- Seekh Kababs.
Since I come from a famine-stricken state, food is of utmost importance to me. I believe in packing enough food in me so that in case another famine was to strike my motherland I’d definitely survive for a month or two. (No prizes for guessing I’m a Bengali.)
So keeping this survival plan in mind, this New Year’s Eve, thanks to a dear friend, I found myself doing what I love most. Eating well. And not at some fancy overpriced restaurant.
Some of the tastiest food in Delhi can be found in the state “bhawans” – with Assam Bhawan, Goa Niwas and Andhra Bhawan topping the list, but more on that another day.
Now, while we did not visit a state bhawan, the place we went falls into the same family of eating joints: The India Islamic Cultural Centre on Lodi road and its restaurant Dilli Dastwarkhan.
An air-conditioned restaurant, with 20 or so tables laid out with spotless table clothes and cutlery, and staffed by an army of waiters and managers — it all resembles a colonial club dining hall. When we entered, before 9 p.m., there were a handful of tables with guests. When we trooped out a couple of hours later, there were, perhaps, another five, a mix of families and couples.
First off, do not expect alcohol or ask for it (no surprises here, surely.) And try not to go inebriated. It would be an insult to the centre and to the people at the restaurant. Also, a sober palate will help you truly enjoy the flavors of the feast which awaits you.
The restaurant serves Mughlai food, cuisine influenced by Persia and the Turkish empire and brought to India by the Mughal emperors. Long live their souls and the wonders that emerged from their kitchens.
Once I looked at the menu, I realized that the restaurant is managed by Karim’s of Jama Masjid fame. The problem with well-known restaurants expanding operations across the city is that often the tastes don’t match up to what comes out of the mother kitchen. Not here, though.
We ordered burra kebabs, which are made of lamb on the bone, marinated in ginger-garlic, red chili, yogurt, patted with butter and then skewered and cooked in a tandoor, leaving the kebab with a fabulously charred flavor. These were cooked to perfection, almost falling off the bone. And they were accompanied by a coriander and green chili chutney which was watery but packed a real punch. A plate had about eight pieces of kebab on it.
Since it was 5 degrees Celsius outside, we decided to make sure our hearts and arteries were kept warm with adequate amounts of clarified butter.
So next up was the chicken stew, which is not under any circumstances to be confused with the Anglo-Indian or European stew.
This was as rich and divine as it comes. The chicken was cooked in what seemed to be oodles of ghee, flavoured with crushed cashew nuts and almonds and yoghurt and onion paste. It was extremely delicately flavored and very, very rich. The dish had obviously been slow-cooked, going by how tender the chicken was.
And just to make sure we entered 2013 headed for Heartattackville, we ordered the Karim must-have: the nihari.
You don’t get nihari everywhere. It is supposed to be served at breakfast and is usually eaten after the early morning prayers. The meat, usually beef, is marinated with a lot of spices and is cooked overnight, until there’s a dark brown rich gravy covering the tender meat.
Here we were served mutton, I suppose out of deference to Hindu sensibilities. Once you’re served this godly creation, you then squeeze lime over it, sprinkle it with julienned green chilis and slivers of ginger, dip your bread in the gravy and eat. Silently, while thanking God for your daily bread and meat.
We paired all this up with two types of bread: the khameeri and the sheermal. The khameeri is a soft bread made from yeast, or khameer, and has a slightly sweet undertone thanks to the sugar used to make the dough. The sheermal is one of my favourites and very few places make it as well as Karim’s. It’s a sweet flatbread made from flour with lots of ghee and cream and flavored with saffron.
Since it was New Year’s Eve, we decided to finish off the meal with a phirni and some hot gulab jamuns. Which was simply being greedy. But the phirni, or rice pudding, is quite exquisite and a must-try.
This is definitely not food for the weak-hearted. Unless you want to keel over happy. And it’s also not the ideal destination for vegetarians. But if you don’t fall into either of these categories, it’s definitely worth a visit.
The service is excellent. Nobody eggs you on to order more than required. In fact they did cock an eyebrow at us once we reeled off our order. We got finger bowls filled with hot water with little floating roundels of lime to dissolve the butter and clean our hands at the end of the meal.
At approximately 500 rupees a head, it’s really a steal. You’re left with enough money to fund the bypass surgery you might need if you keep eating like this every day.
I’d highly recommend the restaurant and I’m definitely going to go back to try the leg of lamb, or raan, and the kormas and haleem.
Address: India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodi Road, opposite India Habitat Centre
Major credit cards accepted.
Contact number: 011-4353-5353
Timing: 12 noon to 4 p.m.; 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
You shouldn’t need a reservation because there are 79 seats, so you can just walk in.