Guest Post: Eid at Karim's!
Today my food-nama is being graced with the words of my fellow foodie, R of A Blind Man's Eye. A photographer by passion, he's the one to go to if meat is in question! On the occasion of Eid, R takes the seat!
Eid Mubarak everyone. For starters let me clarify this is not Aishwarya’s pen but her fellow eater R’s pen umm... keyboard, which has earned its well deserved spot as a guest writer here. And for the first time on Aishwarya Eats you will read up of a restaurant where Aishwarya has not eaten, whereas I on the other hand, have grown up with its menu tattooed on my memory and the taste colouring my soul purple with joy. When you live long enough at a place, you are that place. This definitely holds true for me and Old Delhi’s legendary Mughlai restaurant Karim’s.
A rickshaw ride from the majestic Red fort to Gate no. 1 of Jama Masjid brings a palette of sensory contradictions for an alien to the locality. The odour of rotten fishes, unsold in the day’s market making their way to a poor man’s kitchen is nullified by an ittar (perfume) shop. A street urchin running along your rickshaw to claim the bunch of coins in your pocket which make noise as the rickshaw speeds over the bumpy road leading to Matiya Mahal.
Matiya Mahal (Mud Palace) was a cluster of temporarily mud built homes of the workers who built the magnificent Jama Masjid in 1656 A.D. After toiling in the sun for hours, the devout worker would feel content with a couple of hot kababs and portion of bread for the day’s reward. To cater to thousands of workers every night, hundreds of kadhais and tandoors were lit every night. More than 350 years later, their fire persists unfathomed, producing delicacies beyond comparison.
As the rickshaw halts at Gate No.1 of Jama Masjid, a first timer would silently abuse his/her host for bringing him/her to a place which seems like a circus on the move to the untrained eye. The broad lane opposite Gate No.1 of the Masjid is the food lover’s Mecca (Jama Masjid in this case!) In all probability the person leading you will disappear in thin air and a panic phone call to your host will make you realise that he took the first left in a line which was nonexistent for you. You will find your host reappearing literally from between the walls to guide you to Gali Kababiyan, the proud ultra lean street on which Karim’s Hotel and Restaurant stands since 1913. The exhaust fan welded to a large grill will blow smoke and the aroma of golden brown mutton kababs being grilled over a bed of small enthusiastic coal pieces. After an unavoidable wait for a table (thank your stars if you don’t have to) a pathan suit clad waiter will guide you to a table in one of the 4 eating halls spread around Gali Kababian with an open kitchen in the courtyard.
After so much of an experience you will feel “bring me food, cold/hot, raw/cooked/burnt irrespective of its state bring me foo.....d.” What adds to the endless minutes is trays decked up with biryani, breads and curries served left right and centre but at your table. Without keeping you further hungry I shall go to the meat of this write up.
Suppose you ordered for a plate of mutton/chicken seekh, a plate of shaami kababs (blasphemy to think of chicken here) a mutton stew, a mutton pasanda, half butter chicken/chicken changezi, Khamiri roti (Thick bread from oven prepared with yeast) on repeat mode and a sheermal a.k.a bakarkhani (sweetbread resembling waffles.)
The Seekh kababs are slender which melt in your mouth effortlessly. Juicy and hot mutton would fill the cavities of your teeth while your tongue would wage a war to get the last ounce of mutton to grace your taste buds. The Shaami kababs might taste bland after the spicy and juicy seekh but that’s the purpose, to give a subtle taste not everyone can relish and bring your taste back to neutral before the main course comes.
With cream coloured mutton stew, brown badam pasanda and saffron butter chicken/chicken changezi (two different items) on your table, you are not to be blamed of you think of it as a food orgy.
The stew, aah the stew... is made with generous quantities of ghee (oil) ginger garlic and onion paste and khade masale (un-powdered spices) with tenderly stewed mutton. If their menu were to be a list of all time great cricketers, the stew would be Tendulkar! Badaam Pasanda’s fine cooked boneless mutton stuffed with sliced almonds and cooked in a sweet and spicy curry compliment the unique flavour of the stew. The Chicken Changezi is a grand avatar of the chicken curry you find at a North Indian restaurant. Karim’s Butter Chicken comes dressed with fresh cream and dried melon seeds. The saffron curry is blended with a paste of finely chopped cashews timely put while its preparation to give the aroma and taste. Karim’s Butter Chicken has its arch rival 15 minutes walk away at The Moti Mahal (This story later.) After you are done with your meal keep space in your food pipe if not stomach for a fistful of Phirni served frozen in an earthen pot and sprinkled with pistachio. After your meal you will invariably look at the menu with pleasure to find M.F. Hussain’s sketch of a fish and a water jug with his one line review of the food “The Secret of Good Mood is the Taste of Karim’s Food!” Amen.