karim's tandoori fish

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.

karim's street 2

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.

karim's street

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.

KARIMS

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.

Conclusion:

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

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

karim's tandoori fish

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.

16 comments

  1. I was like moving my mouth in an attempt to feeeeel your description of the foods above 😀

    A Mughal royal cook? That’s interesting and the food looks good too.Just wished the weather was more kinder….I remember watching short food programmes in TamilNadu where some of the cooks are topless! I can understand the weather but seriously can’t imagine eating any food from them! Thanks for sharing your delicious meal with us!

    1. Lat, I’ve seen such topless cooks! But thankfully, the cooks at Karim’s were fully dressed despite the summer’s soaring temperatures.

      The kababs were most delicious I’ve ever had. I think I’m going to sweet-talk Masood into planning a trip to Delhi during the cooler months 🙂

  2. My grandparents and my father migrated to Pakistan from Delhi, i loved looking at the pics, i have always tried to imagine their life there : )

  3. Wonderful post, again!
    Whenever I am at this blog, I am always learning something about people, places, things, food, culture or in other words life. Kabaabs and curry photos are literally mouthwatering.
    I must admire your courage of photographing at such busy places. I can’t even think of street photography.

    1. Why, thank you so much, Raheel!

      Street photography still scares me; it feels like I’m intruding or something. But I am trying hard to overcome it because so many wonderful shots are missed due to my hesitation. This post would’ve been incomplete, in my opinion, without the accompanying photographs of the place.

  4. nadia, i read this post two days ago, but was unable to comment. hope now’s not too late…

    i love the first shot above. you described the place and the hustle and bustle really well. when we were studying India, my classmates and i even went to several temples/places of worship and some Indian restaurants. we even talked to some priests and restaurant proprietors as well as tasted Indian foods. your post reminded me of that three-week venture of ours, back in the days, haha…

    i love kababs! and the way you described the one in Delhi – wow! not a fan of curry, though… it’s cultural perhaps, i.e., acquired taste, huh?

    and hey, i’d trade places with you – going around, taking pics, tasting food (may ka-holding hands pa, haha). what could be better than that? naman… btw, you do write excellent reviews, if i had money, i’d go to places you recommend. 🙂

    1. It’s never to late to leave a comment, San 🙂

      You guys researched on India for three weeks! If you were in Manila, then chances are you’re likely to bump into an Indian at least once a day.

      Also, I think almost everyone falls in love with kababs, but the curry is a bit tricky. Most people are turned off with the oil.

      At bakit wala ka pang ka-holding hands? Sumama ka sa mga bloggers meet-up. I heard the bloggers society in the Philippines is pretty active – specially sa lakwatsa at kainan. Who knows dun mo ma-meet ang ka-holding hands mo? 😉

      1. Yes, naglagalag kami noon sa Paco and Malate areas. We observed some ceremonies and we were fed with sweets (the gluey kind) at every turn, hihi.

        I remember, gwapo ang isang priest sa isang temple and he was wearing only his drawers, haha. Of course, we pretended not to notice, ahaha.

        Di pa ako aware sa bloggers society dito. And I haven’t been to any of their meetings. Sure ka bang may prospective na makaka-holding hands do’n? haha. Owki, i’ll give it a try… 🙂

        1. OMG, bakit naman drawers lang ang suot nung priest?! Yeah, right, so you haven’t noticed 😉

          Oo, I’m sure about the bloggers society. Maraming gwapo at matatalino ‘dun. Try to expand your friendship to that circle. They have so much activities going on.

  5. Salam baji…
    Ohhhh i so love this place I have been to Delhi like around 8- 10 times and I have always ensured that I make a visit to the place … just love the food .. nothing beats Karim’s in Delhi ….

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