Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eating Stuff in the Car in Delhi: Kakori Kebab, Bhel Puri

Delhi, like the rest of India, is a bastion of street food. And the number one Delhi street food is, of course, the almighty kebab. Kebab functions as a catch-all word for a dizzying array of meat products on a stick here in India, but rest assured: whatever it is, it will be incredibly tasty. India being primarily Hindu and Muslim, kebabs are almost always made with mutton or chicken - vegetarian variants with paneer (cheese), potato, and mashed vegetables do exist.

Al Kauser
Off Sarder Patel Marg, near the Assam Bhavan. (Look for the stall with smoke coming off it, and lots of hungry people sitting on their cars. You can't miss it).




Sheila insisted that we try the kakori kebab at Al Kauser one night, and I was of no inclination to defy her. (I am rarely of such an inclination). Sheila, Rajeev, and myself accordingly jumped into the car, wherein Sheila grandly asked the driver to take us to the Kebab Place, and be quick about it. "It's just a stall, of course, but they are simply the most divine kakori kebabs in town. But it's just a stall, really."

(She was looking for an accomplice, in the dark art of Eating In the Car. We both knew it. And I was happy to oblige).

Al Kauser is a bit of a kebab stall institution, beloved by an entire generation of Delhi-ites for its kakori rolls. The kakori kebab roll, for the uninitiated, is made of ultra-finely cut ground lamb, ground to a fine paste and seasoned with garlic, cinnamon, cayenne, cardamon, cumin, and some other tasty aromatics. The result is an incredibly tender kebab that quite literally melts in your mouth, creating a decadently fatty explosion of flavor in one's mouth. As kakori kebabs are delicate things, they are usually served with ultra thin and buttery roomali roti. Traditional condiments are hyperactively spicy cilantro chutney with green chili, and pickled onions. Mix these elements up together and you've got a work of art. Kakori kebab is a foodstuff entirely suited for eating in your car or while standing up - that's the other beauty of them. And did I mention that kakori kebab is cheap?



Al Kauser is best known for its kakori kebab, but they also turn out a popular mutton burra kebab (mutton on the bone with a coating of yogurt and spices). Chicken tikka is on offer for wusses who can't handle mutton, but there's no real reason to bother. (I don't know why people bother with chicken tikka in general). Watching the cooks slap the kakori paste on the table and form it into kebabs at super-human speeds is half the fun. Must not be comfortable to spend all night working in a flaming inferno of a grill stall, but I'm glad they do it. As are a lot of people.

There is something delightful about devouring kakori kebab in the back of a car with a grand dame, dripping cilantro sauce and bits of roomali roti all over the upholstery. Since that is part of the sacred ritual of eating kakori kebab. It must not be abrogated. "God, I do love these!" Sheila commented after we polished off the last batch. She handed me a paper napkin. We both delicately and in a highly lady-like fashion wiped the mutton grease off our mouths. "You have to eat them in the car, darling," she said, as we pulled away. "It can't be done any other way."

Well, I'd concur.



We ended our casual-style dinner at a nearby shopping center, for bhel puri. Sheila has a bhel puri guy there she likes, and the three of us ordered up plates of the good stuff.



A lovely rendition. Plenty of fresh mango and onion, plenty of chutneys. A pleasant overdose of sev and seasonings. Not too dry, not too moist. Crunchier then most. Christ, I love bhel puri.



We adjourned to Haldiram's - one representative of India's ginormous Bengali fast-food chain - to sip on Diet Cokes and watch the locals sink their faces into thalis, samosas, and chaats. Sheila vacillated with the idea of getting some kulfi or some barfi, something like that, but talked herself out of it. "Too fatty," she sighed. "You know that Delhi is in the throes of an obesity epidemic."

Which it is. And we know why.

3 comments:

  1. making the Chicken Sheek Kabab or Bhel Puri Recipe at home is a better bet than eating outside.

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