“Among all the biryani I’ve tasted, one of the most underrated ones is Muradabadi biryani at Nizamuddin Basti”, I commented and casually sat back to enjoy the fireworks. From “Dude, is that even a biryani ?” to “How can you like it, coming from Kolkata”. This was regarding my food walk at Nizamuddin Basti and I definitely found some interesting stuff there. The location can be checked on Google map here
Aaj Rang Hai ri ma, Rang hai ri,
More khaajah ke ghar, rang hai ri – Amir Khusro
The area surrounding Nizamuddin Dargah is undoubtedly one of the oldest areas of Delhi. Originally around 700 years back, it was called Ghyaspur, being built by Ghyasuddin Tughlaq. But the area is renamed after the famous Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. But it was the 13th-century poet Amir Khusro, the father of Qawwali, who made his master Sufi Saint Nizamuddin Auliya all the more famous. Even today, once you enter the narrow lanes and bylanes of this area, magically you get transported to a la la land, where Qawwali and Qurma still dominate the Delhi evenings- a surreal feeling still reigns there. For those with an intention of learning about the travel / historical places, can check this blog post here.
Introduction to Ram Laddu
So Tanushree Bhowmik and Om Routray took us along this food trail and I must thank them first. “This is one of the safe zones in Delhi and being a woman, I’ve never been teased here, no, not even once,” Tanushree told me. Seeing those narrow and dark lanes, it was kind of difficult to trust here, but I an used to obey women. And the first place I was taken was the roadside Ram-Laddu stall. Now frankly, it beats me how a mung dal deep-fried savory laddu can be called as Ram Laddu. The Deep fried lentil balls were topped with radish and coriander chutney. the whole combo is spicy and I must say, dirt cheap. This road-side snack is available in every nook and corner of Delhi, I was told and considering the spicy taste and cheap price, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Zaika-e-Nizamuddin is a social sustainable project inside the Nizamuddin Basti. What we don’t realize, while using the term working women, is that the housewives have been working women, all of their life just didn’t get termed like that. And they are always the champions in cooking the homely food. Here, women from the local low-income-group are getting trained in managing the food delivery (in case of bulk orders ) and managing pop-ups. Cooking is done keeping in mind proper hygiene standards and I was impressed by the good packaging. They’ve invited us (Coordinated by Tanushree Bhowmik and Om Routray ) over dinner. Frankly, I won’t be able to guide the road to the place, but here is the link to their super-active Facebook page, where any query is answered.
Well, all good, but I must come to the food part. We had tandoori roti, Hara-Bhara Kebab (veg), chicken shami kebab, chicken Korma, and Kheer. I can’t go all overboard with the food. The Hara Bhara kebab was simply superb and chicken shami kebab was good. Korma was home-style and the Kheer was good, again. Overall, the food, as we’re used at home, was super light and was served with utmost love. And this little brat named Mariam gave me full company … I understand their food can be ordered in advance and is definitely a not-to-be-missed experience …
And the Butter chicken
So, just when we were coming out of the gate from the Nizamuddin Basti, there is this small stall named Kit Care Kebab Corner. we stopped there. Om readily ordered the Butter Chicken with Roomali Roti. But what came, was really really surprising to me. I love Butter chicken, I seriously love. But normally, by butter Chicken, I was served Murgh Makhni. Yes. Chicken Tikka or Tandoori Chicken smeared in that tomato-based orange gravy flavored with Kasoori Methi and topped with loads of butter. Not that I didn’t like it, but what I was served here, was different.
This was chicken Tikka tossed in Butter and cream. For any calorie conscious person, he/ she’ll simply have a cardiac arrest just by looking at the dish. But it’ll be a love-at-first-sight case for a glutton. And bang, I instantly fall in love. One needs to dip his finger in the butter, get dirty while eating and at the end, lick his fingers clean, at least that’s what is expected there. I can’t really describe the taste, but please visualize soft chicken tikka with tons of yellow butter and cream. The taste is beyond description and should only be experienced. Aslam Miyan does the same dish at the Zama Masjid area, but as I didn’t taste it there, hence can’t really comment. This was BTW, pure heaven.
The Ghalib Kebab wala
Did Mirza Ghalib have any tryst with Nizamuddin Basti? Hell yes, the tomb of Mirza Ghalib is at Nizamuddin. I don’t know whether one Kebab wala had a passion for Ghalib, but Ghalib Kabab Corner (Ph No: 9810786479) is there opposite the Markazi mosque in Nizamuddin. The google location can be found here.
It’s a small shop with some 4 tables inside and 2 on the street of Nizamuddin Basti. The menu consists of around 15-20 items. The place is famous for primarily Sheekh Kebab and Shami Kebab and of course their Korma. I found a typical characteristic of the food at Nizamuddin- at almost all the places. Maybe this area was built for the aam junta and not really for the kings and emperors. And the food depicts that. They’re simple stuff without much show-off and the taste is subtle.
Where Jama Masjid area boasts of super busy shops churning out thousands of dishes a day, this area, like some monk, lies in a time warp and doesn’t want a shout out.
The Shami Kebab was firm and crisp outside and moist inside. The spice mix was fragrant yet subtle. Was it a slight overtone of Javitri ? I was not sure. Once someone takes a bite, the contrasting textures made it all the more interesting. The shami kebabs were finished on a sheekh, thus making them very very less oily, unlike anything I’ve tasted. Sheekh Kebabs were firm and good. I so wished they had not sprinkled the chat masala on top, but then one can’t have all the happiness.
And by this time, I was craving for the showstopper, the Muradabadi Biryani.
The Muradabadi Biryani, finally …
We actually crossed the lane, yes a whole lane, with Muradabadi biryani shops on both sides, while going to the Ghalib Kebab Corner. and it was time to come back to what was left. And trust me, the whole stretch of road was having shops selling Muradabadi Biryani.
Now Muradabadi Biryani is a very welcome change from the biryanis that we’re used to loving elsewhere. It’s white in color and more of a simple dish with the simple fragrance of whole black pepper, green chilly and a hint of lime. The rice used is super long grained. The whole dish is said to be invented by the workers from the Muradabad region had to invent some one-dish-meal which will be cheap, yet fragrant. and this was there. Even it’s said that there is hardly anything by the name Muradabadi Biryani at Muradabad. Frankly, I’ve tasted quite a few varieties of biryani in India, starting from Dindigul to Chembur Biryani and I’ve literally grown up with Kolkata Biryani, but I’ve never tasted something as fragrant as this. The typical achari flavor, which we tasted at Pahalwans was missing, but what the hell?
We were lucky to reach the place when the handi was getting over and we got the gila cut- the bottom greasy portion. A new set was getting ready and I got some for my homebound flight scheduled on the next day. And being the self-claimed biryani freak, let me confess something. If someone doesn’t taste a Muradabadi Biryani, his/ her biryani journey in India is quite incomplete.
And that Kakori Kebab
Om was bragging about one roadside stall serving one of the best Kakori Kebabs in Delhi. And as usual, I wasn’t taking him seriously. But he actually kidnaped me in his car and dropped me outside the Assam Bhaban. And the next this I remembered was the smell of some heavenly char-grilled kebabs. I was wrong- completely wrong. It was a small joint named Al Kauser. The landmark is just outside of the Assam Bhaban. You need to get your car parked and enjoy the food. They also sold Mutton Awadhi Biryani- diligently sealed in the earthen handis. But we tasted just the kebab. And I must say he was not exaggerating. It definitely was one of the softest melt-in-mouth kakori I’ve ever tasted and definitely fit for the toothless nawab. This place is definitely a hidden gem.
So, as usual, we were full and satisfied at Nizamuddin Basti. Delhi has treated us really well. And I’m sure to have missed a few hidden joints. So, if you know of other places, do let me know and I can experience them on my next visits.