Sunday, July 08, 2007

Nizamuddin 04: Ghalib Kabab Corner

[NB: This is part of an ongoing series on the Nizamuddin locality of New Delhi. For a brief background, please read the prefatory note.]

I get irritated when people ask me why I don't use Google Maps or other online guides to mark out featured eateries. I did try out Google Maps some time ago, when writing the 'Makkhan Wali Chai' post. It turned out simply far too limited in its detailing. And when discussing obscure eateries even local denizens might not know about, exactitude in directions is surely vital. I am naturally not against 'bells and whistles' per se, but unless they add meaningfully to the blog, I see no reason to include them and unnecessarily clutter things up.

Take Nizamuddin. For me, those wonderful narrow, smoky, twisting, labyrinthine alleys quivering with life are among the most evocative aspects of the locality. And for newcomers, a source of confusion more than anything else. Google Maps chooses to depict it as a barren grey-brown lump with not even a single lane marked out. To what end, I wonder. Useless as a direction-finder and, for good measure, callous to the beauty of the place as well. Thanks for nothing, mate!

The 'satellite' view gives a better idea of how vibrant Nizamuddin is. (Unfortunately, it does not support zooming at the highest level, and is packed with too many distracting details. Hence it too is of little use as a guide.) Indeed, very few localities in the city can match it in this regard. I know; I've been a Nizamuddin regular for upwards of 22 years.

Ghalib Kabab Corner is where it all started. I remember my father taking mother and self there when I was eight. Those days, we could take our '62-vintage Fiat 1100 inside the alleys right up to the shop, park, eat, and have enough space to turn the car around. On that occasion, we propped our plates of Tikka and Seekh Kabab right on the bonnet.

This was necessary; the shop was too dingy and cramped for comfort. It was also a rather jerry-rigged affair. Crude benches, faded rexine flooring and, usual for most shops in the vicinity, saucepans of food placed on platforms of sunbaked earth. An irascible man in kurta-pyjama and a greying stubble sat behind the saucepans and kept barking orders. We ate to our hearts' content for six Rupees, even in those days an absurdly low figure. I can still recall my father chuckling.

Today, the place has revamped itself completely. Spotlessly clean, brightly lit, it even exudes a feeling of airiness. Narrow, rather uncomfortable benches flank mica-topped tables. The walls are lined with coloured ceramic tiles. Pictures of Mecca share wall space with framed testimonials certifying they had supplied food for Iftar parties at some of Delhi's poshest hotels(!). The old man, by name Haneef Qureshi, is still going strong, as dour as ever. (Except now and then he unbends slightly to welcome a regular, for example - heh heh - yours truly.)

One thing that has not changed is the reasonableness of the prices. Mutton Seekh Kababs and Tikkas still sell for thirty-six Rupees a plate, while their buff counterparts sell for sixteen. One word of caution, though. The buff Tikka is made not of meat as we know it, but of heart muscle. This Qureshi Sahab himself told me one day. It should have grossed me out, but did not. I promptly ordered a plate.

The stuff was far softer and juicier than the Tikkas other shops generate. In other respects it was hardly different in taste from regular meat. As a matter of fact, it was more succulent, juicier, and far richer in flavour than most buff Kababs I have eaten.

Kababs (in which class I also include Tikkas) are the specialties of the house. I don't know what they use for marinating the meat, but the end products have none of that overpowering vinegary aftertaste common to Kababs even from significantly higher-priced outlets. At the same time, the meat comes out much more tender than usual.

Ghalib's output does not aspire to the melt-in-the-mouth sophistication of Kakori Kababs. Short of that, they rank among the most wonderful you can get get in the town. They are surprisingly tender, and not the slightest bit chewy. Ghalib's makes them the traditional way, with skewers mounted on braziers. Drops of fat melting from the meat and dropping onto the coals impart a natural smokiness to the Kababs. (Punjabi cooks are wont to shove 'em skewers into tandoors, which prevents this, and so makes the Kababs more insipid.)

Spice levels are comparably low, though if you want the cook will happily smother it in red-pepper powder. This way, the natural flavour of the meat comes through nicely. The Kababs are thus juicy, never dry. The mutton tikkas are made from regular goat-meat (no heart-stuff). They may reek of vinegar at times, but I've had this happen to me only rarely.

In recent times, the shop has tried to expand its horizons, with mixed results, Their mutton Korma's pretty good, though oily. The Biryani's average, rather dry. Somehow the meat juices don't permeate through the rice. The only time I bought chicken Tikka I was sorely disappointed. The same vinegar problem, magnified tenfold due to the chicken's delicate natural flavour. Indeed, the vinegar smothers out the taste of the meat completely. These days, Ghalib's also sells what it calls 'Tandoori Chicken'. Fortunately, this is nothing but chicken legs grilled on braziers. I've never tried it, but people who have say it's pretty good.

Never ever try their Shami Kababs. They are doughy, bland, and about twice the thickness of regular Shamis; in dimensions they resemble ice-hockey pucks more than anything else. Chomping through the chickpea paste, one can detect the occasional whiff of meat, but only just. My hunch says they've been outsourced from McDonalds.

Possibly the Firni is also outsourced, but it sure doesn't disappoint. Light, not too sweet, and very easy on the palate, it makes for a wonderful end to a heavy, meaty meal. And at ten Rupees a good-sized serving, it also represents excellent value for money.


Manohar said...

I was in Malaysia and have tasted the food there. But the way you eat is like enjoying a beautiful concert. Wa This the way to eat and enjoy. I dont know about this corner but will certainly visit this corner.

I was also struck by a very nice majmoon by a marathi adib called Dalvi. He wrote something like this about Dadar Mumbai food corners.

Wa maza aya paRnese