New Delhi, India
December 8, 2002
For those who aren’t too clued into what kathi kababs are all about, here’s a very brief explanation: they’re very thin, pliant breads, wrapped around a spicy mixture of vegetable or meat (if you’re not content with that, check out my `Dining in Delhi’ journal- that has a longer description of kathis and how they’re made).
Nizam’s lays claim- and probably justifiably- to the invention of kathi kababs. The story goes that Sheikh Hasan Reza, a chaprasi (a peon) at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, decided in the early 1900s that his career wasn’t going anywhere and that he’d be better off selling food. He began with a tiny stall, hawking kababs and rotis (the thin Indian bread which is a staple all across Northern India), and when he realized that the finicky Brits who visited his stall didn’t like getting their fingers greasy, he hit upon the idea of the kabab wrap- the kathi kabab. Nizam’s- which was the restaurant Reza soon set up- is today a large, no-frills restaurant, with bare wooden tables and chairs, tiny curtained cubicles (for those who want some privacy) and no ornamentation to speak of. a little dingy, without any smart maître d’ or other jazz- but with splendid food.
Nizam’s makes good wholesome Muslim food- fragrant mutton and chicken curries, succulent kababs and aromatic biryanis (rice cooked with meat), but their pièce de resistance is the kathi. There’s a range of stuffings you can choose from- mutton, chicken, beef, or (my favourite, though it came as a bit of a shock when I discovered what it was) `kheeri’- udders. All the kathis come hot, wrapped in a paper napkin, with a helping of sliced onions and green chillies and a dollop of mint chutney on the side. Well-done, delicately spiced (the hallmark of typical Muslim cooking is that although a variety of spices are used, they’re invariably low on `heat), and gorgeous. One or two kathis are usually enough for one person, and a good meal (including aerated drinks- Coke’s available) should cost about Rs 60 (about a dollar and a half) per person. Give it a try- you won’t get better kathis.
From journal The Charm of Kolkata