New Delhi, India
March 11, 2013
And, while Karim’s do have a few outlets in other parts of Delhi—including South Delhi, where we live—the food tends to be not quite the same as you’ll find the Chandni Chowk flagship restaurant.
So we were pleasantly surprised to discover that Karim’s run the restaurant, known as Dilli Dastarkhwan, at the India Islamic Cultural Centre on Lodhi Road. The centre, as its name implies, is a source for all things related to Islamic culture: it hosts cultural programmes, it has a library, and it acts as a resource centre for researchers. Unsurprisingly, most of the people who come here are people who know the taste of the genuine Karim’s food from the ‘Punjabified’ bastardised version available elsewhere—so we were hopeful that we would actually get to eat the authentic stuff.
While the India Islamic Cultural Centre is open to members only, the restaurant is open to all. We parked in the quiet, tree-lined lane behind the centre, and walked in—it’s a pleasant building, with a small lawn and an air of sleepy peace about it. Dilli Dastarkhwan is on the ground floor, to the left of the back gate.
The first point in favour of Dilli Dastarkhwan when compared to the Karim’s in Old Delhi is that Dilli Dastarkhwan is much cleaner and smarter. You don’t see the cooks at their work, and unlike the bare tables of Karim’s, here there are fresh tablecloths, even runners. The large rectangular room has a (fairly indifferent) plaster decoration on the ceiling, and the light fixtures consist of white lampshades with pretty floral patterns, in the style of Mughal inlay. All along the walls are framed reproductions of old photographs and illustrations of Delhi.
A quick glance through the extensive menu, and we saw that all the Karim’s favourites were there: a plethora of kababs, signature curries, biryanis, rotis, a few desserts, and some vegetarian dishes. We have been to Karim’s so many times, we decided pretty fast what we wanted to order: mutton burra kabab and murgh malai tikka to begin with, followed by nahari (also known as nihari), with sheermal. The waiter recommended we try the nahari the traditional way, with khameeri roti (literally, a ‘yeasty roti: the dough is allowed to rest for a day or so, so the resultant roti is an especially soft, faintly chewy one). Alcohol, this being the Islamic Cultural Centre, is of course not served, though aerated drinks and juices are available.
Within a couple of minutes, our waiter brought us the condiments for the kababs: a small bowl of green chutney, and a plate of sliced fresh onions, with two wedges of lime. Less than ten minutes later, the kababs were placed on the table. Both the burra and the murgh malai tikka are available in portions of either four pieces each or eight pieces each; we’d ordered four pieces each. The mutton burra, which is very lightly seasoned (perfect if you can’t handle spice, actually), had a gorgeous char on the outside, and was perfectly cooked and tender all through, down to the bone. The murgh malai tikka, marinated in a mix of mild spices, cream, and grated cheese, was tender and luscious too. The green coriander and chilly chutney was (in a refreshing departure from the norm in most Indian restaurants) vibrant and zingy—obviously freshly ground.
The main course was served within about five minutes of our finishing the appetisers. Nahari, a very popular breakfast dish (especially in the winter) is cooked on a very low flame all through the night, so that the meat (goat’s meat, which is invariably called ‘mutton’ in India) is tender and falling off the bone. The nahari at Dilli Dastarkhwan was luscious: warming, with succulent boneless meat, very tender and literally melt-in-the-mouth. One thing both my husband and I liked was that the nahari here, as opposed to the nahari served at Karim’s, comes with a little bowl of julienned fresh ginger and chopped green chillies on the side, so you can add as much or as little as you want. At Karim’s, the nahari comes already garnished with this, and is often much hotter than we’d have wanted it to be. The one fault with the nahari was the amount of oil in it: just too much. We had to take great care to spoon out only the gravy and leave the oil behind, but even then, it proved pretty greasy.
The khameeri roti was soft and perfect for mopping up the gravy of the nahari. The sheermal, which is a thick, rich sweetish bread (eggs and sugar are among the ingredients of the dough) was also wonderful with the nahari. Whatever was left of the sheermal after the nahari was finished, we polished off on its own—as a sort of dessert, since both of us were too full to actually order dessert.
We paid Rs 879 (including taxes) for our meal. This is, as we’d expected, more expensive than eating at Karim’s, but it was worth it, because the food is every bit as good, the surroundings are much cleaner, and it’s easy to get to if you’re in South Delhi. We’re definitely going back here.
From journal Kabab Town: Finding Delhi's Best Kababs