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?