Monday, March 05, 2007

Haji Noora

There exist a few select shops which transcend mundane notions of 'good food' or 'value for money'; and attain downright extraordinary heights. Moinuddin Ustad of Lal Kuan does, no doubt about it. As do the dhage wale kabab vendor in Matia Mahal; possibly Ghalib Kabab Corner in Nizamuddin; and even the quirky makkhan wali chai shop also in Lal Kuan. And of course Haji Noora's nahari shop in Bara Hindu Rao. I have been to Haji Noora's shop twice, and my experience has been uniformly joyous across both occasions.

Unearthing the place was a feat in itself. I first heard about it in yet another Rahul Verma article. Some time in October 2006, together with my friend Hemanshu, I decided to try it out.

This first expedition of ours proved a flop. We had assumed, naturally, that Bara Hindu Rao, the area, would be adjacent to Bara Hindu Rao, the hospital. So we hit the hospital, got misdirected more times than we could keep count of, and finally blundered our way to the Bara Hindu Rao area a good few miles away.

There another anticlimax awaited us. The shop was shut, apparently due to Eid the previous day. We also learnt that a clan feud had engendered a split in the family business as well. A nephew on the distaff has set up a bigger and better-located shop a few feet away. He even calles it 'Al-Noor', which heightens the confusion a good deal.

Thanks to the pains taken then, locating the shop on subsequent occasions posed no problem. And the food there is so wonderful that I, for one, consider myself to have been amply rewarded for all that we went through on that day.

Admittedly, Haji Noora's shop looks less than impressive. A tiny hole-in-the-wall outfit, with an entrance comprising a narrow passage between two raised platforms. The one on the left houses a tandoor for the Rotis; the other one serves as a base for huge steaming saucepans of the right stuff.

Beyond this lies the sitting area. Two long bedsheets - once white, now a dingy grey smeared with Nahari stains - flank either side of an oilcloth stretching across the breadth of the room. Customers sit on the sheets and keep their plates on the oilcloth, to complete what one might call a downmarket Dastarkhwaan.

The tableware (OK oilclothware) they use looks just as disreputable. Both times our Nahari came in chipped enamel dishes and the Rotis in cracked melamine plates. Aluminium glasses and water jugs lined the oilcloth.

The food itself makes up for everything and more. I prefer the 'special' variety of Nahari they dish out, the one that comes laced with ghee. Slow-cooked through the night, perfectly spiced, on either occasion it fully lived up to all our expectations. The meat was soft and succulent, and yet not bereft of texture. The spices made their presence felt, without smothering the rich natural flavour of the meat. Even the gravy was a treat. Even on a fullish stomach, mopping up the gravy with pieces of Roti was a pleasure.

The first time, we paid fifty Rupees for
three plates of Nahari and four Tandoori Rotis. On the following occasion, Two plates of Nahari and four Rotis set as back by 38 bucks. Would have been cheap at three times the price. Needless to say, we stuffed ourselves like pigs.

The wonderful experiences I've had there only makes me wonder, what are the conditions that enable and/or impel Haji Noora's to maintain such high standards at low, low prices? Certainly not the high expectations of the denizens of that area. The other outlets there are at best decent, in no way out of the ordinary.

There are a few bakeries there, which sell you rusks for fifty Rupees a kilo. I make it a point to buy half-a-kilo every time I go there. Several sweetshops in the vicinity do a brisk trade. The Sooji ka Halwa I sampled at one of them was good, but not anything to write home about. The tea shops in the area range from passable to downright bad. I remember one shop that gave me tea with a dollop of what they called Malai in it. Forget the tea, even the Malai tasted more watery than the tea one gets at any rural railway station.

Last thought: Must try out the nephew's output some day.


thalassa_mikra said...

Your description of Haji Noora is so tempting! And yet, I'm really apprehensive about going there as a woman on my own.

If any of you is up for a repeat of Haji Noora sometime next week, do drop a line at my blog.

April said...

Hi Abhik, I’m a writer from Malaysia & have written an article on Haji Noora for MSN Malaysia’s soon-to-be-launched travel section. Would you happen to know how I can get photos of this restaurant? I tried to contact Hemanshu on his EOiD blog but to no avail. Acquiring some photos from you or him would really help. Thanks & I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Abhik Majumdar said...

Hi April. You've not provided an email address or other means of contacting you, so the only way I can respond to your query is through another blog comment.

Right now I'm afraid I don't have pictures. I did not own a digicam when I wrote that post, and these days I don't live in Delhi any longer. If you want, I could take some pics the next time I'm in Delhi. Could you write me an email? Go to my profile, you'll get my email address.

Anonymous said...

This sounds so good. I have no idea when it'll be possible for me to make it to Bara Hindu Rao - a baby at home and no domestic help tends to make our dining out rather limited in scope! So, I shall file this away for later...

Incidentally, the best nahari I remember having was at a tiny and decrepit place called Rahim's in Lucknow. We were seated next to the coal dump. Placemats and napkins were squares of newspaper. But the nahari was out of this world.

Abhik Majumdar said...

> a baby at home and no domestic help

Oh you have a baby too? Our tadpole's two years old, she's called Asavari. How old's yours? Fully empathise with the 'no domestic help' bit.

> a tiny and decrepit place called Rahim's in Lucknow.

Now that's one place I need to visit for a substantial length of time. Iv'e been there only once, for three days. We caught some nifty Galauti and Biryani, but three days is simply not enough.

Anonymous said...

Our baby's nearly 10 months old. Adorable, of course, but she's also a naughty little thing who has a mind of her own.

We visited Lucknow for only two days, so weren't able to do justice to it, either - but Rahim's, I remember. And Tundey ke kabab. Somehow the Tundey one gets here in Delhi just doesn't match up - just like the Nizam's in Calcutta is a class apart. That kheeri. Ooh.

Abhik Majumdar said...

> Adorable, of course, but she's also a naughty little thing who has a mind of her own.

Oh, don't I know it! In my case it's a bit worse. My job compels me to live in Cuttack, Orissa. Wife and tadpole have stayed put in Bangaore. Miss them something cruel.

> That kheeri. Ooh.

I don't know if you know this, but West Bengal and Kerala are two states where beef is not legally prohibited. I guess that contributes to the taste too.

April said...

Hi Abhik, I happened upon your blog again after so long because of the latest batch of comments that I was notified of. I didn't realise you replied me lol but thanks anyway, it was all good in the end.. :)

Abhik Majumdar said...

Hi April, good of you to comment as soon as you got to know I had responded to your earlier one. Much appreciate this, and I mean it in the nicest way possible :)

Do keep in touch, and if you can spare some time have a look at the other posts. There's some stuff on Malaysia and Singapore, several more to come (Madhulika, the other person commenting on this post, has asked me to write something on Laksa).

April said...

Hi Abhik, laksa.. nice!! Glad to know you're getting to know Malaysia through its yummy food. I'm sure you were loving it!

Abhik Majumdar said...

April, I'll tell you an (open) secret. I didn't like Singapore so much. So any time I needed to detox myself I'd go over to Malaysia at random, some times even for half a day. I love the country and its people, have wonderful memories of both. Have also travelled quite a bit inside Malaysia, even to slightly offbeat places like Gemas, Kota Bharu and all. But no, I won't say anything more now - you'll have to wait till I write about all that :P

Do please stay tuned, and also check up the other posts here if you can.

April said...

Glad to know you have great memories of Malaysia and wonderful how you've gone off the beaten path to explore other parts. You've got a great blog going here. Keep it up!