurant, but bigger still is its menu. The prices are reasonable – it's essentially aimed at the Middle Class Middle European traveller.

I have had some great steaks there over the years. I usually had the minute steak there – fillets with mushrooms and veggies -- for Rs 200. The fried fish and chips, for Rs 200, is another good dish. The Spanish paella – a delicious rice dish with all kinds of seafood -- is for Rs 310. There are pizzas, pastas and what have you. And now that more and more foreign tourists are demanding Indian food, they have quite a comprehensive Indian kitchen -- Jhinga Goanese (Rs 250), makhni chicken (Rs 200) and so on.

If you are there in the mornings, you can have a healthy breakfast of pancakes (Rs 75), fresh juices and eggs (fried, poached, scrambled, or as an omelette) served with your choice of fillings -- ham, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushroom and cheese. All this, with French fries and coleslaw, comes for Rs 90.

The best thing about Metropolis is that they let you be. You can sit there, relishing your food, wearing what you want to and reading your Grisham, or your Manto. No one will bother you, and you won't have the stuffy waiters that you see in south Delhi elbowing you out. This is laidback India, and proud of it, too.




I don't often buy crockery, but when I do, I make my purchases fromAzad Market, which has a wholesale crockery section. Once upon a time,when I had friends who were in the marriageable age, I used to gothere quite often in search of tea sets, which, no doubt, were of nouse to my newly-wedded friends who would have preferred a set ofglasses. Now that I am in that in-between age – when friends are tooold to marry, and their children too young to wed -- I go to AzadMarket only when I am looking for an eatery.It's a big market, with tarpaulin wholesalers who also sell armydisposables. And because it's a sprawling area, food joints abound.This week, I went in search of Sardarji's meat shop. If you are goingthere from Filmistan, turn right at the Azad Market traffic light.Keep walking, and after about 200 metres you will find Sardarji's shopon your right. It's run by a father-and-son duo – called InderjitSingh and Kuldip SinghWhen I last went there, it was a small shop. Now it is pretty big, andhas a seating arrangement for those who wish to eat there. Sardarjiopens at 1 pm, and till 4 pm he serves meat pulao and mutton curry.Both are for Rs 130 a plate, and a half plate is for Rs 70. In theevenings, he sells all kinds of snacks – from tikkeys to fried liverand kidney.I went in the afternoon, so I packed some dinner from there. On thecounter in front of me were big cauldrons with pulao and mutton curry.Next to it was a tandoor which spewed out hot rotis. I asked for aplate of pulao, mutton curry, and four rotis.It's quite a popular place, and was brimming over with people. Some ofthe regular patrons are local shopkeepers – robust eaters who weredemolishing a mountain of rotis with their meat while I waited for my
order.I quite enjoyed my dinner. The mutton came in a rich gravy, thickenedwith masalas and keema. The pieces were nice and large, and the meathad been cooked to perfection – it was neither too hard, nor much toosoft. The gravy was rich with small liver pieces, and what I liked themost was the fact that it wasn't seeped in red chillies. Often, eatingout means I have to compensate with a spoonful of some kind of anantacid at home. Sardarji's meat, thankfully, was not red hot spicy.The pulao was pretty good as well, though it did leave an oil slickbehind. There was plenty of meat in the pulao, and the pieces againwere tender.All in all, I am glad I went there. The journey was tough – the marketis crowded, and you can't find an autorickshaw. It took me 45 minutesto get one. But the journey back home was nice – for I was envelopedby a wonderful aroma of mutton curry. I wish I'd got some packed formy auto-driver. I thought I heard him sniff every now and then.
It's not easy looking for a restaurant when you have the name allwrong. I was under the impression that the place I was in search of inbustling Zakir Nagar was called New Delhi. It turned out that it wasactually called Purani Dilli.A friend had told me about the restaurant. Then one day last week Igot a call from Feroze Bakht Ahmed, a columnist, social worker and afellow-foodie. Ferozebhai was all praise for the food, and urged me totry it out. I said I would, and landed up there one evening. All thatI knew was that it was somewhere near the Rehmani Masjid, a well-knownlandmark in the area. I took the road to Zakir Nagar, but I wouldsuggest that if you are going by car, park at the New Friends' Colonyend. From there, take a rickshaw to Zakir Nagar. And do what I did –ask everybody you meet on the way for directions. It's somewherebetween Rehmani and Jama Masjid, another mosque in the area. Andremember the name.Purani Dilli, which is open only in the evenings, is run by a familyfrom Matia Mahal. I was happy to meet Hannan and his two nephews,Salman and Shakeel. It's a nice looking restaurant, well-lit andfunctional. There are special cabins for family, and I could tell thatquite a few people there were regulars. The chicken changezi of PuraniDilli is apparently rather famous, though I could also see a lot ofdiners digging into fried chicken. The restaurant uses only goat meat,apart from chicken.I, of course, didn't go anywhere near the chicken when I saw that themenu had such delicacies as haleem and nahari. The haleem wasdelicious – an aromatic gruel of mashed meat, lentils, cereals andspices. The haleem was brought to my table in a small bowl. Crispyfried onion slices were sprinkled on top, along with small bits of
green chillies and slivers of ginger. I added a wee bit of lemon juiceto my haleem and ate it with relish.Then came my nahari, which is a dish of shanks cooked over slow heatfor long hours. The meat was tender and the gravy thick and rich. Ihad this with some fluffy and soft khamiri rotis. The kheer at the endof the meal was not bad, but I have had better in Old Delhi.The prices are reasonable. A full chicken changezi is for Rs 240,the mutton haleem and the nahari are for Rs 130 a plate. Chickenbiryani and mutton korma are for Rs 120 a plate. They have aninteresting dish called haleem biryani – which is a nice mix of riceand halim. Khamiri and rumali rotis are for Rs 3 a piece. For thevegetarians, there is shahi paneer (Rs 80 for a full plate) and dalmakhani (Rs 70).It's a good food, feel-good restaurant. Uniformed waiters bustlearound carrying hot rotis from the kitchen, and in one corner of therestaurant I could see the chefs frying chicken on a big tawa. Next tothem were shiny containers with meat dishes. The aroma was appetizing.I had a good meal, and then ate some more when I reached home. That'scalled an encore.END


The squall came suddenly and violently – but it brought some relieftoo. The moment the temperature dipped, I decided that I needed to goto the Walled City. I hadn't been there for a while, and the soundsand colours of Purani Dilli had been beckoning.I went there in search of some milk cake, which figures in the list oftop five sweets in my house. Some days earlier, I had had aconversation on food with food consultant Gunjan Goyala. She told methat there was a little shop in a little lane which sold the mostamazing milk cake in Chandni Chowk. So, of course, I had to try itout.Gunjan had given me details, but I wasn't very clear about where I hadto go. I wound my way from one lane to another, looking for my milkcake man. Every lane, of course, had its own landmark, with a crowd ofpeople in front of it endorsing its ware. Somewhere there was a manselling Japani samosa, somewhere else there was a mound of pedeysbeing sold. Finally I reached Kucha Ghasi Ram. And sure enough, Icould see a platter of milk cake there.The shop has no name. And that didn't surprise me, for there arecountless shops in Chandni Chowk with no name. People know them eitherby the food that is being sold, or by the name of a great grandfatherwho is no more.To reach this shop with no name, I would suggest you take the Metroand get down at Chandni Chowk. Start walking towards Fatehpuri. Onyour right, you will find the famous Shiv Mishtaan Bhandar. Right nextto it is Kucha Ghasi Ram. Go down the lane till you reach a Tjunction. Turn left from there. After five or shops, you will shopnumber 336 on your right.The shop is about 70 years old, and is run by Anoop Gupta (phonenumbers 23974849 and 9891183455). It is essentially a tea stall, andsells tea and sweets. The shop is known for three kinds of sweets –burfis made with pure khoya, rabri and milk cake. The first two arefor Rs 200 a kilo, while the milk cake is for Rs 220 a kilo.This time, I was on mission milk cake, so I didn't try out either ofthe other two sweets. But let me tell you, the milk cake was simplydelicious. The milk had been cooked over hours, so it had a nice browncolour. The sweet was a little granular, and so soft and fresh that itactually did melt in the mouth (and around the front of my shirt, Imight as well confess).I think this is what makes Chandni Chowk so special. It is full oflittle treasures that you discover every now and then. In most otherparts of Delhi, restaurants look the same, and food, even sweets,taste all the same. In Chandni Chowk, every trip leads to a treasuretrove. The squall and the rain may not have led to a rainbow, but Icertainly found my pot of gold at the end of it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


This is one of the nicest Februaries that I can remember – mainly because it's still cold. I love the cold wave, because it whets my appetite. A bleak day does something to your gastric juices (I am not sure if a study has been done on this, but the subject has enormous potential), and you want to eat something hot and delicious. This is the time for endless cups of steaming tea and plates and plates of crispy pakoras. This is also the season for kababs, right off the tawa or the skewers, smoking ever so slightly, and giving off a wonderful aroma of spices.

So what do you do when the day is cloudy, and the stomach is rumbling for something hot and spicy? You wound your muffler round your neck, wear a thick jacket, and head for Old Delhi. I did that last week, and meandered into Bulbuli Khana, a broad lane that opens into Bazaar
Sitaram on one side, and Matia Mahal on the other. I suppose once upon a time this was the place where little birds were sold. Now it is a wholesale market for beads and trinkets.

I went to a kabab stall in Bulbuli Khana run by two Kashmiri brothers called Mohammed Akbar and Mohammed Husain. From the Chowri metro stop, just go down Bazaar Sitaram. At the end, you reach some kind of a T-junction – if you turn right you will be going towards Turkman Gate.
But you go straight ahead into a lane – and that's Bulbuli Khan. You have to go down the winding lane till you find the brothers skewering kababs on your left, bang opposite Masjid Shan. You could, of course, ask anybody there where the Kashmiri kabab sellers sit, and you will
get all the directions that you need.

This is a small stall where the brothers grill the kababs. They just focus one item – and that's a succulent kabab made with buff meat. It's a little different from the other kababs you get
in Delhi. The minced meat is a little thick and coarse, and it has bits of ginger and green chillies in it. You can also get the aromatic flavour of whole spices that have been coarsely ground. The meat is soft, and is delicious when eaten hot. One seekh costs Rs 3. We – my foodie-friend, Raj and I – ate five kababs right there, and packed 30 kababs for a hungry lot of friends eagerly waiting to be fed back in New Delhi.

So we had a second session of some serious eating. The kababs wrapped in sal leaves were still hot by the time we reached New Delhi. The green chutney was awesome, too, and I noticed that one young 'un cited the chutney as an excuse to eat more kababs. "Wonderful chutney," he
kept saying, while dipping yet another juicy kabab into the sauce. I must say I liked his enthusiasm.

Buff kababs are great – not just because of the price, but because they taste really good. It's not surprising that the stall is extremely popular in Old Delhi. The brothers tell us that people who
are vegetarian at home line up for the kababs on all days. I can understand that. The kababs can cast a spell on you.


Friday, September 04, 2009

Gopal corner

I have a friend who is a bit of a finicky eater. He doesn't like
anything Continental, or regional cuisine from India either. Something
like aloo-posto, that wonderful dish from east India of poppy seeds
and potatoes, leaves him cold. A good Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh, he
is a vegetarian who doesn't even eat garlic and onion. So you can't
serve him steamed spinach with garlic – a dish that otherwise always
works out well when I invite friends home for a meal.

What he does like is a plate of hot kachoris. And that is why, when I
heard that he was coming over for dinner the other evening, I
hotfooted it to Kamla Nagar in search of some khasta kachoris.

I have noticed that those who like their kachoris are pretty much
focused on them. I know that, for I am a card-holding kachori lover
myself. Whenever somebody goes to Rajasthan, I ask them to get me some
Jodhpuri kachoris. These come in two types – the mawa kachori, and the
onion kachori. The first is sweet, and stuffed with khoya. The second
is a savoury, with fried masala-soaked onions as its filling.

Of course, you get some wonderful kachoris in Delhi as well. I think
the best of the lot comes from the Old Delhi area, and Jain Sa'ab of
Darya Ganj makes the most delicious kachoris. And Kamla Nagar in the
University area has some good kachori makers, too.

I went to Gopal Snacks Corner, for this used to be an old haunt of
mine when I was a trade union activist in the University area more
than two decades ago. Lately, though, I had been hearing a lot about
Gopal from a friend who lives in the University. So I thought it was
time I renewed my old friendship with Gopal. The great thing about
this place is that while most halwais make bedmis for breakfast and
start frying kachoris in the afternoon, the two savouries are
available at Gopal's through the day. They focus their attention on
four items – apart from kachoris and bedmis, they have a bread pakora
stuffed with cottage cheese and hot gulab jamuns.

Take the road that has Ramjas College on your left and Daulat Ram on
the right, and keep going straight. The road leads to the Shaktinagar
crossing. Just before the crossing, you will find Gopal on the main
road, on your left. You'll know you have reached your destination when
you see the huge crowd in front of the shop.

I asked for 12 plates of kachoris. Each plate (for Rs 10) consists of
two kachoris, served with two dishes -- a spicy potato curry and
chholey. Gopal tops the veggies with a methi ki chutney, and adds a
dollop of raita on the curry. The kachori is nicely khasta, and you
alternately lather a piece with chholey and aloo, and then pop it into
your mouth. It's delicious.

So, to come back to the friend, I served him the kachoris for dinner.
He ignored everything else that was on the table, and concentrated
only on the kachoris. And then, after eating quite a few, he confessed
– even as his mouth was full – that he preferred bedmis to kachoris.
Well, there is always another day.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Annapurna Bhoj

A man has to eat to keep body and soul together. Which is why, while meandering around Old Delhi the other day, I was on the look-out for a place where I could rest my weary legs and treat my grumbling tummy.

I was in Fatehpuri in search of a Sindhi restaurant. But there was no sign of anything Sindhi there – barring the Karachi halwa that can be found at any halwai’s shop. So I was thinking dark thoughts about the friend who had sent me there while I looked for an eatery.

That was when I suddenly remembered Annapurna Bhoj. I had had eaten a thali there some years ago and enjoyed every morsel of it. So I hot-footed it to Church Mission Road, off Fatehpuri.

Many years ago, there was a famous little eatery called Soni Bhojanalaya. The Soni family was known for the tasty vegetarian food that it served in its little eatery. But as the restaurant grew, so did the family. Finally, one branch of the family moved out and started its own little place. They called it Annapurna Bhoj. These days, it’s run by two brothers – Rajeev and Sanjeev Soni. One brother takes care of the Delhi eatery, the other of its Haridwar branch.

Since I had fond memories of their thali, I decided that I’d go for an encore. I asked them to pack three thalis for me, even though my stomach was by then growling like a wounded bear. You can ask for both rice and roti, but I opted for the chapattis because rice would have meant carrying a heavier load. Then, with this heavenly-smelling bag, I took the metro back to New Delhi.

My friends were all waiting there with what I presume was bated breath. The thalis were unpacked – to reveal several soft rotis, moong dal, a dry vegetable dish of carrots and peas, potatoes in a light gravy, saag-paneer and kheer.

The food was truly delectable. Cooked with just a few spices, it was like well-prepared home-made food. The moong dal was very light and had been tempered with a dollop of some heavenly ghee and cumin seeds. The vegetable dishes were delicious. And the kheer at the end of the meal was like ambrosia – cooked with just the right amount of sugar.

A thali costs Rs 40, or Rs 45 if you want a ghee ka tadka in your daal. You can have as many rotis as you want with your thali, but an extra bowl of vegetables or kheer comes for an extra Rs 5.

This was such a great meal that I quite forgot about my friend who had sent me off on a wild goose chase. In fact, by the end of the meal, I was feeling pretty benevolent towards him. After all, if it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have renewed my friendship with the Soni family’s incredible thalis.

Bille di Hatti

The University has reopened, and everybody has something to say to the campus-goer. Some are telling them what they should read, and some what they should wear. I’m doing something even better: I’m going to tell them what they should be eating.

For generations, students of the University of Delhi have been heading for Chacha’s chholey wallah in Kamla Nagar for his kulchey chholey. But not too many people seem to know about Bille, where you get the most delicious poori chholey.

I discovered Bille during my trade union days a long, long time ago. We often held gate meetings for the early morning shifters in the University area. That meant I had to land up there by 5 or 5.30 in the morning. I quite liked that, because it also meant that immediately after the meeting I could head for Bille di hatti for a hearty breakfast.

My breakfast consisted of Bille’s famous poori chholey and lassi. The pooris were thick and fluffy, and the chholey was incredibly tasty – tangy but lightly-cooked. The lassi was out of this world – frothy, creamy and rich, and with just right amount of sugar. His yoghurt is excellent as well and is made out of thickened milk. There was a time when Bille had 20 or 30 flat-bottomed earthenware pots full of curds which got sold out in no time.

When I bid goodbye to my TU days, I bid a teary farewell to Bille as well. Sometimes a friend brought his poori chholey to some gathering, but it wasn’t quite the same. For a poori to be really good, it has to come to your plate straight from a steaming karai. Still, for old-time’s sake, I always ate Bille’s poori chholey with relish – and a side-dish of warmed up nostalgia.

I went back there some days ago, and found that Bille was still going strong. There was a crowd of young people – and some old Kamla Nagar residents – there, eagerly digging into their chholey with pieces of pooris. I ordered a plate (for Rs 15), and found that his stuff was as good as ever. I think the nice thing about his chholey is that it’s cooked in very little oil. And there are some cubes of potatoes in it, which go really well with the pooris.

Bille di Hatti is to be found at 72-D Kamla Nagar (Phone No. 55808227). Walk straight from the back of Kirori Mal College till you reach a big roundabout. Turn right and walk on till you are at a small roundabout. Now go left, and you’ll find Billa. If you get lost, just ask somebody. But make sure you are there before 2 pm, for his excellent poori chholey disappear even before you can say Ek aur plate dena.

Pakodimal doodhwala's shop

There was a time, years and years ago, when a visit to a friend's or a relative's place on a hot summer day meant a tall glass of doodh lassi or dahi lassi. For those of us who grew up in the Hindi heartland, it was one way of helping us combat the effects of the infamous loo or the hot winds of the North. A doodh lassi is a chilled drink made of milk and water. It is sugared and iced, and then served as a light beverage when the temperature starts to soar. But I can't recall when I last had a glass of milk lassi.

If there is a good thing about summer, it's the fact that there are all kinds of fruit juices, sherbets and lassis for you to drink. My favourite is the sweet lassi. Nowadays, you will find on every street corner a dhaba or a theley-wallah with a sign declaring the vendor as Sharmajee or Guptajee Lassiwale and his lassi as the best in town. But I am a little finicky about my lassi. Having grown up in the cowbelt (more a buffalo belt, if you ask me), I have doodh and lassi in my veins. And for that, the milk has to be thick and creamy.

Whenever I want some good lassi, I go to Pakodimal doodhwala's shop in Naya Bans. Legend has it that this shop is the oldest doodh shop in Delhi. You have to go to Khari Baoli, the spice market, and walk down to the opening of Naya Bans. You'll know that you have reached the mouth of Naya Bans when your nostrils get invaded by the smell of hing emanating from some delicious kachoris (but about that, another week). Pakodimal's shop is three stalls down the lane, on your left.

It's a small, unassuming shop, and many believe that the man who makes the lassis is older than Delhi. He is a cranky old man, so I am always on my best behaviour when I am there. I had heard about a shaharwallah who had made the mistake of asking the old man to hurry up. The old man returned the client his money and refused to make him his lassi. I like his attitude. When you are the oldest man around and make the best lassis in town, you are entitled to your moods.

I always ask for a burfi wali lassi when I am there. The old man puts a burfi in a vessel and then crushes it to a smooth paste. To this he adds some dahi, sugar and water. He then churns it with his scarred hands - said to be battered out of shape by the water that his hands are always immersed in. The lassi costs Rs 15. The shop also sells milk, curds and other dairy products. People buy their dahi and often eat it there and then with some salt and masalas laid out on the side. Old-timers tell me that a poor man who wants curds worth two rupees is accorded the same respect as the rich client buying stuff by the kilos. That is, of course, if nobody makes the mistake of asking the old man to hurry.


Moti Meatwalalh

When I first moved to Delhi, I was like Alice in Wonderland. After a forced vegetarian regimen in my village, Delhi was like a carnivores' paradise. And unlike Alice, the wonders haven't ceased since then. For me, life is still a crazy odyssey of gluttony that has taken me to some great non-vegetarian eating places. Most of these little shacks cook just one or two meat or chicken dishes, for these are not run by people who believe in laying a whole table out for you. They know that the two dishes they make are the best anybody can get - so why go into unnecessary add-ons such as veggies?

When I first came to Delhi nearly three decades ago, the king of mutton curry was Gullu Meatwallah, who had a shop by the Transport Authority in Rajpur Road near the University of Delhi. He is now no more - but is a thick chapter in the annals of culinary history. Sadly, after Gullu Meatwallah passed away, the shop folded up. But, vacuums get easily filled in the world of food. Now, many of those left orphan by Gullu Ustad's death get their mutton from another legendary curry shop called Moti Meatwalalh in the Old Sabzi Mandi area.

I had not been to Moti's for several years. Last week, I went to the area in search of a particular kind of samosa (where the outer shell is not made of flour, but out of scooped out ginger). I didn't find the samosewallah, so I decided to go look up Moti meatwallah, now called Moti Dhaba.

Moti Dhaba is easy to locate. If you are in front of Amba cinema hall (near Delhi University), you will see a clock tower in the middle of a roundabout. The road on the right leads to Roshanara Club. Three shops down this road is Moti Dhaba. Or you can take another route: just go down Jhandewalan, cross Filmistan and the Azad market crossing and then turn left on Roshanara Road. Now keep going straight till you see the clock tower. But this time, the shop in on your left.

Things have changed a lot over the years. All the textile mills of the area have closed down, and Moti has felt the effect of the closure for most of its clients at one point of time were mill workers. But the eatery is still the same. The same old utilitarian tables and uncomfortable chairs greet you when you enter Moti's. There is no place for cushy chairs here, for people don't go to Moti's to soak in its ambience or for a candle-lit meal. Here the purpose is simple: you order, eat and then leave.

The place is now run by members of the younger generation. But I was happy to see that the service was as good as ever. The moment you enter, a waiter plonks a glass of water in front of you and waits for your order. I asked for half a plate of mutton curry (a full plate comes for Rs 80) and three rotis. Since the owner has known me for long, I got a royal treatment there: in the form of two big pieces of prime cut mutton along with a piece of liver - all for old time's sake. And I got a side dish of onion slices, with chutney.

This is a no-nonsense place. Moti's Dhaba is only for serious mutton eaters. You get chicken dishes, too, but the old-timers sneer at anybody who orders chicken instead of mutton, for Moti is really known for its goat meat.

The curry was delicious, deep red in colour and flavoured with spices. Moti's meat is somewhat like Gullu's. Moti's mutton curry, like Gullu's, is thickened with keema and is hot and spicy. But Moti's gravy base is not made out of tomatoes. The mutton is tender and cooked to perfection. The gravy is essentially a very tasty keema curry. On every table, you will find a small bowl of ground masalas. If you really like your mutton spicy, you add a bit of the masala to your dish.

The tradition at Moti's is that waiters keep refilling your plate with gravy as you continue to demolish the food with rotis. The curry is so delicious that you end up eating more red meat that you think you are capable of.

I chewed on a piece of roti soaked in gravy and thought how time had passed me by. Eating Moti's mutton after all these years was like renewing a friendship with an old pal. And what do years matter when old friends meet?


Multani Moth kachori

Multani Moth kachori

Food stories come from the unlikeliest of places. So, when at a barber's shop, a client started talking about a little known tradition of Delhi's cuisine, everybody else with a white sheet below the chin stopped staring at Madhuri Dixit's poster on the wall to take notice of what was being said.

The topic of conversation was the Multani moth kachori. Not many in the small hairdresser's stall in Gole Market had heard about it. And, a few of those who had, always believed that the moth tale was like one of Delhi's fabulous ghost stories - everybody knew somebody who had seen a ghost, but never met one himself.

But the raconteur knew what he was talking about. In one corner of the city in Multani Dhanda was a man who sold moth (to rhyme with boat). A moth -- which is essentially a dal, a bit like moong -- is something that challenges all those who think that street food in the city starts and ends with papri chaat. Moth, in fact, has over the years been added to Delhi's culinary tradition.

The city's eating habits record the history of turmoil. The influx of refugees into Delhi after the Partition of India changed the food culture of the city for ever. Since most of the refugees were from West Punjab, the cuisine began to change along with the city's own metamorphosis. The refugees were gutsy eaters from Punjab and the Frontier areas of today's Pakistan and left their mark on what is known as the food of Delhi. The uprooted, yet indefatigable community added two indelible words to the lexicon of Delhi's food: the tandoori and butter chicken.

But over the years, Delhi has enriched its own union of Muslim-Punjabi food, which, while tasty, tends to dismay the purists. The practice of overdosing a gravy with cream, tomatoes and kasuri methi and calling it Mughali causes both heartache and heartburn in food lovers. So when somebody -- like the earnest gentleman getting his hair cropped -- talks about one of the abiding chapters of the city's oral food history, it evokes hope in a true gourmet.

The Multani moth is one such chapter. The place is tucked away in the heart of the city. The North End Road from Gole Market, across Panchkuian Road, connects to the
Deshbandhu Gupta Road crossing, with the Paharganj police station on the left. A right turn on Deshbandhu Road -- towards Sheila Cinema -- and a left from The Kashmiri Sweet Shop lead to the Multani Moth Bhandar. The place is to be found on the left in Gali number six of Multani Dhanda.

It's a small, inconspicuous shop doing great business. There are artistes at work here, for each plate of moth is prepared lovingly and painstakingly. A huge patila opens up to give a tantalising vista of steaming moth. The dish goes like this: first, a layer of cooked rice is put in a dona, on top of which the moth dal is placed in another layer. A pinch of Multani masalas is sprinkled on top of the mound, and some slices of sour raw onions are reverentially placed around it. And instead of a spoon, you use two crisp kachoris to scoop out the moth.

The moth has a uniquely delicious taste -- it's both crunchy and velvety like a good dal ought to be. It is spicy, but not chilly hot. And at Rs 7 a plate, it is real value for money.

The moral of the story is this: at a hair-dressing salon, you may keep your eyes glued on to the poster of Madhuri -- but don't forget to keep your ears open as well. A little nugget picked up there can lead to a journey into history.




Autumn is knocking at my door, and I am getting ready for a food-fest that is going to go on till the end of winter. Now that the blistering summer is behind us, the food carnival can be formally flagged off. For there is nothing quite as exciting as meandering through the by-lanes of the Walled City and its outskirts, sniffing at different kinds of street food.

The other day, I had gone to Asaf Ali Road, just at the beginning of the Walled City, on some work. I suddenly spotted a huge crowd of people with what looked like incredibly busy jaws. I am one of those curious kinds, always in search of answers. Just what are these men doing, I asked myself, and went up to the busy corner. I moved closer and realised that the men - and a few women -- were all digging into chholey and kulchey.

I love kulchey chholey. Not the deep-fried batureys and black and oily chholey that sweet shops actually make us pay for (financially and health-wise), but the light fare that is the lunch of many an office-goer -- boiled chholeys served with baked kulchas.

Delhi has more than its share of talented chholey kulchey wallahs. I know of several busy gentlemen who rustle up some great chholey kulchey that keep hundreds of people happy through the day. I have eaten and enjoyed the kulchey chholey that you get at Kasturi's in Bhogal, and the stuff sold by Lotan chholeywala of the Commercial School, Ansari Road, who even went to Paris to take part in the Festival of India there way back in the Eighties. There is a famous chholeywallah at Nai Sarak, and another one that foodies swear by at Scindia House in Connaught Place.

But for the first time I was looking at a chholey kulchey place which was pretty large when compared with the small outfits (usually placed on a cart, and sometimes even on a cycle), that kulchey chholey wallahas have. This was also spic and span.

The present owner, Mukesh, has inherited the business from his father. He and his three assistants wore clean aprons and looked like professionals fresh out of a hotel management institute.

Mukesh's corner is not difficult to find. From Connaught Place take the road under the Minto Bridge. Keep moving till you reach the Asaf Ali Road roundabout. If you turn right from there, you will see a row of LIC buildings. Mukesh's cart is on the verandah of one of the buildings.

Mukesh is clearly an artiste at work - and you know that when you see how painstaking he serves each customer. One of his assistants stands on one side of the cart, frying potato cubes on a heavy tawa. He picks up two cooked cubes of potatoes and mashes them out in a dona and passes it to Mukesh, who lovingly adds a pile of boiled chholey to it, and then carefully sprinkles a measured quantity of masalas on top. A sour green chutney is then sprinkled on it along with a dash of lemon juice.

Now, the other side of the cart takes over. The chef adds some chopped onions and green chillies to the chholey. Then, if Mukesh likes you, he adds thin slivers of ginger to the concoction. Clearly, he was quite smitten by me, for he drew quite a few ginger pieces out of a hidden cache and added them to my chholey.

The artiste is still at work. Mukesh puts thin spicy pieces of boiled kachaloos to my plate. Then comes a green chilli pickle and a slice of tomato.

I thought that was his signature to the work of art and happily extended my hand for it. Mukesh looked sorrowfully at me, and quite a few of the regulars there gave me dirty looks. There was, apparently still more to come. Mukesh finally topped his creation with a sweet chutney made out of pomegranate seeds. And this was given to me just as another assistant had ably heated up kulchas on the tawa.

This was awesome. The chholey was spicy, but thankfully did not set my tongue ablaze. The pomegranate chutney gave a new dimension to the chholey, adding a tart-but-sweet flavour to it. The kulchas - which come from one of the better-known bakeries of the Jama Masjid area - were soft and fresh. In short, it was a sublime experience. And all for ten rupees!

I am going back there again. And this time, I shall make sure that I don't extend my hand for my dona till the last bit of work on it is done. And I am also rehearsing a particularly withering look that I will bestow on anybody who does that.




I woke up on Sunday morning to a dark sky and knew that there was something urgent I had to do - have a crisp samosa.

I don't know if sudden showers do this to you, but I get these strange food yearnings when everything around me starts to glisten with rain. And the rain, you would have noticed, does a mean tango with some special kinds of snacks. All across the city, I know that there are people who start frying pakoras the moment they see dark clouds. A good life, I often say, is a book in hand, with a plate of pakoras and a hot cup of tea on a rainy day.

There is another thing that the rain-gods always seem to bring in mind, and that's a samosa. The best thing about a samosa is that you can get it in nearly every corner of the city. To top it, there are all kinds of samosas. In some of the Bengali sweet shops in Delhi, you can get a 'singara' - which is a samosa with a special kind of a potato filling, not as spicy as the normal Dilliwallah samosa.

There is one shack in Mayur Vihar Phase II where the samosas are so good that people start lining up for its hot fare well before the huge iron kadais are put on fire. In Jama Masjid, you get a delicious keema samosa, and in Multani Dhanda - in Paharganj - there is a sweet shop which sells samosas stuffed with boiled moong dal.

But this week, the samosa that I was dying to eat was not your regular triangular flour puffs. I wanted to have a Japani samosa.

A Japani samosa is actually not a true-blue samosa. It certainly does not look, taste or behave like the conventional samosa. It's a big, layered puff pastry - something like a cheese puff - with a delicious filling of lightly spiced potatoes and peas. The samosa is doused with a layer of chholey - and the two together are like those unforgettable pairs of Hindi cinema - say, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, or Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. Or, if you insist, Govinda and Dilip Dhawan.

The journey for a Japani samosa is nearly as exciting as the food itself. I walked through the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, enjoying the colourful battle of words between a speed-loving rickshaw-puller and all the local people that his vehicle insisted on hitting. What made the trek even more exciting was the fact that I was trailing behind a train of donkeys, who steadfastly refused to give me the right of way.

I walked up to Jama Masjid and then took a rickshaw to Moti Cinema Hall. After getting down at the mouth of Dariba, the old silversmiths' hub, I took the
road between Moti Cinema and Lajpat Rai Market. And right there was Manohar's Japani Samosa.

Nobody quite knows why the samosa is called Japani. Umesh, the friendly owner, didn't know the reason, but knew that it had been called so since its very inception in 1949. Maybe -- if you want to stretch your history dates a bit -- the name came as an offshoot of the war. Or maybe there was no real reason. Japani, after all, is as good a name as any and has some poetry to it. And it sounds better than Papua New Guinea samosa, right?

I had the samosa, and thought it was excellent. It was crispy on the outside, and soft within. The pastry was bland and went well with the vegetable filling, And the chholey left its tangy taste behind.

The first time I had a Japani samosa, I had gone around singing: "Mera samosa hai
Japani, uspe chholey Hindustani." This time, I bid adieu with: "Sayonara Sayonara, khal phir khayungee, Sayonara..."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hazi Sahab's Biryani

Hazi Sahab's Biryani:

I may have told you this before, but it bears repetition. I am a bit of a biryani freak. Unkind friends - and I am amazed at their growing numbers - point out that I am also a freak when it comes to kebabs, steaks, pasta and sweets. But it's a fact that I become all moony-eyed when I come across a plate of good biryani. I was introduced to this dish by an old family friend called Bundu Khan, who used to be come and stay with us for weeks and occasionally months, and cooked the most delicious biryani. It was, to use that old cliché, love at first bite.

But I got addicted to this dish when I was studying at the Brahman Anglo Vedic College in Meerut. The name would give you an inkling of the kind of food we got in our hostel. You get a bit sick of urad dal, desi ghee and kheer after you have had the same meal day after day. So, I went in search of the Muslim oven of that volatile city and for two years happily survived on kebabs and biryani. Then, when I came to Delhi, I discovered the many culinary delights of the city, mainly in Purani Dilli.

Now, let me warn you that the biryani is a very touchy subject. If you praise Dilli ki biryani to somebody from Lucknow, you'll get either a pitying look, or some choice abuses. Delhi's food, the Lucknow foodie will tell you, is Lashkari, that is food of the soldiers or the hoi polloi. I am always open to other people's opinions, but let me tell you that the best biryanis come from Calcutta and Hyderabad. And I am not going to budge from this position. Sorry, but there's going to be no further correspondence on this subject.
Delhi biryani tends to be oily, but there are some great eateries in the city where the biryani is as subtle as you want it to be. Of all the places that serve biryani in Delhi, two are particular favourites of mine. One is Hazi Noor Mohammed Biryaniwale - and I shall tell you about his biryani this week. Bur, first, let me grab your hand and guide you to the place. Start walking from Turkman Gate into the old city. After 300 yards, you will find on your right a lane called Elaichi Wali Gali, or the cardamom street. The second shop on the left is Hazi Sahab's eatery. It is a small shop with huge deghs right at the entrance. Now, let go off my hand and fend for yourself.
I was in Old Delhi this week and paid a visit to Hazi Sahab's shop. As usual, the dark and dingy eatery was full of serious eaters too busy for a polite conversation. So, even though I was dying to discuss the weather with my fellow-foodies, I meekly placed my order for 1.5 kilos of buff biryani (in Old Delhi, you get it by the kilo), for which I paid the princely sum of Rs 60. And then I got it packed and took it with me for some hungry friends.
It was just great. The biryani was spicy, the meat pieces were succulent and the rice was cooked to such perfection that no two grains hugged each other. This, in my opinion, is the best biryani in the city. But have I told you about this great Lucknow biryani stall in Delhi? Well, another day perhaps...


Ashok Chaat Bhandar

I break out into a virulent rash the moment somebody tells me that the best chaat in town is the one that you get at Shahjehan Road. Having cut my teeth on the different kinds of chaat that you get in north India - from Benaras to Haridwar - I know a thing or two about chaats. And Prabhu's chaat at Shahjehan Road, let me tell you, occupies one of the lowest rungs in the ladder to chaatdom.

When I first came to Delhi I remember how disappointed I was with Bengali Market's golgappas. The golgappas that I had in Meerut were called pani patashas - and were a different thing altogether, for the water in each little puff was sublimely sweet. I went off Delhi's chaat then, and continued to boycott it till a friend told me to try the chaat out in Old Delhi. I was told that the bylanes were dotted with little stalls there that sold the most delicious of golgappas and papris.
Since then, I am a convert. The real chaat of Delhi is not to be found in Shahjehan Road or Bengali Market - but in the walled city. In these many years I have had chaats made out of spicy whole potatoes in a light peppery gravy and chaats made of mashed samosas in a green and white tart chutney. And, of course, the usual chaat consisting of paapris, dahi vade and pakori and boiled chholey.
But one of the best chaat counters in Delhi is the 70-year-old Ashok Chaat bhandar in the Old City. It's just on the Hauz Qazi Chowk, at the mouth of the Chowri Bazaar. There are two Ashoks there, but my favourite is the one on the left side of the Chawri Bazaar road.
I suppose I love the chaat and golgappas there because they remind me of the delicious stuff that I ate as a child. The mint-flavoured spicy water in the golgappas at Ashok is not just tart like that in some of the New Delhi chaat shops. Instead, it is both sweet and tart - two flavours that together give a kick to the golgappas stuffed with roasted and spicy potatoes and mixed with a sweet saunth chutney.
But whenever I go to Ashok's, I first ask for a plate of his spicy chaat. Half the paapris are put in a whipped yoghurt mix, and the other half in the sweet saunth. These are then arranged on a plate and garnished with home-made masalas. Red chillies are never used in the chaat that you get in old Delhi. Instead, they use black pepper to add to the pungency. At Ashok's, the main ingredients are pepper, black salt and roasted zeera. Some of the masalas used are closely-guarded secrets - which the owners of Ashok refuse to divulge despite all my teary-eyed entreaties.

To this they add a dollop of curds, a smattering of saunth and a spoonful of green chutney. And finally they top it with thin spicy slivers of roasted kachaloo.
Ashok's has other kinds of chaats, too. There is the usual chaat with soft dahi vadas or the dahi-pakoris, which are baby dahi-vadas. I like their kalmi vada chaat -- crisp flat and thick paapris made out of ground lentils. Another all-time favourite there is the potato chaat. They take a whole roasted potato, spice it up and then cut it into little chunks. To this, they add all the seasonings that go into the paapri chaat. Incidentally, they get their roasted aloos and kachaloos from certain families in the area whose sole job is to do just that.
Once the tongue is nicely set ablaze, you can saunter down to Mianji's kheer shop, which is 200 metres down the Lal Kuan road from the Hauz Qazi Chowk. Tart and sweet - that's what a gastronomical journey is all about!

Hazarilal Jain Khurchanwala

Hazarilal Jain Khurchanwala

Most children start with words like Mama and Dada. I think one of the first words I ever spoke was jalebi. Other children were born toothless -- legend has it that I came with one sweet tooth. I have been fond of sweets from time immemorial. There was a time when no meal was over complete without a sweet which usually meant, in those days, a laddoo or a balushahi.
Thanks to this long-lasting affair with sweets, some of my teeth departed early. Just last week, my dentist gave an eviction notice to three reluctant teeth. Still, in a country such as India -- where the Taj Mahal is the ultimate memorial to love -- I, as an Indian, have a reputation to protect. So the love affair -- irrespective of disappearing teeth and a widening girth -- has continued.
I have built up a meaningful relationship with a lot of sweets -- from the Ladoo, jalebi, balushahi and rabri to kalakand, rasmalai, rasgullahs and kulfi. But my everlasting memory is still that of a sweet my father brought for me from Khurja -- over 40 years ago -- called khurchan. It was so delicious that its memory lingered on -- even though I never could manage to ever find a shop that sold this exquisite sweet anywhere.
It was much later -- somewhere in the mid nineties -- that I finally found a small shop in Paranthewali Gali selling khurchan. I had just downed a few greasy paranthas when my eyes fell upon a pile of khurchan. I immediately asked for a plate, but was a little disappointed with it because the taste didn't match up to my expectations. I was grumbling about this to an old friend from the Walled City when he asked me to try out the khurchan at Hazarilal Jain's shop in Kinari Bazaar.
I took his advice, and, after a few wrong turns, located the small sweet shop. I controlled my salivating mouth and ordered 100 grams of khurchan (now for Rs 180 a kilo). With the very first bite I realised that this was the real thing. But before I get into a frenzy, let me tell you about the shop.
To get to this Mecca of Khurchan worshippers, you should get into Chandni Chowk from the Red Fort end. Ask anyone where Dariba Kalan -- the silver market -- is. The landmark for Dariba is the famous Jalebiwallah at its entrance. Go down Dariba, get into Kinari Bazaar and you will find Hazarilal about 20 shops down the market, to your left.
Let me tell what khurchan is all about. If you want to translate it into English, the nearest word that you can get is scrappings. When kheer was cooked, did you, as a child, use a spoon to scrape the sides of the utenstil to get at the thickened milk that was stuck there? I did that -- and loved the taste of the caramelised, thickened milk. The concept of the khurchan is just that.
At this 70-year-old shop, they keep boiling the milk in a big karhai and removing the malai, or the head, with a twig. In another karhai, they keep putting one layer of cream over another till the sweet is as thick as, say, a kalakand.
What's interesting is that sugar is not added to the milk. Instead, just before the khurchan is put on the counter, they sprinkle some powdered sugar or karara over it. This helps release whatever moisture there is left in the khurchan, and makes it softer.
Khurchan is not as sweet as some of the other desserts that we eat -- and I find it heavenly. Sadly, it's getting to be more and more difficult to find a khurchanwallah, because few halwais make this dish since the process is too time-consuming. Soon, like the Dodo, the khurchan will be lost forever. So seek out the stuff right now.

Makhan Lak Tika Ram's doodh jalebi

2) Makhan Lak Tika Ram's doodh jalebi:
It all started with Delhi's voters' list. One fine day I was a voter, the next moment I found that I wasn't. Now I am one of those people who take their voting responsibilities very seriously. So, like a disgruntled disenfranchised citizen, I started up the totem pole of Delhi's bureaucracy to get my name back on the voters' list.
After some initial enquiries, I made my way to the Delhi Election Commission office in Kashmiri Gate which once housed St Stephen's College. But by the time I was at the head of a long line of equally grumpy people, it was lunch-time. The clerk at the window did what he has been trained to do for years: he looked sneeringly at us, downed the shutters and disappeared.

I was feeling rather peckish, so I went looking for something to eat. I noticed a large group of people standing in front of a shop called Makhan Lal Tika Ram. There was a blissful look on their faces, so I lined up as there well. I found some huge cauldrons of milk boiling over a low fire. I asked around, and found that the place was the Mecca for all doodh jalebi lovers of the city.
I got really emotional when I heard the phrase doodh jalebi. In my student days in Meerut, when I had hoped to become a wrestler despite weighing something like 40 kilos, my breakfast used to consist of half a litre of scalding milk poured over two plump jalebis, followed by atta ladoos made with pure ghee and a fist full of almonds. But being of mixed parentage - which is the reason why I have a Jat brain and a Bengali physique - my genes did not respond adequately to the morning breakfast, and I gave up wanting to be a wrestler.

But my love for milk stayed. After dinner, we used to saunter down to Kallu Halwai's shop in Meerut, order a kulhar of creamy milk with a thick slice of malai to garnish it. Milk, suitably altered, can be wonderful. It doesn't just make great dessert, but, coupled with jalebis, it makes for an excellent breakfast meal, too: it is tasty, nourishing and good for digestion.
After I moved to Delhi, I looked high and low for a doodh jalebi wallah, but could never find one. And since people outside the Walled City believe in having muesli and papaya for breakfast, most of Delhi sneered at my frenetic search for doodh and jalebi. And then one day, a quirk of fate -- or the actions of a typical babu -- helped me realise my dream.

It is not difficult to spot the shop. Go to Kashmiri Gate, locate the Bata shoe shop or Carlton Cafe (another of those places that I fondly remember from my childhood) and keep going down the same side of the road till you reach the election commission office. Once you have crossed that, you will find the doodh jalebi stall just a few shops downs the same side of the road.

I went in and ordered a plate of aloo poori (Rs 12) and a glass of milk jalebi (Rs 21) without sugar (my family says it sees no signs of it, but I take care of my weight). While I waited for my order I noticed with interest how they thicken the milk. Milk was being boiled in 4 huge karais. As the milk thickened in one karai, it was poured into the next karai and so on till it had reached just the right consistency and was ready to be doled out.
Once the milk was thick enough, the maestro at the shop would deftly place two thick jalebis into one tall glass and then pour thickened milk into it till the glass was full. To this he added a wedge of malai. A spoon was dropped into it, no doubt to titillate the jalebis.
I thought it was pure nectar. I had some of that, and then moved on to the puri sabzi. This was great as well -- the puris gave me all the roughage that I needed to keep my heart healthy (well, if you can stretch a point) and the sabzi was tart and tasty. For Rs 45 (I had a second plate of puri sabzi), this was a full, wholesome and delicious meal. I finished the last of the sabzi and lapped up what was left in my glass of milk and jalebis.
After this, I was ready to take on all the babus of the Election Commission. I strode up to the EC office full of verve and vim. And I silently thanked Makhan Lal Tika Ram for being the Guardian Angel of the disenfranchised, and of the would-be wrestlers of the world.

Nand Di Hatti

I vividly remember my first encounter with a plate full of black chholey and puffy bhaturas. The year was 1962 and my brohter had just passed out of the Indian Military Academy. He took me to Kwality Restaurant in Connaught Place for a celebratory dinner. Among the many dishes that waltzed their way to the table was a plate of chholey bhaturey. I thought it was delicious.
Since then, my association with this north Indian dish has grown, as the cliché goes, from strength to strength in these 40 years. People say that the chholey bhaturey you get in Kwality's is still better than that in other restaurants, but I wouldn't know. The last time I was there was sometime in the seventies!
But I have had a lot of Chholey Bhatureys since my first encounter with it. I have had the fare that is offered at Nagpal's in Amar Colony near Lajpat Nagar, and a plate in that shop at the corner of Khari Baoli and Fatehpuri. I have been to the famous chholewallah at Begum Bridge in Meerut and many other places besides. Till yesterday, I thought the Sitrama chholey bhatureywallah in Paharganj was the best in town. The shop was started by Diwanchand in the 1950s, and Sitra Ram used to work for him. Later he became a partner, and the rest is gastronomical history.
Yesterday, I was in Sadar Bazar -- led there by my twitching nostrils. I thought a major wholesale market should have a few good eating places. I knew about the Chaatwala in Deputy Ganj (the wholesale street utensil market), but he only sits for three or four hours a day, and I knew I would have missed him. I have been to the rabri falooda stall in the main market, but he is not half as good as Gyani's near Khari Baoli. Then I suddenly remembered this very popular channe bhaturey shop in Pan Mandi.
I parked my car on the Paharganj side of the New Delhi Railway Station (I am convinced that I buy more parking tickets at the station than anybody else) and took a rickshaw to Sadar Bazar, after agreeing to pay Rs 6 to the rickshaw puller. I was going to this part of Sadar Bazar after nearly 20 years and had to ask the locals for directions. At long last I reached the place I was looking out for.
This was the famous Nand di Hatti at 829 Pan Mandi, Sadar Bazar. The shop has been around since 1960. Mr Nand Lal breathed his last in 1993 and the shop, sadly, was partitioned to keep his sons happy. I went to the corner shop now called Nandlal Om Prakash as it had a bigger crowd of customers milling around it.
A gentleman with a flowing white beard was handling the cash. This was Mr Om Prakash, Nandlal's son. I paid Rs 22 for a plate of chholey bhaturey. You can have a plate of chholey with one bhatura for Rs 12 as well. A plate of masala aloo comes for Rs 10.
In a jiffy, my plate was in front of me. The bhaturas were not greasy and the chholey wasn't swimming in oil, as it is in some parts of Delhi. There was plenty of chholey, which came with a homemade pickle and some green chillies. The stuff is cooked in pure desi ghee, and being a Vaishnavi joint, there is obviously no use of garlic or onions.
I felt a little sorry when I had my first bite, because I realised, as a soft piece of the bhatura went into my gullet with a tangy portion of the chholey, that Sitaram was not the best in town. Nandlal Om Prakash clearly stood at the head of the line. The chholey was spicy but not so hot that I needed a fire extinguisher for the insides of my mouth. I finished the stuff and silently agreed with my friends who have always held that this is the best chholey bhaturey outfit in town.
I packed some for my friends, bought an umbrella for my wife and strolled back to the Railway Station, enjoying the happy feeling in my tummy and the spray of light drizzle that had -- predictably -- not been predicted by the Met Department.

Khalsa Hotel

Mayapuri meatwallah:
One lives, and one learns. I remember how derisive I was when I first heard about a Sardarji who, we were assured, sold a mean mutton tandoori in Mayapuri in West Delhi. We snorted loudly and told the bearer of the news to shut his trap. West Delhi's link with food, we said snootily, was limited to a good butter chicken, or, at best, a chilli chicken 'leg' piece.
This happened several years ago. But I was a little intrigued because every now and then a friend would urge me to try the Mayupuri mutton out. Having mellowed with age, I thought it was time I went there. After all, if some of my committed foodie friends were going ga-ga about Sardarji's mutton, surely this was something that needed a first-hand probe?

The results are out - and the Sardarji has passed the test with flying colours. His mutton tandoori is indeed excellent. And all those who think that life is not worth it if you haven't tried out the works of some of Delhi's master chefs should make a quick trip to Mayapuri while the good weather lasts.

It is not difficult to find the Khalsa restaurant. I took the Mayapuri cut from Ring Road and crossed the DTC depot. You will find the Dhaba on the left, on the same side of the road as DD Motors. I went there and found that there were two Sardarjis selling tandoori mutton there. Clearly, there has been a family feud because the owner of the dhaba I went to - significantly named "Asli" Khalsa restaurant - curled his lips up derisively when I mentioned the other Khalsa Dhaba. Asli Khalsa is in C Block, on a little lane that runs parallel to the main road.

I was given a huge menu card to peruse, but had been told beforehand by my friends to disregard it. The menu is impressive for it has columns and columns of food dishes, which should be read for fun and then ignored. There are, for instance, all kind of paneer dishes listed in the menu, and even a cheese chopsuey in the Chinese section. I did as I was told - and just ordered a kilo of tandoori mutton from Asli Dhaba for Rs 200. The other Dhaba calls it a burra kabab - but it is essentially the same dish, which the brothers must have together picked up from their father.
But this is nothing like the burra kababs that you get in other restaurants in town. The meat is so tender that it doesn't punish your gums or your teeth. And surprisingly, the dish is cooked with very few spices. But the real secret, which I made one of the brothers spill out by using some old Chinese methods of extortion, lies in the fact that they use a baby lamb for the dish.
The mutton is marinaded in a mixture of garlic water and salt for 12 hours and then roasted in a tandoor. The end result is just stupendous: the meat is soft and because there are no overwhelming spices, it retains the heady flavour of tender meat and garlic.
Elsewhere, burra kababs are made out of big pieces of mutton and are soaked in spices. You get them in most restaurants where they offer so the so-called Mughlai food, a misnomer if there was ever one. The restaurants in the Pandara Road market offer burra kebabs, and Karim's in Jama Masjid is known all over the world for its succulent burras.
But the Khalsa mutton is quite another story. Here the pieces are small, which means they are not just easy to handle, but nicely chewable as well. And the aroma...!
I took my order home and then called some friends over. I sauté-ed the mutton lightly in a kadai and then, as the ooh-and-aahs came pouring out, told them with becoming modesty that I had cooked it myself, using a recipe that I had found in an old chest belonging to a great grandfather who was a junior cook in Maharajah Ranjit Singhji's immense kitchen.
Since then, the friends have been clamouring for some more. They'll have it - as soon as I can make another trip to Mayapuri.


Fateh ki kachori:
For all kachori lovers of Delhi, Fateh has been something of an enigma. Most serious students of this crunchy savoury have heard of Fateh, for the name tends to crop up in any conversation revolving around the humble kachori. But hearing about Fateh's kachoris is like listening to somebody tell a ghost story: everybody knows somebody who has seen a spook, but no one seems to have seen one personally. A ghost-story teller will say: "This is true, because it happened to my Aunt." And, likewise, the Fateh fan club would insist that Fateh's kachori still existed, but nobody was quite where it was to be found.

For those who like their kachoris, this can be a bit frustrating. And street-food lovers are known to go to every nook and corner of a city in search of a good kachori. Kachoris make for great breakfasts, and there are people who make it a point to go looking for a plateful in cities famous for their kachoris -- from Meerut, Agra, Kanpur and Mathura to Varanasi, that bastion of satvik food. In Delhi, some of the best kachoris are to be had at Ansari Road, Dariba and Bazaar Sitaram.

But then, the high priests of the kachori cult had intoned that you hadn't seen the world if you hadn't tried out Fateh's stuff. So, Fateh remained not just something of an enigma, but a bit of a challenge as well. Any kachori enthusiast worth his or her salt knew that to be counted among the crème-de-la-crème of the kachori lovers' club, a visit to Fateh was a must.
So, a trek was organised one sunny morning to the intestines of Delhi in search of the elusive Fateh. An old student of St Xavier's gave detailed directions to the place, pointing out that Fateh had fed generations of hungry students of the school on Rajniwas Marg. The map was followed to the last T, but there was no sign of Fateh there. Did the place exist at all, or was it just a figment of a city's collective imagination?
But, just when the search was being given up for good, an old jungle saying came to the mind. When you are lost, goes the proverb, just get in touch with the nearest panwallah. A panwallah's help was dutifully sought. He scraped a betel leaf with a bit of limepaste, wrapped it up neatly, and then pointed desultorily to a garden umbrella spread out over a cycle in one narrow galli. That, he said, was Fateh's kachori counter.Fateh's is on a little lane off Rajniwas Marg, next to the Gujarati Samaj building.

The famous kachoris are assembled on this very bicycle. Two huge bags filled with kachoris hang from the cycle's handles. The rest of the stuff lies on a slab on top.
To test the waters, a solitary plate of kachori was ordered. It took a while coming, because there were some 20 people who had already assembled there and placed their orders. But the wait was worth its while, for the kachoris at Fateh's are put together like a choreographed act.
Unlike most other kachori makers of Delhi, Fateh uses boiled chholey - the kind that is usually served with kulchas - with his kachoris. A group of three men go through the motions with clockwork-like precision. One of them picks up a small stainless steel utensil and takes out some of the boiled chholey, mixes it with some salt and masalas, and then places it on top of a kachori.
The plate moves to a helper who tops it with chopped onions and green chillies. Then, a third person sprinkles some masalas on the kachori, and then douses it with a spoonful each of a sweet and a sour amchoor-based chutney. The plate goes back to the second man who now garnishes it with slivers of ginger and fresh green coriander leaves. And the plate is reverentially handed over to a client who seems to have lost all control over his salivatory glands.
Fateh's kachoris are excellent. Though kachoris are usually served with a hot sabzi - made either out of potatoes or pumpkin - the chholeys at Fateh's give a different taste to the khasta kachori. Some more plates were ordered, the kachoris were savoured and a fond farewell was bid to the three surprised men by the bicycle.
Finally, the citadel guarding the famed kachoris had been breached. Fateh, after all, means victory.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Summer didn't come knocking at our doors this year - but barged in like a rude guest. So, as the temperature soared, we were discussing cold desserts in a bid to douse the fire that raged around us.

That was when I heard about the famous kulfiwallah of Chawri Bazar who sold the most exotic kulfis. He had a kulfi peppered with faalsey, those small berries that make excellent sherbets, a malai kulfi, made with cream, and a rabri kulfi, with thickened milk.

I was dying to have some of his kulfis, so I set out one scorching day last week to try them out for myself. I reached Chawri Bazar and went to the spot where I was told I'd find him - only to find him missing. A few questions later, I learnt that the venerable gentleman was no more.

I felt bad - not just because he had gone up to the great hunting ground of all kulfiwallahs, but because I'd never had the chance of eating his famed stuff.

But since life goes on, I decided to look up an old friend of mine in the region - a small restaurant called Shakahari.

When I first came to Delhi from Western Uttar Pradesh many years ago, one of the things that I missed the most in this big bad city was urad ki dal. This was our staple diet in the village where we lived - nearly every meal consisted of rotis and urad dal seasoned with a generous helping of asli ghee. In Delhi, I was amazed to find that few restaurants served this dal that I had grown up on.

That was when somebody told me about Shakahari. For me, there was just one great reason to go there - it served urad ki dal, and made the way I liked it.

So, when there were no kulfis to be had, I walked up to Shakahari, which is right next to the Chawri Metro station.

I went up a narrow staircase and sat down in the place where I've had a great many nostalgic meals. Of course, I asked for a plate of urad dal (Rs.42), which came with very small besan ki rotis, cooked in the tandoor and dunked in ghee (Rs.4 each).

Rare dishes

The good thing about Shakahari is that it serves all those things that we don't see in restaurants anymore. Where does one get sukha matar - a spicy dish of peas? And where does one get aloo-palak, spinach cooked with potatoes?

Shakahari has all this, and more. I always have their roasted eggplant (baigan ka bharta) or spicy bhindi (fried okra) - for Rs.40 - and a boondi raita for Rs.27.

The food is excellent, cooked the way bhabhis and chachis did in the old days. I had my lunch and then sauntered out for a sweet dish.

There was no kulfi, but I appeased my soul with a plate of cold rabri. Be happy with what you have, I told myself.


I like stories with happy endings. One day, while walking past Lal Kuan on my way to Chandni Chowk, I came across a strange sight - a shop with wooden shutters. That was surprising for a couple of reasons. One, this was certainly an oddity in a society that suffered from a siege mentality and kept itself imprisoned behind iron gates and barbed wires. And, second, those who have seen sectarian clashes in Delhi will know that the Lal Kuan-Farash Khana area used to be a flashpoint for communal violence. So, in this area, any shop without iron shutters stood out like a sore thumb.

The wooden door - painted a bright green - stayed in my thoughts till I bumped into my friends from the Walled City - Guru Santosh and Salimbhai. I described the shop to them, gave a detailed map of where it was located and finally told them that I could smell the masalas in the air. The two perked up at once. "Oh, you mean, Sharmaji's masala shop," they said, in unison.

And then they guided me to the shop with the green doors. We walked up from Hauz Quazi towards Lal Kuan. We passed Sirkiwalan, and found the masala shop at the mouth of Kuccha Pandit. Shri Niwas and sons has been in business since the 1920s. The spices are popularly known as Qutub Minar masalas. The interesting thing about the shop is that it is a little lesson in secular harmony. The shop's masalas are used by all the Muslim bawarchis of the Old City for all kinds of non-vegetarian dishes. And those making the masalas are vegetarian Hindus. Prakash Sharma, who earlier worked for DCM, represents the present generation at the shop. And though a strict vegetarian himself, he keeps creating all kinds of exotic new masalas for die-hard carnivores. I have also picked up his masalas for aloo, rajmah and dahiwade, and found them excellent.

Delicious korma

The first time I went to the shop I picked up a mutton korma and a stew masala. I followed the directions - written on the packet - to the last T and created the most delicious korma my friends said they had ever eaten. Since then I have tried out the aloo-gosht, chicken and fish masalas and have always met with critical acclaim, and, occasionally, a burping ovation.

I have been going there regularly, picking up masalas for my kitchen, and for friends. On one such visit, I couldn't stop myself from asking Mr. Sharma why his shop had no steel shutters. He replied: "Do you think people who love their food would ever destroy my place? We have a common heritage - and we are a part of the same, composite culture." He said this in his mix of Hindi and Urdu, and I can't tell you how beautiful his words sounded. Have I told you that I love happy endings?

best kebabs in town

There is one street in Old Delhi that suddenly comes to life every evening, just when dusk is about to melt into an inky night. If you are a newcomer, you'd be surprised to see mobs of salivating men emerging from various lanes and by-lanes at around 7.30 in the evening, and heading for one particular corner. If you are an old Purani Dilli hand, you will say: ho hum, there go the city's kabab lovers.

The men - life members of the great kabab fan club - silently queue up and wait for their turn to reach the head of the line. And once they are there, they get to bite into the most succulent seekh kababs this side of Lucknow.

One had heard quite a bit about this fabled buff-meat kabab, which Old Delhi friends often spoke about, and usually in hushed whispers. So, one fine evening one decided that it was time to stand in the queue to be counted. Parking the car at the Ajmeri Gate side of the New Delhi Railway Station and hiring a rickshaw to take to Lal Kuan.


Night-time in Old Delhi is completely different from its day-time ambience. During the day, the lanes are engulfed by the hectic pace of its bustling markets. In the evening, little stalls come sprouting up, some with heavy deghs selling korma, some others with coal angithis, grilling tikkas and kababs, and a few with shiny pots of the heavenly rice pudding, phirni. The lights come flickering on, blurring out the rough edges of the fast-paced, commercial face of the Old City.

The moment one hits Hauz Quazi chowk, the nostrils start twitching, set into motion by the cocktail of rich aromas that come wafting in from all corners. Everywhere, people start coming out of the shadows in search of good food.

Popular kababwallah

One was in search of Moinuddin - the anointed king of the skewer, and some say the 10th Dan black-belter in kabab-making. From Hauz Quazi, one starts moving towards Lal Kuan till one comes across Hamdard Dawakhana. Right there, at the mouth of Gali Qasimjan - where the poet Ghalib lived - sits Moinuddin Ustad.

One had the first bite of his kabab, and realised what nirvana was all about. A plate costs about Rs. 15 and consists of four kababs, a sprinkling of masalas and a few drops of lemon juice, served with onion rings and a green chutney.

One has had spicy but rubbery kababs, soft and bland kababs but this is out of the world. The kabab is so soft that the teeth don't have much work to do. And it is so delicious that the taste-buds burst into a joyous jig.

A good kababchi has to know three things: the masala that goes into it, the ratio of fat to the minced meat and when to take the skewer out of the grill. Moinuddin clearly belongs to the select group of kababchis with a golden touch. For long years, old-timers of Delhi have been waxing eloquent about the late Maseeta kababchi, whose kababs were the stuff legends are made of. One can now tell them about Ustad Moinuddin. He showed the stairway to heaven

gola kebab

Gola kababs are incredibly soft and delicious, that is, if they are from a man known as Mian Sa'ab by food lovers of the Walled City.
We were talking about gola kababs one day when I was suddenly consumed by this galloping urge. In the middle of the conversation I felt like eating a fiery hot gola kabab. It was, of course, late at night, when all good kabab-sellers were gently snoring at home. So I drank some water and went quietly to bed, too. Tomorrow, I promised my whining stomach, tomorrow would be the day.

The next evening, when the sun showed signs of calling it a day, I set out from home. An hour - and a short drive, a metro ride and a rickshaw haul - later, I was in the Chitli Qabar area of Old Delhi, in search of my gola kabab-maker, known by food lovers as Mian Sa'ab. Now gola kababs are something out of this world. This is a kabab that is so soft that they need to bind it together with a twine of thread. And that is why, in some parts of the country, they call it a sutli kabab. There are not too many gola kabab-makers in the city any more. One of the more famous kababchis is Kala Baba - but he douses his kababs with chillies, which is why I try to avoid him these days.

Mian Sa'ab has his little barbeque spot right near a mosque opposite Dujana House. He sits there only in the evenings. If you start walking from Jama Masjid towards Chitli Qabar, you will find the mosque some 200 to 300 yards down the road. But his little place is so small that you can easily miss him. I would suggest that you keep your eyes and nostrils open when you go looking for him.

Incredibly soft

Gola kabas are incredibly soft - truly the melt-in-the-mouth kind. Made of buff, the meat is minced and beaten, mixed with all kinds of special masalas, put around the skewer and then tied together with a thread. Unlike, say, a seekh kabab which stays on a skewer, a gola kabab would disintegrate if you did not tie a twine around it. When it is put into a dona - along with slices of onions and a green chutney - it comes out as little dollops of kababs, and that, I suppose, explains the name. But the moment you touch it, it breaks into succulent little pieces.

A seekh of gola kabab costs Rs.2.50. I asked for 10 seekhs, got them packed and made for home. En route, I stopped by a nan-maker and got some rumalis. This is best eaten either on its own, or wrapped in a rumali. And, of course, it is heavenly if you eat it fresh off the seekh - it doesn't taste quite the same once it is cold. I asked Mian what he did to the kababs to make them so special. He just gave me a Sphinx-like smile. Trade secrets, said the smile, are best untold

biryani 2

Last week, I started getting withdrawal symptoms. I hadn't had a dose of good biryani for almost a month, and I was breaking out into a cold sweat. Life without succulent pieces of mutton mixed with aromatic rice seemed dull and dreary. So I followed my own motto: When biryanis start to haunt you, go to Purani Dilli.

So I went. One fine evening, when all of Old City was draped in lights, I alighted at the Chawri Bazar Metro Station with a gorge-or-die look in my eyes. I walked down to Matia Mahal, soaking in the ambience of a place that was teeming with life after a day of fasting. This is the Ramzan month, so the area around Jama Masjid was humming with people who were done with their iftaar and were moving around the well-lit bazaar, buying stuff for the morning sehri - when those on fast have an early morning meal.

Festive offers too

Roadside stalls were laid out with knick-knacks such as bright and colourful skullcaps. The lane was full of little eating stalls - selling anything from pakoras, dahi vadas and kababs to kheer and sewaiyan. There were people all around, and the air was festive. Between Jama Masjid and my destination, I learned three new swear words. I did salaam to many friends and reached Mota Biryaniwala's shop.

Manpasand Chatpati Biryani Point is the official name of the shop. But if you mention this name to any local, he would look you up and down and squirt a stream of paan juice into a ditch nearby and enrich your vocabulary with some interesting additions. For the fussy reader, the address is shop no. 701, Chowk Chitli Qabar, Haveli Azam Khan. If you are walking down Matia Mahal from Jama Masjid, you will reach Chitli Qabar after some 500 metres. On your left, at the mouth of Haveli Azam Khan, you will see this huge gentleman dishing out biryani from an equally big degh. Because of his ample girth, he is called Mota Biryaniwala.

After doing dua-salaam, I ordered one kilogram of biryani for Rs.40. It was put in a plastic bag, weighed and then handed over to me. I bought a few other goodies and made my way home. Needless to say, the food was delicious. Mota Biryaniwala's biryani is cooked with buff meat. The meat was soft and the rice had been richly flavoured with the juices of the meat and a bundle of spices. My visiting brother-in-law loved it and delayed his departure home by three days. I was happy with the biryani, too - but I was happier still to be back with my people

ahmed biryani

People have been looking forward to the Metro for different reasons. Some find it fast, some think it is inexpensive. But I love it for something else altogether. To me, the Metro is an easy map to good food. Some people think that a food-writer's job is all fun and games.

On the contrary, I can't tell you what all that I have to do to get to a small shop in Old Delhi. I park my car somewhere, take an autorickshaw or sometimes a rickshaw, then I walk some kilometres, carefully making my way between a row of stubborn donkeys (I mean the real, four-legged ones).

And then I finally reach that little shop which sells the most magnificent chaat.

Of course, I love all this, but the Metro does make travelling to Purani Dilli easier for me. This week I took the Metro from Rafi Marg and got down at Chawri Bazar. It took a few minutes, and I was whistling happily to myself when I reached my favourite chaat shop. I got a lot of stuff packed, and then headed back to New Delhi where a horde of hungry marauders awaited me. But I didn't know that I'd have to stand for half an hour at the ticket counter. By the time I reached Rafi Marg, the chaat was all soggy.

So, the next day I decided I had enough of chaat and Chandni Chowk, and went to Connaught Place instead for a carnivorous meal. There was a cool breeze blowing, and my soul was crying out for some good biryani.

Way to Ahmed's

I landed up at Ahmed's Foods to see what was cooking. The address is 1, Kashmiri Market, opposite Shankar Market. It is the first shop on your right when you turn into Shankar Market. Ahmed's is basically a takeaway.

I packed some mutton biryani, mutton stew and three rumali rotis, and paid Rs.120 for the lot. The biryani was excellent - the long-grained rice had been cooked to perfection, and the tender mutton pieces were of good quality. The gravy (salan) to go with the biryani was spicy and tasty. The stew was good, too - the meat was juicy and the gravy, thick and aromatic.

It was a good meal. Now, I plan to go back to Purani Dilli one of these days to find out what my favourite bawarchis there are up to. I shall take the Metro, but will wait out the joy riders. Let them have their fun!

gyani rabri faluda

If you are ever near India Gate on a weekend, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the denizens of Delhi had all been ordered to line up there for a head count. Truly, nearly all of Delhi descends on the lawns of the soldiers' memorial on any given weekend - impervious to the effects of the skyrocketing mercury. For India Gate, after all, is one of the few places in Delhi where a family can still have a nice evening out for less than Rs.100 - spending a few odd bucks on chanachur garam, 10 or 20 for balloons for the kids, and the bulk on ice-creams. I like their spirit, but I am not much of an ice-cream man myself. I like home-made ice-cream, but we get less and less of that these days. When I was young, there used to be a Sardarji in INA market who used to manually churn out ice-cream in a wooden pail. Then he used to place a scoop in a cocktail glass, put a cherry on top of it and a thin wafer biscuit at the side, and serve it to us.

Sorry, nostalgia is like a walking stick for the middle-aged. Childhood, for us, was all about home-made ice-cream and kulfis frozen in a small earthen-ware pot. And once I get on to the subject, I get particularly nostalgic about a hot-day's dessert that I am passionate about - the rabri falooda. You get this in most sweet shops, but the best rabri falooda is sold in a shop in Sadar Bazar and one near Khari Baoli. Gyani's rabri falooda shop is on Church Mission Road - the one that leads from Khari Baoli to the Old Delhi Railway Station. If you get lost, you can ask any shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk, and you will be directed to Gyani's place. You will know you are there when you see a crowd frantically waving tokens in front of a small shop. I was there last week. I bought a coupon for a glass of rabri falooda (Rs.25) and then went berserk like the rest of the crowd, yelling "Ek glass dena" and waving my token to the two men manning the counter. They would take a glass filled with thick rabri (full of dry fruits such as pistas and almonds), layer it with a thick line of crushed ice and then top it with a fistful of falooda and some scented water. The mix would be given one passionate shake and a spoon would be added to the glass, which would then be handed over to the one with the loudest voice or the most frenetic token shaker.

Finally, my deep baritone was heard and a glass was thrust into my hands. The rabri was thick, rich and creamy, and the falooda had been cooked to perfection. It is a heavenly dessert, and one glass is so filling that you can easily forego your lunch after that.

But I am a growing boy - though, sadly, growing in all the wrong areas. So I had my rabri falooda and meandered around for some khasta kachori. And then, before I started for home, I rounded up my three-course lunch with the last item on the menu - a pink Digene tablet.

adarsh bhojanalaya

The other day, I was reading a food column in a newspaper whose circulation is in inverse proportion to its cerebral content and sniggering to myself. The column was going gaga about an elaborate buffet in a five-star hotel. There was a huge spread, by the sound of it a 700-item lunch, and it cost the same as a train ticket from Delhi to Goa. I found that hilarious - even if you have one bite out of each dish, you'd be nursing an aching jaw by the end of the meal. But what's actually funny is that Old Delhi is dotted with bhojanalayas that serve a great unlimited lunch, and very few people know about it. You pay just Rs.25 to 50 for an unlimited vegetarian thali, and the food is so much tastier than anything you get in a tony hotel.

One such place is the Adarsh Bhojanalaya. Adarsh has been a pit stop for food-loving traders for a long time. Most of the outstation traders and shopkeepers who come to Delhi for bulk purchases visit Adarsh for lunch. And those catching the late night train back home halt there for dinner. Adarsh is a neat little place in Haveli Haider Quli. You can take the Metro to the Old Delhi Railway Station and then take a rickshaw to Haveli Haider Quli, or walk down Chandni Chowk towards Fatehpuri. Haveli Haider Quli is the last gali on your right before you hit Fatehpuri. You take a chair and order a thali. And you ask for a katori of desi ghee. The ghee is heated and tempered with jeera. And you pour this over your dal and sabzi. It makes the food taste so good that you are tempted to sprinkle it over your raita and kheer, too. But don't.

Attentive gentlemen

The thali consists of a dal, a few vegetable dishes, raita, chutney, salad, kheer and papad. A gentleman stands there with a tray carrying different kinds of rotis - plain or missi, or paranthas if you want them. The rotis are done on the tawa, so they are soft and tempt you to eat even more than you wish to. Another gentleman keeps refilling all your katoris till you surrender and cross your hands over the thali to indicate a stomach that's about to burst. The food is really great - simple yet delicious.

The only problem with Adarsh is that once you have gone there, you want to keep going back for more. I made the mistake, many years ago, of taking to Chandni Chowk some of my snooty friends who otherwise yelp in fright when they see a cow on the road.

They had lunch at Adarsh. And they are still talking about it

Bade Mian's Kheer

In our vastly diverse food customs, there is one delicious dish that finds its honourable place in most kinds of Indian cuisine. I am talking about the kheer - which, with some variations here and there - is quite a pan-Indian phenomenon. In the South, it's known as payasam, and in the East, payesh. And right here in the North, this dessert made essentially out of milk, is known as kheer.

A good bowl of kheer has been a part of my childhood, and, I am happy to say, still plays an important role now that I am over-the-hill (a small hillock, really - but let's not quibble). My Bengali mother makes a delicious payesh with fresh date palm jaggery. And as a child growing up in a village in Uttar Pradesh, there was nothing that I relished more than a generous helping of some North Indian kheer.

Now, this kheer is not for the faint-hearted. The recipe itself is different - first, a fistful of rice is boiled with sugar-cane juice till the rice is done. Over this, you pour cold milk and some heated desi ghee. And `some' is an understatement; for the helping of the ghee has to be large enough to make even some of our well-developed wrestlers break out into a cold sweat. Over the years, as a diligent researcher, I have tasted different kinds of kheer - made with or without rice, with boondi, oranges, rasgullahs and even chunks of bottle gourd. At one point of time, I was such an addict that I used to time my trips to Himachal Pradesh in such a way that I reached Ahuja's in Murthal, on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway, right in time for breakfast. And breakfast started with paranthas and ended with a bowl of kheer.

Way to Bade Mian's

But the Bengali payesh was an all-time favourite of mine - till I discovered Bade Mian's kheer shop in Old Delhi. I came to hear about it one day when, as I waxed eloquent about the `khejur gurer' (palm jaggery) payesh, a few of my friends from the Walled City started sniggering. Have you, one of them asked me gently, ever tried the kheer at Bade Mian's?

I hadn't, and looked suitable abashed. So, very kindly, they led me to his shop. To get to Bade Mian's, you have to reach Hauz Quazi Chowk and then start walking towards Lal Kuan. After some time, you will see a mosque on your left called Masjid Badal Beg. The kheer shop is bang opposite the mosque. It is a very small shop, so you can very easily miss it. In that case, of course, you can ask any passer-by to direct you to Bade Mian's. And if I know the people of the area well, they will personally escort you there and look at you approvingly as you demolish your first bowlful.

Bade Mian's shop is about 125 years old. They have been making kheer in the traditional North Indian way there - the milk and rice are cooked slowly over a wooden fire till the milk thickens. The milk is cooked till the kheer turns a beautiful shade of light brown.

And I love it because it has the smoky flavour of a wood fire. The kheer is then chilled and you can have a plateful for Rs.10. The first time I was there, I remember eating one plate after another while my friends stood around me, looking as proud as Sachin Tendulkar's folks must have been when, as a toddler, he was hitting his first fours. The times have changed since then, for Sachin is no more the batsman he was. And since change can often be scary, I occasionally relish those things that remain the same.

The last time I was at Bade Mian's, I gladdened all the locals' hearts by breaking my own record of kheer-eating. So, eat your heart out, Sachin!


WAY BACK in the early 1960s, when all was well with the world and the Nehruvian vision of a vibrant India seemed just around the corner, I was introduced to the street food of Delhi. I was a small boy then, but still distinctly remember the time when I was taken to a kachori shop at Barsha Bulla near Old Delhi. I was handed over a dona - a small plate made out of sal leaves - and given a dollop of potato sabzi along with two bedmis or stuffed puris and two hot gulab jamuns.

The love affair with the street food of Delhi started then, and has been continuing ever since. I moved from one place to another in North India, the years rolled by but I somehow managed to extend my adolescence. Even now, a hot crispy bedmi on my plate makes me all moony-eyed. There was a time when I used to go Daryaganj every Sunday. I would first potter around the row of stalls that sell old books, and would then move to one of the small eateries in Matia Mahal or in the Hindu area of Old Delhi. The Barsha Bulla stall is still there, but every little lane in the area has its own bedmi or kachori seller. The kachori, as we all know, is a hard puri stuffed with a spicy masala. It usually comes with a hot vegetable dish - a thick potato or a pumpkin curry. There is one good man in Gali Anar off Kinari Bazaar who gives his kachoris with rai ki chutney.

The problem with kachoris is that most kachoriwallahs have their fixed time for selling kachoris. And because the stuff sells like, well, hot kachoris, you have to time yourself in such a way that you manage to reach the spot just as he opens his stall. One of my old haunts - the Daryaganj puriwallah - makes delicious kachoris, but only after 3 pm. If your stomach is yearning for some kachoris for lunch, you have to look elsewhere. But, for two major reasons, my favourite kachoriwalla is the one on Nai Sarak. For one, Dinesh Kachoriwallah makes some of the best kachoris in town. And two, he is there to be found - sitting at the mouth of Katra Jamun - through most of the day. You will find it easier to locate him if you approach Nai Sarak from Town Hall. The kachori stall is just 200 yards down the road.

Steady pricing

I went back there last week to see how he and his kachoris were faring. Dinesh has one tiny place and he sells kachori-sabzi there just like his father and grandfather did years ago. I ordered several plates of kachori and sabzi because I was in a good mood and felt like feeding my wife and her colleagues. The kachoris were packed in a paper bag, the sabzi went into a plastic carrier and I bid a fond farewell to Dinesh - happy to find that when the cost of everything around us is spiralling, two of his kachoris still come for a mere eight rupees. Dinesh hadn't failed me. His kachoris are still as good as they used to be: perfectly deep-fried with a mouth-watering stuffing. The outer skin is crunchy and crisp, and the vegetable that comes along with it is hot to the touch and taste. We broke off a piece of the kachori to scoop out the hot potato sabzi and then placed it gingerly into the mouth. The effect was electric: it was like seeing a thousand stars burst into tiny astrals. The potatoes were simply cooked - but I have always found that somehow one can't make this dish at home. He had added a spoonful of masalas and some chopped coriander leaves to the sabzi and then topped it with a spoonful of sliced spicy kachaloo. I suppose these are the ingredients that give the dish its own taste - without his special masalas, it would taste like one of those bland but elaborately named veggies that you get in a five-star hotel