In the heart of Delhi-6, Haveli Dharampura brings in fine-dining, Mughal-style

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Lakhori, the restaurant. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

This piece was first published on IndianExpress.com

The 200-year-old haveli is not that easy to find, as you walk through the narrow bylanes of Old Delhi, though the landmark is pretty popular. It is the Jama Masjid police station.

Probably not the best of places to think about when your objective is to be treated to a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights. But those who respond to the lure of Matia Mahal, Karim’s, Al Jawahar and Dariba Kalan, would happily brave through much more for a taste of Mughal-style meats and treats. It’s an area where you get your hands dirty, that is, with your food — and blissfully too. So, when someone talks about a fine-dining experience right in the heart of Delhi-6, it’s not unnatural to be sceptical.

But that’s exactly what Haveli Dharampura offers. In fact, it’s Indian restaurant Lakhori can lay claim to an array of vegetarian options that would warm the cockles of a ‘green’ heart, while satisfying the meat-eating variant as well. The restaurant presents Delhi diners with an option that may as well be the first of its kind in the Capital — an old-style haveli resort with the food and comfort to match the demands of the ethnic luxury traveller.

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(clockwise from top) Trio of kheer, Chai biscuit, Dahi Puri, Aloo Gobhi deconstructed. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

As I said, it’s not easy to find the very first time, but once you have, you’re unlikely to forget (the large signages help too, but let’s face it, how long will those survive in Old Delhi). Once described dangerous, the building — owned by BJP member of Parliament Vijay Goel — has been restored and converted into a heritage hotel over six painstakingly long years. In a walk-through organised by the owners and managers, members of the food and travel media community were taken across the three-storeyed building that houses 13 rooms (of three sizes), a spa, two restaurants (Indian and Continental — although only the Indian one, Lakhori, is currently functional), a small art gallery, a terrace with a fascinating view (speak to the managers, and they will point out the Jama Masjid, Red Fort, Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib, Gauri Shankar Temple and St James Church, all in one panoramic stretch), and those wonderful little stories and passages that old havelis such as this always have abundance of.

We started with a sumptuous meal at Lakhori. Chef Pradeep Kumar and the owners had brainstormed for weeks to come up with a menu of nearly 50 dishes (down from an initial 85, I was told), and we approved of the hard work. The menu stays true to Indian flavours, while the presentation is modern and sophisticated. We started off with a round of bite-sized Cucumber Chaat Canapes (a long cucumber slice roll filled with chaat masala and yogurt), followed by Dahi Puri (gold-gappa puris filled with yogurt and spices, and accompanied with sweet saunt water or tangy jaljeera) and Palak Patta Chaat (spinach leaves covered in chickpea batter, fried with chaat toppings). The Palak Patta Chaat was particularly flavourful, crisp, and the cool yogurt and spices really play well on the palate.

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(clockwise from left) Palak Patta Chaat, Kadhai Chicken, Kofta Dogala (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

Moving on to the starters, there was a Kadak Roomali Masala (a huge roomali roti baked upside down over the tawa to form a bowl, and sprinkled with ground spices, onions and tomatoes) which would be great with drinks, but since the restaurant is still to get its liquor licence, the dish was a tad bit bland. The veg and non-veg Gilouti Kebabs were just as they should be flavourful and melt-in-your-mouth, the rather exotic sounding Murg ke Paarchey (aka chiken tikka) were spiced well and did due justice to Lakhori’s presence in Purani Dilli.

All this was accompanied by a series of smoothies and mocktails — I highly recommend the Jahan Ara (khus and chilli), Kiwi Strawberry and Lakhori Manzil smoothies and the very surprising Chai Biscuit (this was a revelation for a chai-hater like moi). The Banarasi Paan (had without the straw) is amazing, provided taken in small sips between courses.

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Haveli Dharampura. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

The main course showcased Chef Kumar’s international experience in form of the Aloo Gobhi Mutter Deconstructed, which brought in a mix of textures melding together the very familiar taste of the staple North Indian dish aloo gobhi. Mutton Korma (it’s Delhi-6 after all) may lack the punch of greasy oil and overwhelming spices, but the flavours were all there and would work well for international visitors; and the Kadhai Chicken, tangy, succulent and worked really well with the assortment of flavoured naans (olives, dates and kalonji). But I must mention the Kofta Dogala (cottage cheese koftas with two gravies — tomato and kaju), which was a visual delight (and some might even say, patriotically so, given the current socio-political scenario). The bowl was separated into halves with the green, wrapped koftas acting as the divider, and the flavours complemented each other with the tanginess of the tomato being rounded off by the creaminess of the kaju paste. The fact that the owners are vegetarians shines through in the care with which the veg options have been created, giving the lost vegetarians of Purani Dilli something to look forward to.

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Mutton Korma. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

After brief moment to drink in the 200-year-old brick-finish lakhoris (as the bricks are called, and which inspires the name of the restaurant), colonial-style furniture and the courtyard with the fountain -later, the desserts walked in. And, in the spirit of greater good, we took a deep breath and dug right in. A trio of creamy kheers (beetroot, paan and fig) and rose-flavoured kulfi (presented in a chocolate cone) were a perfect finish to a modern Mughal Delhi meal.

We dealt with the calorific guilt soonafter by walking up and down three floors exploring the haveli. For those historically and architecturally inclined, each room — named after Delhi’s famous gates like Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, etc. —  talks about the history of its name, some of the mosaics and decorated arches on the windows and doors date back to beyond the 1880s, and are an interesting mix of Hindu-Mughal-European influences prevalent during the 19th century.

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Trio of kheers. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

There are little nooks and cranies on each floor for guests to relax, a small balcony that looks out — well, to not much, since outside here means a VERY narrow, dusty, overcrowded lane that’s typical of the area. But draw the cane blinds and sip your coffee like a nawab, and you won’t even notice it. You can brag about the Old Delhi charm later. The Goels occasionally organise musical and dance evenings featuring Kathak groups. Interestingly, all three levels are visible from both the ground floor as well as the terrace, which gives the audience different vantage points. The evening is when the magic of the haveli would really mesmerise you. Dimly lit, classical music streaming into your ears, the setting of Purani Delhi, food of the nawabs and quaint ethno-modern rooms, there is much to savour.

On the whole, Haveli Dharampura presents a nostalgic experience of Mughal-era Chandni Chowk in modern times. Those who have visited Rajasthan may find much in common, but in the Capital, a haveli resort in Delhi-6 seems to be a first of its kind. It also shows the way forward for other such dilapidated havelis peppered across Old Delhi. But, mind you, the experience comes at a price — but one that’s worth it.

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The courtyard at Haveli Dharampura. (Photo: Shruti Chakraborty)

Tariff details:
Jharokha Rooms – Rs9,000 for double occupancy
Diwan-e-khas Rooms – Rs15,000 for double occupancy
Shahjahan Suites – Rs18,000 for double occupancy

Lakhori
Lunch/Dinner: Rs3,000-4000 for two people, without alcohol
(All rates are exclusive of taxes)

Farzi Café Food Review: Farzified, but not that impressed

Finally visited Farzi Café after hearing so much about it, and the food did pleasantly surprise. From veg to non-veg, it was overall a flavourful experience and certainly not complaining about the potency of the LIIT pitcher.

The ambiance was nice, upscale bistro and the plating was creative and fun. Though they really need to work on their proportions to plate and portions. Service is super duper fast.

The menu is a little limited but you’re sure to find something you like, unless you’re looking at the dessert section, which looked no fun at all.

Overall, a decent experience, good food, not really bang for your buck but can be used as an impression tactic, and the servers with their cool Bluetooth earpieces and rather fast gait give you the feel of being in a spy movie, and something cool is just gonna happen.

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Tandoori soy nuggets that were yum, and so was the dip. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

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Yummy chicken drums with a sour cream dip on a truck — both tasty and the drums were amazing. If only they’d served it better and there were 5 pieces and not a measly 3. That cheap aloo namkeen chips just carelessly scattered were really a put off. The truck was fun but underutilised. Regular fries instead of the crappy namkeen would have been wayyyy better. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

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Slow-cooked Lamb shanks and naan — beautiful gravy but the lamb was not falling off the bones as it should have. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

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Prawn Chettinad fried rice — authentic flavours but lacked the spicy punch of Chettinad cuisine. (Shruti Chakraborty)

 

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Lovely mouth freshners at the end — paan encased in pillowy sugar candy. (Much better than that horrible firni palate cleanser they served). (Shruti Chakraborty)

Why I don’t understand art, yet visit the India Art Fair each year

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Beef or Mutton by Anita Dube

Every year, I make my way to the India Art Fair. Every other month, I’ll go to an art exhibition. I’ll often try and drag one of my many arty friends to most of these dos — mainly because, even though I’m very interested in the arts, I don’t quite understand it. But like a child who’s fixated on this one thing she wants — I really really want to understand it.

It’s not like art doesn’t move me at all. I remember standing in front of Russolo’s Solidity of Fog at the Guggenheim in Venice and crying — but then, if someone asked me why, I wouldn’t really have an answer. I know I love SH Raza and I am fascinated by the way his work evolved over the decades — a timeline I was introduced to only last year at the 2014 edition of the Art Fair.

I have never studied art. I don’t know what makes the classics, classics, and the lines and forms that make an artwork revolutionary. I don’t get Subodh Gupta much, and I get Bharti Kher even less. As the artist at this year’s IAF stood proudly exhibiting his work called the ‘Garbh’ — a red room meant to recreate the womb, I entered and came out thinking: ‘What the hell was that?’ The piece by Puneet Kaushik is evocative, sure… but to imagine him slaving with dyeing cotton and string in shades of red and silver and then pasting them as clots seemed so utterly futile. I’m sure there is a story. I’m sure had I asked him I would have been fascinated by the inspiration for the Garbh, but really — as I slunk past him with a hesitant smile — did I really want to know?

And therein lay the conflict — I want to know about art and its inspiration, but I didn’t want to ask Puneet who was right there. And the reason for that is partly the way artists weave in fantabulous stories of women empowerment and the pain and suffering in the world in a piece of artwork that looks like something a two-year-old could make. And I’m not alone. I remember at least two instances where the cleaning crew thought a modern art installation was junk and threw it in the bin — Rome and Amsterdam, I think. I feel terrible for the artists, whose work valued at thousands of pounds, ended up in the trash. Or maybe that was poetic justice. But then, so many Van goghs and Picassos have been discovered in the trash as well.

This year at the IAF, I felt more out of my element than ever before — occasionally even second-guessing my intelligence and skills of perception. Except for this one tiny series by Pakistani artist Ayesha Jatoi, nothing modern seemed like art really. And I don’t even know if the Jatoi piece — Girl in the Miniature Painting (am assuming it was called this from Google) — even qualifies as ‘art’, per se. It’s this series where Jatoi’s given the basic framework of a miniature painting (much like a story board) with simple pencil-drawn lines and a dash of humour that indicates the subject and object of the painting. It’s supremely funny, intelligent, snarky — but is it art?

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A series on Mughal paintings by Ayesha Jatoi

Which brings me to a question that has been posed way too often — what is art? Does it have to be beautiful? Or does it just have to make a statement? Should an artist always define and title his pieces or does ‘untitled’ really work as a title? But then, who’s to say what’s good art, what has depth, what is crap, and what’s a wannabe?

I like classical art, I’ve noticed. My kind of artworks need to be ornate, intricate, make a point, have a story, and if there are mythological references, then I’m totally sold. But then, I liked the ‘graphite on paper’ by Jatoi too — and I’m still debating whether I consider it ‘art’. Once at an exhibition in Barcelona, I loved how data was interpreted as visuals to show land encroachment — but that was my love for numbers (I can’t believe I just said that) that drew me to the piece, but the sound of the evolution of the universe by a Mumbai-based artist at the IAF this time just left me blahed out.

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Friendly Fire by Rina Banerjee

I’m sure I’ll continue visiting art fairs and galleries, flipping through pretty pictures and trying to understand the agony and ecstasy of the modern day artists and their art, but I wonder if I’ll ever feel satisfied stepping out of any of these venues with the same satisfaction as I do when I step out — occasionally overwhelmed even — of a Guggenheim, Prado or the NGMA.

Note: This was a bit of a rambling post, but if something here resonates with you, do feel free to share your thoughts as a comment.

Body language

A walk through The Body in Indian Art exhibit with curator Naman Ahuja, as he guides visitors through 4,000 years of corporeal depictions

(This piece was first published in BW|Businessworld)

A 4th Century depiction of Dvilingi 'Lakulisha' at The Body in Indian Art exhibition at the National Museum.

A 4th Century depiction of Dvilingi ‘Lakulisha’ at The Body in Indian Art exhibition at the National Museum.

 

The thing about being culturally inclined – but clueless – and attending an art exhibition is that one walks through the gallery feeling amazed but lost. Over the past month, I’ve managed to visit the Subodh Gupta Retrospective at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, gaze at Amrita Shergill’s revolutionary work also exhibited there, and take a walk through history and the understanding of the human body in art over centuries at the Body in Indian Art exhibition currently on at the National Museum in New Delhi.
But the differentiating factor between my visits to the first two exhibitions (countless ones before them) and the Body in Indian Art was that my walk-through in the latter was led by the show curator Naman Ahuja, who is also an associate professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. And, quite honestly, that’s what made a universe of a difference.
How else would one appreciate the layout of the exhibition across 14,000 sq. ft in a circular fashion, as a body that’s wrapped around you? Starting an exhibition on the body with a display on ‘death’ may be counterintuitive to most, but all art is in some way a record of death, says Ahuja as he stands between two memorial stones at the entrance to the exhibition on the first floor of the museum. “Every work, after all, is a death of the artist. A moment that can’t be recreated,” he says.
The exhibit explores the artist’s interpretation of the body in death, birth/re-birth, in rapture, or even what may be the Indian equivalent of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. The whole exhibition is divided into eight galleries — (1) death, and the end of the body, (2) birth and re-birth, (3) how astrology and cosmology determine the fortunes of the body, (4) the nature of divine bodies, (5) heroism and ideal bodies, (6) asceticism and the development of practices of healing and yoga, (7) the body in rapture or possessed, and (8) the body as a symbol.

Artist Mrinalini Mukherjee's stunning work in dyed hemp, called Basanti, at The Body in Indian Art exhibition at the National Museum. The gallery where it was displayed -- on birth and rebirth -- was inspired by the womb of a yogini temple.

Artist Mrinalini Mukherjee’s stunning work in dyed hemp, called Basanti, at The Body in Indian Art exhibition at the National Museum. The gallery where it was displayed — on birth and rebirth — was inspired by the womb of a yogini temple.

It was fascinating to hear the thought behind the conception of the exhibit, which starts with memorial stones — first, an evocative sculpture of a warrior disembowelling himself with a sword (reminiscent of Japanese warriors performing Harakiri), and alongside is a rather rare sculptor of a female warrior performing a similar ritual, both being serenaded by apsaras.
As one moves to the gallery of death of the body, and remembrance, there is a huge Sanjhi Tree cut out by Payal Khurana that arrests your attention. Take a walk through the various symbolisms of ‘death of the body but the continuance of the soul’ — from a beautifully craved crypt, to a series of Buddha footprints, etched, painted or sculpted, spread across the centuries that act as a substitution of the physical being, just like Rama’s slippers were kept on the throne while he was on vanavas in the epic Ramayana.
What strikes a chord with the viewer is the juxtaposition of sculptures and paintings cutting across centuries, religion and gender. Ahuja talks of the birth and rebirth gallery as being designed to resonate a woman’s womb, with all the energy directing you towards Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Basanti — a powerful vision in dyed hemp, weaved suggestively as a flower or even representative of a woman’s reproductive organ. This is contrasted with the strangely erotic ancient goddess Lajja Gouri giving birth with her legs spread wide and a 2nd century red sandstone headless sculpture of Hariti — the Iranian ogress who turned from eating babies to a protector of children.
Leading us to the third gallery, crossing imageries of the happy families of Shiva-Durga-Ganesh-Kartik, Yashodhara-Krishna-Nanda, among others, Ahuja commented on the irony of such iconic families of Indian mythology actually being quite unconventional in their formation — with the birth of the children in the first family happening during the absence of the father, and the latter of a child living with foster parents. As Ahuja said, “There is no norm in mythology as to what constitutes a happy family.” Now, although, these are summations that would seem fairly obvious to some, for others — such as myself — one has to admit to the deeper insight gained due to these observations by the curator, whose “‘thing’ is supposed to be his vast knowledge of which artwork is housed by which museum across the country”, according to one of the organisers.
From birth to cosmology and the divine, the exhibition evokes the mysteriousness of the body and that of the universe. From the corporeal to the spiritual — what controls us? WHat is the role of destiny? One can debate the existence of free will as influences from Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Tantric schools of thought are represented through the human form so as to contain the whole universe within it. Which is probably why, then, there is a rather easy transition to that of the ‘ideal’ form — that of the supernaturals — gods and deities. Though, Ahuja does take a sceptical point of view on the immortals, saying: “Gods aren’t just immortal, public relations turn them into immortals”, while simultaneously and appreciatively pointing out the nuances of the imagery, down to the reasoning behind the selection of a particular stone that would naturally look like flakes for a sculpture of Nagaraj.

Naman Ahuja, curator of The Body in Indian Art exhibition at the National Museum

Naman Ahuja, curator of The Body in Indian Art exhibition at the National Museum

The iconography is further accentuated as one walks through walls covered with graphic depictions of superheroes in the 21st century in comics, and their ‘ancestors’ as humans or ‘mere mortals’ who were immortalised in ‘stone and paint’ as Heroes. From the evocative video of a towering Buddha statue being bathed to the quiet and meditative, headless nude female yogini Mallinatha — shorn of all accessories — strategically ‘facing’ the Dvilingi Lakulisha, it’s amusing to be a participant or voyeur to the various silent conversations Ahuja has initiated between the art pieces.
The Body in Indian Art exhibition is by every means vast, but Ahuja does achieve what he sets out to do — steadily depict the echoing of similar concepts of death, birth, sex and existentialism across the ages and in varied vocabularies. In end, if it’s the pure rapture in a woman’s ‘angrai’ or the attempt to search a commonality between ragas that have been recorded to accompany the 16-17th century raagmala paintings, the exhibition is a journey that is definitely worth experiencing for yourself.

The Body in Indian Art is on till 7 June, 10am-5pm (Mondays closed), at the National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi. There are regular walks conducted by the museum, which is highly recommended, and another curator’s walk with Naman Ahuja is scheduled for 9 May 2014. Call 011-23019272 (extn 273) for timings and further details.

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Parsi Palates

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(From left) Patra ni Machhi, Mutton Cutlet, Salli Boti, Salli per Endu, Raw Mango Salad and Roti

Located in the heart of Delhi, its simple wrought-iron gate hidden by overbearing Delhi Metro construction boards, the expansive campus of the Anjuman Parsi guesthouse is easy to miss, if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Over a half-a-century old, this little-known gem is much like the Harry Potter’s 9-and-three quarters platform — all the Parsis and the journalists working on the Indian Fleet Street (read Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg) know about it, while the rest of us have heard stories. Yet, over the past decade or so, the word has spread — if you want authentic, mouth-watering Parsi/Iranian fare, it’s Parsi Anjuman that you ought to be visiting.

Mrs Bagli and her daughter-in-laws are the ones who manage the guest house, and famous kitchen and the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. Every day the menu is different, and mind you, even if they’re accommodating, the final menu for even a simple lunch for 4-5 people will be decided with inputs from them. So don’t head over there thinking you can order anything from the non-existent menu card. (This is probably why they never printed one.) Orders have to be made at least a day in advance.

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The Salli Boti is wonderfully paired with roti

The food is simple, homely and tasty. On the two occasions that I visited this Delhi institution, I tried a number of dishes that ranged from the famous Patra ni Machhi (fish wrapped in green chilli paste steamed in a banana leaf) and Caramel Rice (brown rice with hints of jiggery, raisins and cashew nuts) to the Mutton Dhansak (mutton with a dal-like gravy) and Salli Per Endu (an interesting baked dish of spices, vermicelli and potato juliennes topped with egg). And let’s not forget a Caramel Custard that’s enough to warrant a visit on its own.

The Patra ni Machhi on the day I visited was a tad bit too sweet, but the fish itself was lovely, aromatic, and well-cooked (though my fellow diner said hers was overcooked, and the chilli paste tasted like sawdust. But then, to be fair, she did have some lovely Patra ni Machhi at Anjuman earlier). The Salli Boti (mutton in tomato gravy, topped with fried potato juliennes) paired well the roti. The Salli per Endu could have done with a little stronger flavours, but it just looked amazing (plus, I’ll happily munch down anything with egg in it!). The Dhansak (mutton or any other variant) is delectable. The thick lentil gravy somehow always gives one a wholesome feel — like you’re eating ‘good, nutritious’ food. Between the mutton balls and cutlets, I preferred the latter — it was juicier, and the flavours somehow came out better.

A special mention ought to be made of the fresh salad that accompanies the meals. In summer, you’d even find pieces of raw mango, and the tanginess just beautifully complements a rather heavy meal.

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The Sally per Endu was a bit bland, but interesting… and definitely pretty to look at!

Though there isn’t much for vegetarians, but the younger Mrs Bagli is most accommodating. You have substitutes for almost everything — there’s Patra ni Paneer, Dhansak gravy, Vegetable Balls/Cutlets, Salli Vegetable (with potato, peas and makhana), Salli per Mushroom (similar to Salli per Endu), and more.  The flavours are pretty much the same as their non-veg counterparts, just lacking the kick of ‘meat’ that we non-vegetarians otherwise crave.

Finish the meal with their stellar caramel custard or its less sweet cousin, a caramel kulfi.

Everything about Anjuman screams Old World, from the plates and cutlery, to the Spartan mess-like cafeteria and Mrs Bagli’s crisply, starched sari held in place with a brooch. If you like Parsi food (or would like to try it), Parsi Anjuman is definitely a must-visit. Just make sure you end up lazing in bed after stuffing yourself, because, honestly, you won’t be capable of much else.

 

Parsi Anjuman (Iranian cuisine)

+91-11-23238615

Delhi Gate, Parsi Dharamshala, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, near Daryaganj, New Delhi

12.30-2pm for lunch, 8-10pm for dinner

Note:

1. Call in at least a day before to fix the menu

2. An order of Patra ni Machhi, Patra ni Paneer, Salli Boti, Salli per Endu, Salli Vegetable, Mutton Cutlet, Veg Cutlet, Roti and Kulfi for 6 people cost Rs 2,250

 

This piece was first published in Businessworld.

The Fasting-Feasting Month

The Jama Masjid is brightly lit up at night

The Jama Masjid is brightly lit up at night

It’s funny how certain events mean completely different things for different people. Take, for instance, the month of Ramzan. For Muslims it’s 30 days of sombre remembrance and spiritual reverence. They fast all through the day, and eat only after sundown and after doing their namaz/maghrib prayer. For me, and there is absolutely no disrespect meant, it’s about “iftaar” — the first meal of the day. This is ironic because it’s never the first meal of the day for me, but then who bothers with technicalities.

But then, given the fancy iftaar parties that grace the numerous Page Threes and Fours and Fives, at least I’m not the only one with the following ‘chemical’ equation:

Ramazan = AWESOME FOOD!

There's nothing to beat the traditional Tandoori Roti and Korma!

There’s nothing to beat the traditional Tandoori Roti and Korma!

 

Traditionally, the fast is broken by consuming dates (because Prophet Mohammad was supposed to have broken his fast with three dates), following which there is a feast of the most delectable kinds of foods, had together in a social gathering of sorts. So, in a way, it’s actually 30 fancy dinner parties in a row!

This makes it all the more imperative for a true foodie to visit the brightly lit gully of Matia Mahal, in front of Delhi’s imposing Jama Masjid as the angled rays of the sun give way to the blue hour. The evening azaan pierces through the air, calling out to devotees who scramble across the vast courtyard of the 357-year-old mosque offering their prayers. Within minutes, though, the same courtyard is filled with numerous picnic spreads.

After the maghrib prayer, there's a whole community picnic, where families spread out to break the day's fast together.

After the maghrib prayer, there’s a whole community picnic, where families spread out to break the day’s fast together.

Friends get together to chat before the maghrib prayer

Friends get together to chat before the maghrib prayer

Step out, and the entrance of the famous Matia Mahal (of Karim fame, among other things) is brightly lit up to rival Diwali, as people call out to each other — wishing them, hugging them, crowds gathering around the various hotels shouting out their orders, the air full of the delicious smells of chicken fry and mutton qorma (that is also SO characteristically Old Delhi), towers of soft and fluffy tandoori rotis grace the countertops, the sizzle of marinated meats being tossed into massive woks of bubbling hot oil, mounds of freshly fried, golden brown, succulent chicken wings glisten in the festive lights — beckoning, making your mouth salivate.

There are different types of tikkas available for your choosing

There are different types of tikkas available for your choosing

Succulent meat balls are freshly fried and served piping hot!

Succulent meat balls are freshly fried and served piping hot!

As you cut through the stream of bodies, adopt the robot pose (both arms on the side with the fore-arm jutting out like an L), keep a lookout for anything and everything that strikes our eye, and triggers the palate in anticipation.

Ideally I would recommend the vegetarians to stay away from this part of town, especially during Ramazan because, let’s face it, there isn’t much to have. Except for the absolutely brilliant Shahi Tukda. If Marie Antoinette had savoured this delicacy, let’s just say, history would have been a tad bit different. Made from the rather proletarian bread, bumped up the tasting order with a generous dosage of ghee and malai and all things nice, these bites of heaven simply melt in your mouth (while the calories head straight down south!). There are, of course, quite a selection of dry fruits, a fusion version of the roti with coconut filling and fresh hot pakoras to choose from as well. Although, be warned that the latter just about lasts 20 minutes after the evening maghrib prayer. So you’ll have to stand ready to jump at them the minute they’re up for sale.

Take your pick from potato, spinach masala, paneer and a host of other pakodas

Take your pick from potato, spinach masala, paneer and a host of other pakodas

Give in to the hevenly taste of the Shahi Tukda

Give in to the hevenly taste of the Shahi Tukda

During this month, Matia Mahal is open till the wee hours of the morning as the smells of haleem waft through the air — the traditional “suhoor” fare, which is had just before dawn. Of course, the festivities keep ascending in lights, choices and decibel levels closer to Eid, but that just means you can pace yourself and your stomach out over an entire month.

So, as-salamu aleikum and bon apetit!

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