In September I was in Delhi for a few days and really wanted to spend my evenings exploring the culinary underbelly of the city. I did early research and all rickshaw roads led to a place called Karims in Old Delhi. In business for 95 years now, with an owner lineage that goes back to the 16th Century, I figured they must be doing something right.
One Mr. Zahiruddin was a cook for the Mogul Court in the 16th Century and his family has continued in those pots & pans, even after being exiled in 1857. The family returned to India in 1911 and re-established themselves in the culinary scene as THE place to get the best of Mogul food. Namely, their Seekh Kebab and other mutton dishes are heralded as the best of India.
I couldn’t get there fast enough in September, to only find…lights out, doors locked. It was Sunday and Karims was closed. Head hung I wandered through Old Delhi. I had to, you see, to avoid stepping into any of the murky black bubbling sidewalk streams.
Tonight found me back in Old Delhi and luckily everyone with me was GAME ON for dinner at Karims.
A narrow alley with a dim sign at the end is the only indication you have reached this place of glowing reviews. The alley opens to a little square that is the heart of Karims. First sight was the gravy (curry) guys stirring their ghee rich butter sauces in big pots.
Next came an elevated room with a sunken tandoori.
Two guys were rolling out chapatis and firing them in the tandoori. They would toss the fresh-baked flat bread disks across the room into the hands of the waiters.
Opposite this room a man stood high and tall over us, in charge of a “grill” laden with mutton kebabs. The stuff of legends, or at least guide book, travel show legend. His manly man grill was a long rectangular metal box with a pile of charcoal at one end, the meat skewers in the middle and a small room fan was over the end acting as an exhaust. It rather just infused the whole area with the smell of these grilling skewers of chili and lamb mince.
We found a table upstairs in the unadorned, florescent lit main dining room. Plastic plates, paper napkins, mix matched cutlery and paper cups are about as fancy as it gets here. Nimbu Sodas (lime with soda water) are the drink of choice, either salty or sweet.
Then we got down to business.
First the Seekh Kebabs (minced lamb with spices) were served. It melted on my tongue. Soft and spicy and rich with layers of the meat. Its served with a mint and green chili sauce that elevates the heat and brightens the flavors. It was why I came and it did not disappoint. I was more than tempted to slip a few into my handbag for a midnight snack.
Next, the highly acclaimed Tandoori Chicken. Yeah, we have all had our fill of T Chick right. Well, again, Karim proved their reputation by giving me a taste of Tandoori Wow! The chicken was so tender and full of flavor. Best I have had. Needed no adornment.
Next, a Fred Flinstone Leg of Lamb. It was pure comedy to look at this massive leg across the table. We were deer in the headlights looking upon this beastly leg. Once sliced the meat soon disappeared amongst the plates. The best bit was the outer layer which had charred nicely and held the most amount of the brining spices.
A chicken Biyrani passed but was no match for the one I had at Ajit Bhawan, Jodhpur in September. Sorry Karims. Has to be said.
Lastly the best presented rice pudding ever was brought to the table. Rough hewn handmade terra cotta bowls were filled with the pudding, sprinkled with fresh pistachio, stacked top side onto each other and passed around with wooden ice cream spoons. Awesome presentation. Wish I could say as much for the taste of the pudding. It was pretty much wallpaper paste to me. Good thing I came for the Seekh Kebab.
Dinner for four was $35. In terms of flavor and freshness and spice and complexity it was worth four times that.
Only wishing I had followed through on slipping a few kebabs into my bag.
As we whizzed out of the Old City, I saw this guy in the middle of mass chaos. Chill. Having some chai. All of what I love about India in one second. The buzz, whirl, honk madness meets a moment of inner quiet, stillness, a mere second of peace seen through his.