Saturday, December 26, 2015

Breaking Fast At Karim

This piece first appeared in The Hindu.

Having a breakfast of Nihari & Roti at Karim is as much a process as reaching Jama Masjid at 8:30 in the morning. The tiny outlet, famous all over the world for its flavourful Muglai food, serves breakfast only between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM. Come too early and you will find its doors shut, reach too late and you will have to stand in a long queue of fellow epicures relying purely on luck to get a portion of the royal breakfast.

Thankfully, I arrive at the right time (8:35 AM). Like every time in the past, I have adhered to the process – taken an auto to the nearest metro station, changed two trains, then taken a cycle rickshaw to reach the obscure lane in the heart of old Delhi called Gali Kababiyan – and, like every time in the past, I have taken exactly an hour and forty minutes to get here. The place is already open and some tables have been occupied too, but I am lucky it is a weekday and manage to find a table to myself (one usually has to share the large tables here).

Unlike most places, the kitchen and the tandoor at Karim are located in the outer courtyard in semi-covered verandas and not inside the restaurant. One benefit of this design is that you can see the food being cooked and choose whatever you like, the flipside, however, is that you find it hard to wait for the food to be served to you. 

While walking inside I have noticed that the two deghs, one containing their legendary mutton stew called Nihari, the other a trotter curry called Paya are ready and their rich aroma is wafting in the heavy December air. The garnish of julienned ginger and chopped green chillies is ready too, wedged lemons meanwhile wait at the side; the only thing yet to be made are the large, fluffy khamiri rotis. I am eager to order my food, and some more (the quantities are limited and there is always the risk of it running out) but the waiter is in no mood to listen to me yet – he will take the orders only at 8:55 – so I wistfully look at the cream colored Ajanta clock on the wall waiting for it to strike 8:55.

With large marble top tables, plastic chairs, melamine plates and run of the mill glasses & cutlery, Karim Hotel, as it likes to call itself, is as basic as it gets. There is no fancy décor, or ambient lighting either. I still remember being surprised by the place when I saw it for the first time about twelve years ago. Having heard lofty descriptions of the place and the food by my foodie husband, I had expected it to be posh restaurant in the heart of Delhi, but it turned out to be a crowded café in a narrow by lane of old Delhi, overflowing with people of all classes. The food however was a revelation: they clearly believe in reserving all flamboyance for their recipes. Since then Delhi and Karim have become synonyms for me, especially during winters.

I am lost in thoughts of the food that has turned a vegetarian like me into a hard-core meat eater when the waiter finally asks me what I want. I look at the clock again and it is exactly 8:55 AM. I place my order for Nihari and Rotis and wait, salivating. At exactly 9 o’clock the waiter, dressed in a maroon Pathan Suit and a white cap, walks in with six shallow bowls, all balanced on his right hand; an apprentice in a similar brown outfit walks alongside with a pile of beautiful, fluffy rotis.

In a matter of seconds, I am dunking my crispy roti in the falvourful river of ghee and choicest of spices ensuring each bite has its share of ginger and green chillies. I eat slowly savouring every bite of the succulent, melt-in-your mouth mutton and fluffy roti. After all, I have an entire hour to relish my hard earned food. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh vow - great blog and i am now wanting to relish Nihari and crispy rotis at Karim's. Thanks