Talk about Nihari in Delhi, and somehow the name of Kallu Ustad invariably crops up. Rahul Verma mentions him in a column, the occasional website includes his fare in one of its old Delhi walks, and every other nihari lover counts him in her favourites.
Little wonder then that I had been wanting to visit Kallu’s shop for quite a while now.
My first attempt to locate the place was unsuccessful, partly because it was on one of our EOiD “field trips” to the Jama Masjid area, and frankly there were far too many other interesting places to try out close by. The second time I had rushed there with a friend at about 7:30 in the evening, only to be told that they had already run out of their stuff.
The third time my luck was even worse: I had woken up at the crack of dawn, driven my car like a maniac halfway across Delhi and through the back-lanes of puraani dilli, then having lost my way, taken a rickshaw — and on getting there, was told by a worker clearly unused to the idea that someone actually didn’t know their timings, that they open for business only in the evening. This was about as unexpected as a sad ending to a Bollywood film, considering nihari is traditionally a workman’s breakfast, something that at little cost fortifies him for a day of hard labour.
So it was with not a little trepidation, and only in the belief that Vinayan would be my lucky charm, that I decided to take yet another shot at Kallu’s Nihari last Thursday, as a prequel to yet another of our field trips.
This time, I was there by 5:15pm, and even before we could see the shop itself, a reassuring throng of customers came into view. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Kallu’s shop is even more modest than Haji Noora’s in Bara Hindu Rao, with just a small tiled area serving as a place to sit on the floor and eat. Its proximity to the tandoor means that in this weather, sitting inside the shop makes Dante’s Inferno sound like a nursery rhyme. Consequently, most people prefer to find a spot outside, be it the doorstep of a neighbouring house, the window ledge on an unsuspecting wall, or the seats of a parked scooter.
Vinayan and I were a little tired from the rather circuitous route we took to get there, so we gladly lodged ourselves on a bench in a small shop next door which Kallu’s establishment seems to use as part-warehouse, part-restaurant. I promptly asked for the larger size of helping of nihari (for Rs. 25 apiece) for each of us, and Vinayan went off to get us some water from another store in the alley.
Which as it turns out, was the best thing he did, because Kallu’s nihari is nothing if not hot. The meat is tender enough to flake off at the touch of a roti, but that would be the minimum I would expect from a shop of such stature. The spices in the curry, however, I am in no position to comment upon, because with the very first bite, my taste buds had laid down their weapons and gone into a dead faint.
Kallu’s regulars on the other hand, are clearly not so faint of heart, because he now finds it necessary to actually add to the nihari a garnishing of sliced green chillies!
Despite my induced gustatory amnesia of the whole event, I am certain the nihari must have been good, because in minutes both Vinayan and I had used the soft, piping hot khameeri rotis to mop up our extra-large plates of nihari to the point of sparkling.
That said, I think until I can train my tongue for another battle at Kallu’s, I shall stick to Haji Noora’s stuff, thank you very much.
Location: Shop No. 180, Chhatta Lal Mian. A 10 minute rickshaw ride from the Jama Masjid. Or a short walk from the Delite Cinema in Darya Ganj, but you’ll have to keep asking your way. Quite close to Tiraha Behram Khan (a junction of three streets with a mess of electric cables and a tree in the middle), an important local landmark. Approximate Map Location
Price: The usual helpings of nihari are for Rs. 15, but you can order the larger size for Rs. 25. Rotis are Rs. 2 each.
Timings: 5pm to 7pm daily. The earlier you get there, the better.
Update [Sep 7, ’07] Haji Noora Repr(a)ise: Vinayan and I visited Haji Noora’s yesterday morning. I hadn’t been there since last winter, so I’d forgotten just how good it was. We both agreed without any hesitation that the Haji’s nihari beats Kallu’s hands down.