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.