I am writing this blogpost in such a time when, forget about restaurant food, you can’t even go out of your home. It’s home-quarantine during the Coronavirus outburst. Now you may ask me a very simple and valid question- why am I writing on these places in this turbulent time. The answer, my friend, is quite simple. One day, someday, this too shall pass and we’ll come back stronger. Life will be happier and people will actually look forward to seeing others. And I hope people will stick to their (so-called) new-found passion for food. And then, my friend, this article on Rezala and Sabir, will come in handy. And lastly, we are content writers, even if we don’t survive this state, the content on Mohamushkil will stay after me
During our childhood, eating out was not really an everyday affair. We used to go out, only for dine-out, maybe twice or thrice a month. But considering a middle-class family like us, even that frequency was quite commendable. And one place that has been my favorite ever since, around the Chandni Chowk area, is Sabir. So, this story is about that place and its legendary Rezala.
Taking a car there is an absolute no-no unless you have your driver along with or you’re a local and have a monthly parking place fixed for you. Sabir is just at a 3-5 min walking distance from Chandni Chowk Metro station and that’s the best mode of communication, as per me. but only if you ride a two-wheeler, there’s always a two-wheeler parking spot somewhere around that place.
In around 1940, Sabir Ali came to Kolkata from Lucknow and started working as support stuff at Titagarh. The man must’ve been a great business mind because from being a helping hand to opening a restaurant in 1948 is no mean feat
It’s like those typical old-world places where, unless you’ve been going for the last 10 years of minimum 50 times, waiters don’t care about your existence. However, once they do, the service generally is prompt and swift. You are expected to know your orders. And you’re allowed to talk to the waiter to check the AVAILABLE dishes only. Nothing more- nothing less. Ordering a Rezala here is considered as standard and please don’t frown if the waiter treats you as a martian if you don’t. They have an AC section on the first floor along with some cabins- in case you’re in a gujubuju mood.
Sabir is known for its Rezala. Yes, everybody knows that. But few know that there is a surprisingly good breakfast here. Sabir opens up for breakfast from around 6 in the morning and the items last till 9. One can easily expect a heavy influx of Pathans here as well over the breakfast. BTW, first-floor operations start from lunch (around 11 AM) and non-AC ground floor sitting is the only option in the morning times.
For breakfast, I prefer Tandoori roti, almost always. But Sabir makes a fabulous Parantha. missing which is a sin. And over breakfast, my choice is Dal Gosht. Sabir doesn’t serve beef, so all mutton here. And they make a chana Dal cooked with mutton chunks, prepared with an overdose of Jeera and its simply love. The next item that has should be ordered, is their Gurda Kaleji. The Kidney meat and liver pcs are cooked in a coarse gravy and it’s quite likable. But for somebody coming around 9am and with a smiling request, the waiter might feel pity and serve you their first batch of Mutton Rezala and Tikia. The tikia, unlike other places, is a dry shami kebab and is simply outstanding. The chopped onion and minced green chilies can be felt and that takes it to a different level. And the morning first batch of Tikia is simply the best of the day- period.
Definitely, go for their Pani Kum chai (tea with less water and more of milk) and some malai (topped with coarse granulated sugar) and you’ll be a happy person. Even a few years back, the lea leaves were sourced directly from Darjeeling, but things have changed now. But now, it’s sourced from Anwar Tea Company for that perfect blend.
Kebabs to start with
the old school restaurants don’t believe eating in courses. And apart from a few very average kebabs, hardly anything else is there. And let me be honest. the Chicken tikka I’ve tasted on multiple occasions there is pretty average. And honestly, when you have the best version of Tikia to be ordered and savored at Sabir- why? Just why?
Rezala, finally …
Seldom comes a place who has been marked immortal for one single item. And in Kolkata, Sabir is known for its Rezala. I am opinionated- agreed, but I feel, it is THE best in the city. And the sight of it arriving at your table is something else. Imagine a single sina piece from a rewazi a.k.a aged goat, with a layer of fat. You’re supposed to tear your Tandoori Roti (I prefer that flaky Parota), dip it in the while velvety gravy, and let your tongue do the rest. It’s subtle and divine. I’ve always wished the meat piece to be slightly bigger in size or with a little more meat, but the taste of the gravy compensates- every single time. A single piece of glowing red chilly always accompanies the gravy (the lone warrior) and a few pieces of Makhana. Now I am confused here. Am I unable to savor its importance, or it’s added for the show- anyway, who cares?
The origin of Rezala is a bit unclear. The folklore goes like this. The work Rezala has come from a word “Raazil”- which means people from a lower income group. during the Mughal dynasty, this used to be the staple for managers and workers. Raazil > Raaazila > Rezala. Now here comes the twist. Home chefs started using deseeded-green-chilly-infused-milk for cooking and thus came the color. Apart from meat Rezala, gradually Fish Reala started gaining popularity in high society and the dish got its due popularity.
But then there goes another story. When nawabs of Audh and descendants of Tipu Sultan were exiled in Kolkata, they brought their royal cooks along. These cooks gave the Islamic touch to the Bengal cuisine with variety of spices and Kewra water. In fact probably the art of marinating meat with yoghurt was introduced by those cooks and Masalchis. And with them, Rezala was created.
But while talking of Rezala, a mention should be done for its counterpart- Laccha Parota. I’ve not tasted any Parota in Kolkata, which can match the quality of the stuff at Sabir. As per the current owner, Mr. Shmen Ali, the dough is kneaded with malai and sugar and it actually melts in the mouth. the layers literally come apart and this parota at Sabir is simply a work of art. Do not miss this while in this place.
Biryani at Sabir
Well surprisingly, they make a decent Mutton Biryani at Sabir. And for an average Bengali, it clicks all the checkpoints.
- Fragrant potato- check
- Soft meat- check
- long-grained rice- check
- nice aroma- check
All is well, but somehow I have a mental blockage towards going to Sabir for Biryani. I am getting old and can’t eat Rezala and Biryani at one sitting there. And secondly, I have tasted better biryani from many restaurants in Kolkata. But please don’t get me wrong, the biryani is pretty good and many actually like Sabir for that. But this is just my crankiness or nepotism.
Rather I should now talk about the dessert at Sabir. Well, to be honest, most of the Mughlai food joints in the city offer a below-average shahi Tukra and average firni at the end of a meal. But make no mistake. Whatever happens, do not miss the firni at Sabir. It’s one of the best, or probably the best in Kolkata, as per my palate. They don’t use saffron here and aroma of milk sets it apart. This is, once you have ordered your share of Malai here and it was available. things run out fast in life. But go for it. The Shahi Tukra is pretty average and I’d rather go to Royal India for their version.
Sabir is one of those old school restaurants who have stood the test of time and has stood tall. For a first-timer, I’d suggest going with the staple there. Bring your partner. Order for their one mutton tikia, two plates of mutton rezala and two parota. After around 5 minutes, you’ll realize that you need some more Tikia and you should order one more then. You may or may not order Biryani there- it’s up to you. But do not forget to taste the Firni and Malai. In fact, you should tip the waiter beforehand and ask him to keep a plate of Malai aside for you. Kindness, in this world, goes a long long way.
So, tell me your experience in Sabir in the comments section, and let’s share more stories.
Bon Appetit !!!
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