Sample Authentic Mughlai Cuisine at Karim’s
“Go straight then turn left on the third street,” explained the rickshaw driver, pointing towards a crowded street. Wiping the beads of perspiration quickly off his face with a small towel that hangs over his right shoulder, he adds, “It’s a world class hotel.”
One could hardly imagine a world class hotel in this part of Old Delhi. We have come to visit the Jama Masjid, and standing there in front of it’s Gate number 1 in a hot afternoon, we are overwhelmed by the outpour of sights and sounds. Although, at first, we are reluctant to trust the rickshaw wala, we eventually give in and decide to check the place out. And I’m so glad we did!
Every shop owner and rickshaw driver know Karim’s restaurant; it’s almost impossible to be in the Jama Masjid area and not find it. Taken from the steps of the masjid, the red arrow in the picture below gives an idea on the exact location of Karim’s restaurant.
We walk holding hands—afraid to be lost in the crowd—carefully navigating through a sea of tourists and locals, tricycles, rickshaws, motorcycles, beggars, goats, and chicken. The aroma of mutton curry, fried fish and chicken qorma from small roadside restaurants wafts in the air. Somewhere amidst this chaos, a religious hymn is playing on a loudspeaker.
We finally find ourselves, after asking a couple more people for direction, standing in front of a very narrow lane with a small sign that says, “Karim’s Restaurant”. It’s a little alley that leads towards a courtyard. It appears like Karim’s owners have bought the surrounding three or four houses, and then converted them all to restaurants. One of the houses, shown below, became the kitchen, where bread is baked and meat grilled right before your eyes.
It’s past four in the afternoon, yet the place is abuzz with people. We are immediately shown to our table and orders are taken. The staff doesn’t write anything down; they commit your order to memory.
In their website, it is said:
“Cooking The Royal Food is the hereditary profession of Karim’s; because wherever the Mughal’s went they took over our ancestors alongwith them right from the times of Babur.
The end of this prestigious royal employment came to an end during the year of mutiny 1857, when the last Mughal King Bhadur Shah Zafer was dethroned. The Karim’s ancestors to save themselves from the fury of the British, fled from the Lal Qila and took shelter in the vicinity now called Farukhnagar, district Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, there they lived in disguise trying the different types of livelihood, simultaneously the father never forgot to inherit the fine art of cooking the “Royal Food” to his son.”
The guys (and gals) behind Karim’s claim to be fourth generation royal chefs, their recipes a heavily-guarded secret. Their fame reached far and beyond. Time Magazine ranks Karim’s among Asia’s top restaurants. More about their press reviews here.
So what do we think about the food? Does it live up to all the hype?
The very first thing that arrives on our table, besides the silver pitcher of ice-cold water, is a plate of thinly-sliced onion rings and some lemon wedges. Oh, and a small bowl of mint chutney that is so incredibly, deliciously hot that we eat it as a condiment with almost everything!
Then we order chicken burra and seekh kabab—tender lamb mince, wrapped around skewers and grilled carefully over coals. Each bite brings us to heaven and then back. The spices are in absolute harmony with each other, clinging faithfully to each fiber of the meat bursting with so much flavor that our taste buds start dancing like crazy. The kababs are highly recommended.
We also order baadshahi badaam pasanda, a mild yet flavorful mutton curry with almonds, served with fluffy tandoori rotis. The curry arrives floating in a generous layer of oil. A small, empty bowl is given beforehand so that we pour the excess oil into it, and start digging into our yummy curry.
So these are what the Mughal emperors normally ate back then! Lucky people.
We also return the next day to try their mutton biryani, topped with hardboiled eggs. We find it too mild, something like pulao. I wouldn’t recommend it. When it comes to biryani, Hyderabadis are the best.
We order two Thums Up, but are disappointed to be given the soda in paper cups instead. It tasted like flavored water.
Finally, we order kheer, or rice pudding, that is served in a clay bowl. A perfect ending to a scrumptious meal.
If you’re not particularly over-sensitive about cleanliness, don’t mind removing the excess oil from your curry, and most importantly, if you are a meat-lover, I highly suggest Karim’s restaurant in Delhi.
I also suggest reading this very interesting description about the place.
Update as of February 06, 2013:
We are back in Delhi. Karim is so much easier to find now, and I walk the narrow, crowded alleys like I’ve been here a thousand times! It’s eight in the evening.
The place is bustling with so much activity: hungry ones deciding where to eat, rickshaw guys looking for passengers, bearded men grilling the perfect kabab and frying the chicken until they’re golden and crispy, locals going about their business, and tourists soaking up the scene in awe and interest.
This time we order mutton burra—bite-sized chunks of tender, marinated, grilled meat that you dip and swirl in the green chili-mint chutney before eating. Price is ₹ 170 for 5-6 pieces.
Chicken Jahangiri. Tomato-based chicken curry. The spices are mild, and there’s this slight tangy flavor brought about by the tomatoes and yoghurt. Chicken is nice and succulent. However, we aren’t completely blown away by this. I’ve tasted better Murgh Jahangiris elsewhere. ₹ 145
Tandoori Fish. This is served only during the winter season—between November and March—and takes a good twenty minutes to reach your table. I forget the name of the fish, but despite the angry look it gives you, it tastes really good (and fresh!). They serve it while it’s hot. Drizzle some lemon juice and mint chutney on it. ₹ 190
The customer service has noticeably deteriorated from our previous visit. The waiters are rude. They talk loudly and without any consideration to their customers. The guy in charge of our table forgets one of the items we order and is incredibly persistent that we didn’t order that particular dish.