Kabab Town: Finding Delhi's Best Kababs

Delhi’s long historical connection with Central Asia—beginning in the 12th century, and reaching its zenith under the Mughal rulers—means that some of its most popular foods are ones that originated many, many miles away. Kababs, for instance, among Delhi’s favourite local foods.

Food from the North-West Frontier

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

The Ashok is owned and operated by the government-run Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). Which, as many Indians will tell you, means it’s not particularly swish. Till a couple of years back, this hotel looked run-down, with the polish rubbed off the wood panels and the carpets gone threadbare. It was, however, given a facelift for the Commonwealth Games (in 2010), and while it’s still nowhere as smart as most of Delhi’s private 5-star hotels, it’s a lot better than it used to be.

Frontier, at lobby level, is The Ashok’s main Indian restaurant. It specialises in Frontier cuisine—food from the North-West Frontier (which is technically now in Pakistan, but has a culinary heritage that spans the Indo-Pak border). Frontier food is the type that "puts hair on your chest": meaty and loaded with protein to help ward off the cold of the Himalayas. Vegetables are conspicuous by their absence. Food is typically mostly cooked in a clay oven (a tandoor).

The most daunting thing about Frontier is its décor. I’ve been here a couple of times and know what to expect when I enter the restaurant, but it still comes as a bit of a shock. The interior is mainly black. I assume it’s supposed to project chic (black is currently in vogue in a lot of wannabe Delhi restaurants), but the effect is rendered bizarre by everything else. The floor is decorated in swirls of ‘underlit’ white; one long wall is a series of mirrors, while another wall (of glass) has huge circular patterns in frosted glass. One wall—the one on your left, as you enter the restaurant—has a pattern of stylised waves, in bright electric blue, all backlit. The blue and the backlighting are repeated in places, most notably along the counter of a show kitchen at the far end.

As if that wasn’t enough, the lighting is weird. From the ceiling are suspended black squares of what look like painted wood; on each of these sit four different types of glass bottles, decanters, and pitchers—all cut and patterned, and containing a light bulb. It looks very odd, and (as my sister and I whispered to each other) "How do they clean those?"

Also very weird are the place settings. Each consists of an oval piece of black glass, on which there’s a splash of dull silvery stuff—it looked like a giant amoeba, and to me, wasn’t very conducive to working up an appetite.

But, it’s the food that matters. Frontier offers a decent array of frontier food: kababs, tikkas (including vegetarian options), some curries, and the requisite breads to accompany them. The curries are pretty much of the type you’ll find in other North Indian restaurants; Frontier’s forte are its fantastic kababs, so these were what we chose straight off. Our final order (for six people) consisted of patthar kabab, burrah kabab, bannu kabab, dal Dera Ismail Khan, tandoori phoolgobhi and an assortment of breads.

While we waited for our food, a waiter brought our drinks—we’d all ordered fresh lemonade, though Frontier also offers alcohol. With that came the ‘complimentaries’: a large sauceboat of yoghurt-and-mint chutney, and a similar sauceboat of thinly sliced onions, tossed with loads of powdered red chillies, salt and limejuice. The latter is very fiery, so beware.

The food at Frontier—like most Indian food—isn’t a pre-plated ‘per person’ serving. You order for a group. Our food arrived within about ten minutes of being ordered, and the waiters served it to us. The patthar kabab (literally, ‘stone kabab’) is a piece of lamb that’s been beaten very thin, marinated and then cooked on a very hot stone. It’s delicious, but shouldn’t be allowed to get cold, because it gets tough. So that was what we started on first, before moving to the rest of the kababs. The burrah is another classic lamb kabab: a chop, lightly spiced and grilled till tender. Along with these, we’d ordered a chicken tikka, called the bannu kabab, which is a mild kabab of boneless chicken, covered with an egg-based batter.

Having ordered so much non-vegetarian food, we’d also decided to salvage our consciences a bit with something veggie. This was a tandoori phoolgobhi, a whole cauliflower that had been covered with a thickish pastry-like gramflour dough and then baked. Along with that, we’d asked for black lentils, cooked with tomatoes, cream and butter—the dal Dera Ismail Khan. The basket of assorted breads included thin roomali rotis, naans, tandoori rotis, and kulchas stuffed with spiced paneer.

The kababs were, each of one of them, delicious. Tender and juicy and mildly spiced. The dal was great, too, as were the naans and tandoori rotis. The kulchas were, around the edges, too thick and a trifle undercooked. And the cauliflower was a disappointment: it was really rather insipid, and had lost all the crunch that might have made it a good veggie dish.

For dessert, Frontier offers only four options: kheer, kulfi, gulab jamuns and rasmalai. I’ve had the kulfi before, and can vouch for its deliciousness. This time, I opted for the rasmalai, a couple of spongy cookie-shaped dumplings made of sweetened milk solids, soaked in thickened milk flavoured with saffron and cardamom. A good end to a largely good meal.

I can’t say how much the bill came to, since this was a small party hosted by my brother-in-law. At an estimate, I’d say the bill (without alcohol and tips) would be about Rs 8,000-10,000 for six people. I do know, though, that Frontier is considered by the cognoscenti to be far greater value for money than other posh North Indian restaurants in Delhi’s big hotels.

Frontier opens for lunch between 12.30 and 3 PM, and for dinner between 7.30 and 11.30 PM.

The Ashok Hotel
Diplomatic Enclave, 50-B Chanakayapuri
New Delhi, India, 110021

A manageable menu and okay kababs

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

Kebab Xpress has two outlets, both in Connaught Place (or Rajiv Chowk, if you want to refer to it by its official name). One outlet is in M Block, the other’s in N Block. We’d been seeing ads for it in the newspapers, and thought we may as well give it a try, so we popped in one weekend at the M Block restaurant for a kabab lunch.

Kebab Xpress, as the name suggests, is about kababs, fast food style. They even have a hot pass-through behind the counter, through which paper boxes of kababs and tikkas and lidded plastic bowls of daal makhani come through from the kitchen behind.

Kebab Xpress is mostly fairly predictable kababs and related fare: seekh kababs (mutton or chicken), tandoori chicken, chicken tikkas, chicken or vegetable biryani, butter chicken, daal makhani, and a couple of options—paneer tikka, a soya-based kathi roll, and tandoori aloo. There are naans, lachcha parathas (especially flaky and fluffy) and pudina parathas (topped with a generous sprinkle of dried mint leaves).

We ordered a daal makhani, a portion of tandoori aloo, mutton seekh kabab and chicken tangri, with a naan each. Also, to drink (Kebab Xpress only offers soft beverages), we ordered an iced tea each. We paid up (Rs 558, inclusive of VAT) and the order taker told us that we could go sit down; the food would be brought to our table.

Kebab Xpress has seating both on the ground floor (very limited, here—just about three tables, and all of them were occupied) and on the first floor. So we went up the stairs to the first floor and sat on the red-and-yellow chairs (these two colours, along with white, dominate the no-frills décor of Kebab Xpress). The small wall-mounted TVs (on which an ongoing cricket match was being shown) were on silent mode, but a gang of very loud college students at the next table were making a huge racket.

Fortunately, they piped down a bit when their food arrived—and our trays were brought up just a couple of minutes later. The first tray had two little plastic bowls of green chutney (mint? Coriander? We couldn’t tell; it was rather nondescript), and three small bowls of sliced onions, with a tiny wedge of lime each. It also had three cardboard boxes, one with the chicken tangri (three legs), one with the tandoori aloo (two longish toothpicks, each with two halves of a stuffed potato), and the third with the mutton seekh kababs. A couple of minutes later, the second tray arrived, with two paper glasses of iced tea (with lids, but no straws), a very wobbly clear plastic bowl full of daal makhani, and a paper quarter plate with the two naans on it.

By the time we’d sorted things out, we realised we were short of napkins, plates, and straws, so my husband went downstairs and got us some. Except for the trays themselves, everything else is disposable.

The food was a mix of average and good. The daal makhani, for instance, was nice—creamy, lentil-ly, but not too greasy or heavy. The mutton seekh wasn’t terribly spicy (one reason why I’m always a little wary of ordering this dish—most mid-rung restaurants cram it full of chillies). It was succulent and fairly good, even if it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had. The chicken tangri was fine, too, but the tandoori aloo was a let-down. This was a boiled potato, halved and stuffed with a mixture of mashed paneer, spices and herbs, before being skewered and cooked. I’ve had tandoori aloo before, and at its best, this is gorgeously crisp and golden on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside. This was lukewarm and limp on the outside, almost cold on the inside, and tasted of very little except the spice mix known as chaat masala.

The meal was filling enough for us to forgo dessert (Kebab Xpress has one dessert on the menu: teeliwaali kulfi, ‘kulfi on a stick’, a big favourite in Delhi).

If you want fairly cheap kababs in the Connaught Place area, this is an option. Don’t expect much to choose from, and don’t expect mind-blowing kababs.

Kebab Xpress
Shop No. 5, N Block | M-43, Outer Circle, Connaught Place
New Delhi, India

Kababs with a difference

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

My husband discovered this eatery a couple of weeks back when he got stuck in a horrid traffic jam on his way to office. It was nearing lunchtime, and there was no way he could get to office in time for lunch at the office cafeteria, so he decided to stop at the New Friends Colony Community Centre market and grab a bite to eat. On previous visits to the market, we’d noticed that a new food outlet—How Abt Chicken Today? (which I shall from now on refer to as HACT)—had opened, and that the menu featured some unusual stuff.

So my husband ate lunch at HACT, and liked it enough to want to introduce me to it too. We visited it one weekend for lunch. This is an informal place, very similar in style to KFC or Pizza Hut or other fast food stores. Plate glass separates the restaurant from the street outside. Inside, it’s all mostly white, with lots of panels covered with colourful, well-drawn (but not very funny) cartoons, mostly about India and its foibles. There is seating on both the ground floor and the first, with plain white tables, backless cushioned stools, and some sofas. The day we chose happened to coincide with a birthday party (you can book the space upstairs for dos like this), so all diners who weren’t part of the guest list had no option but to sit downstairs. We seated ourselves at a table, and (in a departure from the usual), were handed menus by a waiter, even though we were expected to go and place our orders at the counter.

HACT’s menu reads like an interesting cross between the typical kebab joint and an Indianised version of KFC. There are the usual suspects: the chicken tikka, paneer tikka, tandoori chicken, butter chicken, vegetarian shammi kebab and chicken seekh, but there are also some unusual items—peanut and tamarind chicken wings, Bengali mustard tangris (chicken legs), mustard chilli wings, and chutney murgh tikka. These are available by themselves, or as part of wraps, burgers, meals (with rice or roomali rotis). There are also sides—mixed salads, masala fries, daal makhani, and soft beverages, both aerated and not.

We decided to order a portion of adrak mattar ki tikki (fried ‘cakes’ made of mashed peas with ginger); a portion of peanut and tamarind wings; one two-leg portion of Bengali mustard chicken legs (an 8-piece bucket is also available; almost all items on the menu are available in different portion sizes). With that, we asked for a mixed salad—which the order-taker told my husband would come in a small bowl, about 3" across, so my husband ordered one each—and an iced tea each. He was told that the food would be served at our table.

Sure enough, within about five minutes, a waiter arrived with the iced tea (in plastic glasses), the adrak mattar ki tikki and the peanut and tamarind wings, served in stiff paper baskets. The salad didn’t arrive till after we’d sat around for another five minutes, and even then, only when my husband reminded the waiter that we were still waiting for it. The Bengali mustard tangris came a little after the rest of the food had arrived, and with it came a free roomali roti.

I don’t usually eat vegetarian food when I’m at a kebab place, but the adrak mattar ki tikki was really nice: crisp on the outside, soft and full of the flavour of fresh peas on the inside. If you adore ginger, you’d probably find this disappointing, because I really couldn’t taste any ginger in it, but that didn’t stop me from loving it.

I’d been expecting something along the lines of a chicken satay when it came to the peanut and tamarind wings, but this turned out to be quite different: the wings had been marinated in a lightly tangy tamarind marinade, and then rolled in coarsely crushed peanuts when being cooked. They were delicious, crunchy and tender—though my husband said that the first time he’d eaten at HACT, the same dish had far more zing; consistency, it seems, isn’t their strong point.

The ‘mixed salad’ was a disappointment: chunks of rather fibrous and dry carrot, tomatoes and cucumbers, tossed with salt and chaat masala, and not at all nice unless you perhaps were eating it with rice or rotis, daal and kebabs. With just the kebabs, its flavour was intrusive (and we’d been mislead about the portion size: the salad bowls were so large, two people could easily have shared one—we ended up unable to finish the salad).

The Bengali mustard tangri was what I’d been really looking forward to, since I love mustard the way the Bengalis use it (the shoot-up-your-nose variety!). This was a little disappointing in that respect, because there wasn’t enough mustard, and the chicken legs had been cooked just a little too much.

We realised midway through our meal that we might like to have some more, so we ordered a six-piece portion of ajwaini fingers: fish fingers, marinated with ajwain (bishop’s weed) seeds and spices. These were great, made from very fresh fish, and with just the right hint of ajwain—enough to not be overpowering.

So, by and large, we had a good experience. True, my husband didn’t care for the mint chutney (which—by texture and taste—seemed to have been mixed with mayo rather than the usual yoghurt), but I liked it. And, true, the loud and irritating music got on our nerves very quickly—but that was because of the party; the hosts were obviously not interested in being considerate to other diners.

On the other hand, the service staff were generally helpful (and apologetic for the loud music), and the kebabs were a refreshing change from the usual. We paid a total of Rs 710 (including an extra iced tea) for our meal, inclusive of VAT.

How Abt Chicken Today?
6, Community Centre, New Friends Colony
New Delhi, India, 110065

Karim's, in South Delhi

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

The first restaurant that came to my mind when I thought of writing this journal was Karim’s, because Karim’s is an institution when it comes to great kababs (not to mention curries, biryanis, and other dishes). A couple of months after I first began visiting kabab places with a view to reviewing them, I’ve still not been able to visit Karim’s—it’s far from where we live, and there’s always someplace closer where one can dine more conveniently.

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.

Dilli Dastarkhwan
India Islamic Cultural Centre, 87-88, Lodhi Road
New Delhi, India

My favourite kathi kababs in Delhi

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

The kathi kabab is the ultimate eat-on-the-go food for anyone who likes kababs: it consists of a chopped kabab, mixed with sliced onions, chutney (and often, additions like chopped tomatoes), wrapped in a roti. You don’t need to fuss with plates or cutlery: just peel back the paper in which the kathi is wrapped, and tuck in.

The best kathi kababs I’ve ever had are the absolutely fantastic Nizam’s kathis in Kolkata. Unfortunately, since I don’t live in Kolkata, and have little occasion to visit that city frequently, we decided to try and find a good kathi kabab joint in Delhi. Oddly, while Nizam’s do have outlets in Delhi, their kathis aren’t as good as the ones in Kolkata. And, honestly, most other kathi kabab eateries in Delhi end up making their rolls too greasy, stuffing them full of too-spicy meat, or both.

The Kathi’s (yes, that’s how they spell it, misplaced apostrophe and all) has emerged, after some research, as our favourite kathi place in Delhi. It’s not fancy: just a small outlet on the periphery of the large open space next to the PVR Anupam cinema. There’s a counter here with a tiny kitchen beyond. Seating consists of several plastic tables and chairs set out haphazardly in front—or you can, of course, take the kathis and go sit on one of the benches in the open space.

The menu consists of two main types of rolls. There are kathis, for which the wrap is a more rich one, mostly lined with beaten egg, which is cooked along with the roti or paratha (unless you’ve asked for a vegetarian kathi, in which case the egg is omitted). The second type is the roomali roll, for which a light, muslin-thin roomali roti is used as the wrap: it’s lighter, and with no egg added, even for the non-vegetarian options.

The Kathi’s offers different types and sizes of rolls: single egg single chicken/mutton, double egg double chicken/mutton (which is a large portion—one is mostly enough for me!), paneer kathis, potato, and mixed vegetable kathis, with or without egg. The same options are available in the roomali rolls, though without the egg, of course. In addition, you can order three kababs as is: chicken, mutton, or paneer tikkas. Juices, aerated drinks, and cold coffees are also available.

On our last visit, we ordered a single egg single mutton kathi each, followed up by a single egg single chicken kathi (for my husband) and a Kashmiri kathi (for me).

The kathis took about ten minutes to dish up, and they came to us so piping hot that we actually had to wait for them to cool a bit before we could eat. Since we were sitting at a table, we got foil-lined paper plates, and a large plastic dispenser of the fresh yoghurt and mint chutney that they provide. This chutney is the perfect accompaniment to the kathis, because it isn’t spicy, just refreshing and very cool—a great contrast to the hot kathis. The kathis aren’t spicy, either (not even the Kashmiri kathi, which comes cooked with tomatoes and some strips of green bell pepper). Just a good amount of diced, lightly spiced cooked meat, lots of sautéed onions, and the rich (but not greasy) flavour of egg and roti. Simply delicious.

Our bill was Rs 530, taxes included. Even though the place is a little inconvenient (since you’re sitting just off the pavement, and a sometimes unpleasant place it can be)—it’s a small price to pay for kathis as good as these.

The Kathi's House of Kathi Kababs
5, Ground Floor, Pvr Anupam Shopping Complex, Saket
New Delhi, India, 110017

Yes, really great kababs

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

NOIDA isn’t Delhi, but it’s close enough to make little difference. And, since The Great Kabab Factory is actually not a single restaurant but an entire chain, you could just as well eat the same kababs at any of the other TGKF stores in Delhi—for instance, at the Radisson Hotel, or at MGF Mall in Saket: the quality remains the same. Since NOIDA is closer to our home than the other TGKF restaurants, this is our preferred destination.

The Great Kabab Factory, unlike Arza Bibi Kebab or Khan Chacha, is a fine dining restaurant, spacious, smart and with good, efficient service. A glass plate outside lists the menu for the day (it’s table d’hôte, and changes daily). There are plate glass windows on all sides, and the décor is dominated by dark wood and deep blue—light shades, glassware on tables, even backdrops for beautiful beaten-metal utensils hung on the walls.

We didn’t have any reservations (and it was just about 9 PM on Friday—by Delhi/NOIDA standards, early), so we thought it wouldn’t be a problem. But the restaurant was full, and we were asked if we didn’t mind waiting; a table would be available within five minutes. They were true to their word, and five minutes later, we were seated.

The good thing about TGKF is that you don’t need to do any choosing (except for beverages—alcohol is available, as are a range of soft drinks. Our group unanimously chose fresh lemonade). All you have to do is tell your waiter whether you’re opting for the vegetarian or non-vegetarian menu, and then you can sit back and enjoy the meal.

We ordered our drinks, said we were all non-vegetarian, and then waited for the food to arrive. Our drinks came in a couple of minutes, along with the condiments: quarter plates of sliced raw onions (a must with kababs), and shot glasses with four types of chutney: a tomato one, a green coriander one, a tart-sweet tamarind one, and a thin raita-like yoghurt chutney. Then, a waiter came by with an amuse bouche: sliced cucumber, wedges of fresh tomato and ripe papaya, served with a spoonful of strawberry sauce on the side. This was refreshing, though all five of us thought that a little tartness or spice in the sauce would’ve added a nice contrast to the general sweetness of the course.

Then came the first course, which is the kababs. The way this is done is: they have a fixed set of 5-6 kababs for the day, and those are brought one at a time, fresh and hot from the tandoor or griddle, along with breads of different types. You can begin eating, and once you’ve sampled the entire lot, you can decide which ones you want repeated (you could ask for all; it’s an all-you-can-eat meal, quite literally).

We were served galouti kabab (silken and utterly soft), tangri kabab (made from chicken legs, and absolutely delicious), chicken tikka, mutton seekh (this one wasn’t a favourite; the chilli was too much even for us), and an excellent fish tikka, which had been made by deep-frying thin fillets of batter-coated fish. Along with these we were served small ulta tawa ka parathas (soft and thin), sheermal (thickish, buttery and crisp), and baakarkhaani (thick, dense, distinctly sweet, and studded with fennel seeds). My husband and my brother-in-law opted for seconds for the galouti kabab, but I wanted to leave space for the main course.

After we’d finally said "no" to the last of the kababs, we asked for the main course to be served up. This is where you can order the bread you’d like: plain or buttered naan, tandoori roti, lacchha paratha, roomali roti, etc. Like the rotis in the kabab course, these too are made smaller than the regular size, which allows you to try out different types of breads without feeling too stuffed.

With our rotis came the main curries: a staple (and very buttery and good) dal makhani, a dal tadka (tempered yellow dal, which we passed up), a chicken curry (which we also passed up—we were rather full by now), and an arbi masala, sliced taro roots cooked in a spicy thick gravy. Also served up with this was mutton biryani, which I liked (not very spicy, and with both the mutton and rice cooked to the right degree).

By this time, we were all so full that when the waiter came around asking us what we’d like repeated, all we could do was shake our heads and say no, thank you. So he brought on the dessert course. Here, the first thing to be served up—pista kulfi, on bamboo skewer-like sticks—was the best of the lot: creamy, not too sweet, and perfectly (kulfis that have ice crystals are unfortunately far too common).

Having finished off the kulfi, we were then presented with the rest of the desserts: the waiter came to our table and put down two portions each of four different desserts (he offered to bring us more of whatever we liked out of those, but we declined—all of us were already too full to even eat all of what was on the table). Of these, my sister had a moong dal ka halwa, made from soaked, ground skinned moong (mung beans), sugar—and traditionally, lots of ghee. TGKF’s moong dal ka halwa was a relatively low fat one, but still delicious.

I gave the gulabjamuns a miss (I am not a fan of very sweet desserts), but decided to taste the rasgullas with rabri instead: little balls of cottage cheese, soaked in a light syrup, and served with thickened sweetened milk. Unfortunately, the rasgullas turned out to be blindingly sweet, and the rabri, while good, was in too small a quantity to adequately compensate.

The one dessert I’d never tasted before was a muzzafar; I hadn’t even heard of this earlier. But the fact that I’m an author, and that my main fictional creation is named Muzaffar, made me want to give this a try. Muzzafar turned out to be very thin vermicelli, deep-fried in ghee, with sugar, melon seeds and slivered almonds: tasty, but a trifle too rich for me.

On our way out of the restaurant, we stopped by at the counter which bears complimentary mouth fresheners, including sweetened fennel seeds, rock sugar, and paans. The paan was a befitting end to the meal: the leaf beautifully tender, the filling fine, and in the correct proportions. A good end to a generally good kabab dinner.

We paid Rs 6,168 for the five of us. This included taxes and service charges, but also a 15% discount, which was valid on all American Express credit cards (the TGKF at the MGF Metropolitan Mall in Saket offers 20% on Visa). Certainly a very good deal, keeping in mind the overall quality of food and service—plus the fact that, if we had the capacity for it, we could’ve actually eaten a lot more!

The Great Kabab Factory
Ansals Fortune Arcade, Sector-18, Noida- 201 301
Noida, India

Overrated? Or were we unlucky?

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

For many years now, my husband and I have been faced with raised eyebrows and disbelieving looks when we’ve admitted we’ve never eaten at Khan Chacha’s. Many friends and acquaintances told us that these were perhaps the best kababs in town (outside Old Delhi and Karim’s, that is). How could we not have been to Khan Chacha?

We decided it was high time we visited.

Khan Chacha was originally a tiny takeaway counter in Khan Market; there was no room to sit, though if you weren’t particular, you were welcome to stand on the cobbled street outside and munch away. Now, Khan Chacha is a proper sit-down restaurant: and yet not quite. The eatery lies up one flight of stairs (no lifts or escalators here, so be warned), and we felt an odd sense of having wandered into a place that didn’t quite know what it was. The dining area had a bare concrete roof (with wires here and there), the walls were scuffed along the bottom, and there was an odd something that resembled a futuristic chandelier, but with the lights all removed—we never did figure out what it was. The red upholstery on the chairs was terribly stained (it was just as well we didn’t notice it when we sat down). We got the impression that this had once been a fancy restaurant which had (in classic Khan Market style, where many eateries are here today, gone tomorrow) shut shop—and the Khan Chacha people had taken it over, but not got around to doing anything much about it.

I don’t even think they will do anything about it. The non-existent décor (the walls are covered with newspaper cuttings of the many articles praising Khan Chacha; one panel consists of photos of—presumably—satisfied customers), the style of functioning (self-service), and the general air of rather tatty but brisk business makes this place feel very much as if a street vendor had moved into the shell of a plush restaurant and decided to go on just the way they were used to.

Khan Chacha has a fairly limited range of kababs and tikkas: chicken tikka, mutton seekh, mutton kakori, fish tikka, and around three vegetarian options. There’s also one curry (mutton korma), a few aerated drinks, canned iced tea, canned juices, and kulfi. Each of the kababs and tikkas is also available as a roll, stuffed inside a roomali roti with mint chutney and sliced onions. These rolls seem to be best-sellers—we saw lots of people ordering them, probably because they’re easy to eat, even if you’re standing.

My husband and I decided to, for once, steer clear of the more common mutton or chicken options. We chose a fish tikka, a paneer tikka, a mutton korma, and three roomali rotis. Orders have to placed (and the money paid up right then) at the counter just inside the main entrance. When you’ve paid up, you’re given two copies of the bill, one of which has to be given at the kitchen counter for them to start preparing your food. A digital display above this counter flashes your order number once your food’s ready to be picked up.

While we were waiting, the place filled up around us. Khan Chacha doesn’t have much seating—only about eight tables or so—and there was a crowd hanging around beside our table, waiting for their food to be prepared. After a while, it got downright claustrophobic, and (worse still!) a janitor came by and sprayed some very strong-smelling room freshener, which made me feel nauseous for a few minutes. Thankfully, our food wasn’t ready then; if we’d been eating, we’d probably have had to abandon the rest of our food.

By the time our order number appeared, the smell had dissipated, so we were able to enjoy the food—or enjoy it as much as we could. My husband collected our tray of food (all of it served on foil-lined paper plates; the mutton korma, since it’s a gravy-laden curry, comes in a takeaway plastic bowl with a lid). Along with the food, we’d also been given a small plate of sliced onions, along with some rather thin mint-and-yoghurt chutney, which had spilled all over the onions.

The paneer tikka was what I tried first. The paneer tasted very fresh, but the spice rub on the tikkas lacked flavour. We ended up having to dunk the tikkas in the mint chutney to give them some flavour.

My husband had been rather apprehensive when he first saw the fish tikkas, because they were a very virulent dark red in colour (a result of food colouring—the same stuff that’s added to tandoori chicken). He liked the fish tikka, though, and thought it was better than most of the fish tikkas he’s sampled at other kabab joints. I, on the other hand, found the fish tikkas rather iffy. Some weren’t bad, but a couple of pieces tasted frightfully fishy—a sure sign of none-too-fresh fish.

What we both agreed on was the mutton korma. This came with two pieces of meat (not huge amounts of flesh), covered in a spicy korma gravy. The gravy, though it was extremely oily, tasted excellent. The meat was well-cooked enough to be falling off the bone.

Our meal over, we chose to order dessert as well: kulfi falooda, the only dessert on Khan Chacha’s menu. The same procedure—order, pay, present bill at service counter, pick up food—applied here too, but because fewer people order desserts, there wasn’t a queue here. The man at the freezer sliced our kulfis into thick rounds, scooped lots of slithery falooda over each plate, and handed them over. The kulfi, we agreed, tasted good, but had been frozen badly; we could feel tiny crystals instead of the smooth creaminess of a really good kulfi. The falooda (something I’ve never really cared for) was actually pretty decent—it was very thin, almost like angel hair pasta, which allowed it to complement the kulfi well.

We paid Rs 864 for our meal, including VAT. That’s not expensive for a place located in Khan Market, but we both wondered what it is that makes people rave about Khan Chacha. The kababs were average, the ambience terrible (did I mention the loud, blow-your-eardrums-out music?), the cleanliness suspect. The next time we want good kababs, we won’t come here, at any rate.

Khan Chacha
Khan Market
New Delhi, National Capital Territory of Delhi

Not the top of the class

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by phileasfogg on March 11, 2013

Khan Market has the dubious distinction of being one of the costliest pieces of real estate in India. The result is that every square foot of land here is fought over, and shops and restaurants that aren’t able to keep pace with the competition eventually close down. Till some months ago, the front stretch of Khan Market had only a couple of eateries—Chona’s at one end, Latitude 28˚ at the other. Then, someone bought a narrow strip of room between two other shops and opened Arza Bibi Kebabs.

Arza Bibi Kebabs’s tagline is ‘Recipe of Traditional Mughlai Food’, echoed in the charming old black-and-white photographs (seemingly from the late 19th century), of people in a mosque, a splendidly-dressed woman, and so on. The walls have a pretty gold-on-cream pattern, and the furniture is dark wood and white, with a stylised floral pattern in black.

Entering from the front door, there’s a small square room with four tables, each with about four covers. Beyond that, half the space is taken up by the small kitchen, while the rest is converted into a narrow, cramped corridor with a series of two-seater tables (and uncomfortable, though cushioned) stools.

The menu consists of the usual, popular kababs and tikkas: chicken malai tikka, chicken tikka, seekh kababs (chicken or mutton), mutton tikka, galouti kabab, kakori kabab, and vegetarian options made of mushrooms, potatoes, soya paneer, etc. There is dal makhani (buttery lentils), aerated drinks and fruit juices, and only one type of bread: the roomali roti, very thin and almost handkerchief-like in its flimsiness (‘roomal’ does mean ‘handkerchief’). All the tikkas and kababs come as combos, with roomali rotis. There are also separate roomali roti rolls, which means you get the kabab ready-wrapped in a roomali roti, with chutney and sliced onions.

We decided to order our favourite kababs: galouti and kakori, with a dish of dal makhani on the side. My husband placed the order at the counter, paid up, and was given a numbered electronic coaster. "It’ll beep when your order’s ready," he was told—and sure enough, less than ten minutes later, the coaster started beeping, and red lights began flashing on it. My husband collected our trays from the counter and brought them back to our table.

The crockery here is very basic: our kababs, roomali rotis, sliced onion and mint-yoghurt chutney came in individual foil-lined paper plates; the dal makhani was the only dish that was actually served in a re-usable china bowl. It’s obviously very barebones.

The food was comme ci, comme ça, the kakori kababs being the best of the lot. There’s a story attached to the kakori: that a British officer, in the days of the Raj, criticised the coarseness of the seekh kababs served at a banquet hosted by the Nawab of Kakori (near Lucknow); this annoyed him enough to make him order his cooks to create a softer kabab, which would silence the officer once and for all—and what resulted was the silken, elegant kakori. Arza Bibi’s kakoris weren’t the softest I’ve ever had, but they were pretty close—and spiced just right, neither insipid nor fiery.

The other kabab we’d ordered, the galouti (also known as ‘galaawat ke kabab’—‘galaawat’ meaning ‘tenderness’) also has a story to it. Legend has it that a chef created this kabab, also from very finely minced, pounded mutton, for an old Nawab who had lost all his teeth but none of his love for good food. While the galouti kababs at Arza Bibi’s were soft enough (and had a lovely thin crisp layer on the outside), the spice was just a little too much for me. Not chilli hot, but too high in garam masala, which overpowered the flavour of the meat itself.

The roomali rotis were fine, the mint-yoghurt chutney good, but the dal makhani really not what I’d been expecting. ‘Makhani means ‘buttery’, and this was anything but. We could barely taste any cream or butter in the lentils; the spice was again too much—and not very nice, anyway—and the consistency was off.

Arza Bibi Kebabs offers only one dessert, the quintessential ‘after-kabab’ pudding, phirni (a dessert made of coarsely ground rice cooked in thickened sweetened milk). We ordered a phirni each for ourselves. These came, pre-set in tiny disposable earthenware cups, with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and almonds on top. There was no particular flavour to it (the best phirnis I have had tasted of cardamom, or saffron; this was just a bland sort of sweetness). Worse, the phirni had a too-thick, almost gluey consistency that made it difficult to eat.

We paid Rs 550 for our meal, including taxes. That’s not expensive, especially for an eatery in Khan Market. But considering the only dish we really did like was the kakori, I doubt if we’ll ever go back here.

Arza Bibi Kebabs
Shop No.15/b, Ground Floor, Khan Market
New Delhi, India


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