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.
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