It’s been written about ad nauseum. Throw a stone, and you’re liable to hit a foodie in whom it inspires a religious zeal the Imam at the Jama Masjid next door would envy. If you hear my friend Nishant talk about it, you’d think he’d been to the Rapture – and got an autograph.

Like a tutu-clad elephant in the room, Karim’s has hitherto been respectfully ignored by this blog. But what better time to make amends than just after having held a record-breaking EOiD gathering there?

As a matter of fact, EOiD’s very first “field trip”, all the way back in October 2006, had been to Karim’s for breakfast. I have fond memories of that trip, not least because that was the day I met several of the people I’ve spent such good times with over the last two years.

But that trip was also memorable for the food we ate: Karim’s mutton nihari and paaya (trotters) are probably some of the best in town. I prefer the buff nihari at Haji Noora’s any day, but for those who’d rather not partake of any meat remotely bovine, Karim’s is the obvious recommendation for an early morning warmer-upper. And nihari, as indeed virtually any gravy dish, is best accompanied by fluffy khameeri rotis (the yeast-powered version of the tandoori roti) and sheermal, both of which Karim’s excels at. The sheermal in particular is remarkable for an understated sweetness that puts it in a different class altogether from the version served at more pedestrian places.

On previous occasions, I have tried several other dishes at Karim’s and enjoyed them thoroughly. A comprehensive list is hard to put down, but the tandoori burra, the Shahjahani murgh, the Badshahi Badam Pasanda, the Nargisi kofta, and the seekh kababs certainly come to mind.

So when Aniket, one of the founder members of EOiD announced he’s moving out of Delhi, I thought it would only be fitting if we saw him off with another excursion to Karim’s. Only this time, we wanted to go for the big one.

Carelessly flung in the middle of Karim’s menu, the Tandoori Bakra arrests your eye with its price. Rs. 4500 reads the entry, or roughly ten times the price of any other dish on the list. We’d only heard whispered legends of the Bakra: a full goat, roasted to perfection in an underground oven, and stuffed with biryani, chicken, eggs, almonds and pistachios, the Tandoori Bakra is a feast that feeds up to 15 people. Invitations sent to our mailing list elicited an unprecedented response, as people spread the word amongst their friends and signed up in droves. With 34 confirmed attendees, we went over to Karim’s a couple days early and booked not one but two full bakras.

Foodies are generally an amiable, laid-back lot, and our excursions typically begin with an obligatory wait for stragglers ambling in 15 to 30 minutes late. It is no small testament to Karim’s reputation that last Sunday saw a full quota of 34 hungry souls milling outside their gates, at the exact appointed hour of 8pm. It took another 20 minutes to get us seated, and another 10 for the waiters to make their entrance bearing large platters of meat.

What followed was a spectacle straight out of a Fred Flintstone fantasy — men tearing and pulling and carving the flesh onto enthusiastically proffered plates, while the more reticent stood at a distance on the pretext of taking photographs.

That sadly, ends the complimentary part of this review. None — not one — of us found a good word to say about the vaunted Bakra. Where we’d expected meat that would melt in our mouths, we found a tough, chewy and stringy old goat. Where we’d expected delicately marinated spices, we noticed red pepper carelessly sprinkled. Where we’d expected juicy morsels to sink our teeth into, we found dry portions that no green chutney nor delicious gravy could relieve. Where we expected the Bakra of our lives, we wanted to Raan for our lives.

But it is not just the Tandoori Bakra that would leave Haji Karimuddin worried about his legacy. There are several aspects in which the establishment is doing scant justice to its name.

First, demand prediction and service under pressure. Weekends are busy days at Karim’s, and stories of exceedingly poor service are rife. We were promised a full hall booked exclusively for our group, but we arrived to find not a single reserved table. It took almost half an hour before the promised hall was fully emptied of its diners, a period during which our group were forced to hang about outside, only adding to the chaos and commotion in the establishment. And after the order was taken, the waiters returned to say that they had run out of one dish (the Karim’s Vegetable), and that there was all of one sheermal left. This at the prime dinner time of 8:30pm.

Second, the meagre vegetarian menu. It would be quite acceptable to me if Karim’s chose not to serve any vegetarian food whatsoever. But if for whatever reason it feels compelled to cater to herbivores, it has no business dishing out the kind of vapid slop that it calls Makhani Daal. And the less said about the anaemic Paneer Tikkas, the better.

Third, quality control. Karim’s has opened up about a dozen branches all over the city. They acknowledge only one on their website — Dastarkhwan-e-Karim at Nizamuddin, but a phonecall confirms that the little establishments in areas like Chittaranjan Park, Zakir Nagar, Patparganj, etc are also all owned by them. However, there seems to be no effort at maintaining any quality standards across these locations. The Nizamuddin branch is probably the best alternative, but there the spices are milder and the taste distinctly watered down, perhaps in an attempt to cater to the expat population in the neighbourhood. The Zakir Nagar branch, just behind New Friends Colony, is such a disaster that on a night when I arrived there at 10:30pm without having eaten even lunch, I was forced to leave most of the food I had ordered.

It’d be a crying shame if Karim’s ends up leaving us only nostalgia as a reason to revisit it in the future!

Location: Gali Kababian, near Jama Masjid Gate No. 1. Ph. +91-11-23269880, 23264981. Map Location.

Price: Our dinner ended up working out to about Rs. 400 per head. In smaller groups you should expect to spend a bit more.

Photos of the breakfast trip to Karim’s in October 2006 by Harneet Bhatia. Photos of the Tandoori Bakra trip on 16 November 2008 by Sachin Kalbag. A short piece by Sachin on the same outing was published in the Mail Today on Sunday, November 23, 2008.

62 thoughts on “Karim’s”

  1. Made me go all nostalgic and mushy! Two years of EOiD ….
    I still remember that first trip taking the 6.30 am metro from Krishi Bhavan and Hemanshu coming in at Patel Chowk and I didnt’ recognise him since he used to hide behind a sadhubaba photo on orkut…. and then after the meal our sitting on the steps of the Jama Masjid, happily digesting the food.

    (and I agree with you about their inability to sustain a certain quality and their abysmal service…)

  2. The first photograph took me by surprise. 🙂 The group has come a long, long way.

    (And, like Aniket, I agree with everything you have to say about Karim, in here.)

  3. For me…the overall experience of 34 people feasting together one of the most legendary dishes of our times overtakes the lack of taste & flavour of the Bakra…

    I am sure Hemanshu would not agree to me but still I would say that the Sekkh Kebab & Muton Burra served by Karims is what legends are made of !!!

    And I would never forget the experience of cutting the Bakra into shreds within 5 minutes using 2 very small kitchen knives, it could have put any experienced butcher to shame !!!

    I still love Karims the same way before our Tandoori Bakra meet and would continue gorging there…

    Nishant “Che” Jha

  4. Hemanshu, it was high time that reviewers started being objective about Karim’s food rather than being overwhelmed by its reputation – thanks for this review.

    While Karim’s new branches are an embarassment. You could expand at such a pace and excel only if good chefs multiplied by mitosis! Even the Jama Masjid branch’s excellence is limited to the Burra, Ishtew and the breads (to be fair not many places can claim to excel in more than 3-4 preparations). The biriyani is of poor quality and once it almost tasted like the notorious ‘jeera fried rice’, maybe it was reheated in a pan in which they do tadka as well! I have been to the Noida and the Nizamuddin branches – the former is a disaster and while the latter meets the standards of an average muslim-mughlai joint (sorrry for the hyphenation but I use it as a symbol of a basic taste guarantee!)

    Maybe Hemanshu’s review and more such would give courage to critics who review Karim’s with some trepidation. On my visit to India over this weekend, I have worked out a breakfast stopover in Delhi on the way to Lucknow. And Al Jawahar would get my custom and my 4-yr old’s!

  5. Would have loved to, Hemanshu. But I will be reaching Delhi Sunday morning and will be in Lucknow only by 9:00 p.m. Anyways, I hope my posts on EOiD orkut thread on Lucknow are helpful to traveling group. As they say, ‘Dilli ka khana lashkari khana hai, Lucknow ka khana Nawabi’ – each has its own charm!

  6. Chief, you have done justice to the art of reviewing. Over the last several years Karim’s kitchen managers are trying hard to cook their own goose. And they have been quite successful at it too; only Ishtu, kababs and their fluffy rotis draw me there these days. Raan, which once used to compete with THE Sikandari Raan at Bukhara at one fifth of price, is now a chewy, meat bubble-gum, devoid of any taste. Siddhartha has rightly said whatever else was left of Karim’s branches; as also about how Jawahar is slowly moving into the void left by Karim’s. Just one addition: I still find their Preet Vihar franchisee outlet maitaining the Jama Masjid flavour. It’s a takeaway joint and handles the menu well.

    I hope the late-comers read your swipe at them and be more considerate about fellow foodies in future. Finally, my compliments to whoever clicked the photo captioned ‘Stuffed’.

  7. Saw Jenny’s blog that Hemanshu has linked to ‘..not one — of us found a good word to say ‘. Copy-pasting my post on her blog…

    “Jenny, I think most people who are not really intimadated by Karim’s fame would agree with your views on the food at Karim’s.

    The comparison with pig roast was a bit unfair though. You need to look at a pig and a goat to know that you are not going to get chunks of meat with a lot of fat (which gives it the ‘melt in your mouth’ quality) with a roasted goat! Goat meat has much more texture, that is why more famous goat preparations are curries/stews; and even kababs which are famous (like the burra) are cooked and then put in the tandoor. The other famous kebabs made of goat meat like the seekh kabab (on a charcoal grill) or galauti kabab (shallow fried on a griddle) are not made in the tandoor either because it is a very hot oven (700-800 deg. F) which would dessicate thin layers of meat very quickly. No surprise that many Indian restaurants in the west use lamb (the cheaper ones for availability but the upmarket ones for the meat).”

  8. While I agree with the need to be objective about Karim’s, to be fair to them I do feel that their strict policy of using only goat meat and vegetable oil (as a signboard proudly mentions, probably to reach out to a larger market) in their cooking has affected the quality and taste. Both lamb and buff (the latter being the popular choice of meat in most joints other than Karim’s in the area), due to their high fat content, are easier to cook, especially in a tandoor or barbecue. Many cooks, while cooking goats often compensate by separately adding animal fat, but the policy of using only vegetable oil would rule this out. What’s more, there is a serious problem with the quality of goat available in the markets in Delhi these days, most of which is just too old and undernourished, and hence chewy. Quality of meat is a more serious issue with the dry items – in curries and gravies the quality of meat might be masked by careful combination of spices. This probably explains why the curries and gravies at Karim’s still manage to hold it’s own when there has been a great fall in the quality of dry items in the menu.
    I agree that most of their expansion plans in terms of mushrooming of “Karim’s” outlets has been rather disastrous. They are probably rethinking this strategy. At least one of them, the one at Kamla Nagar, when I last visited, had removed the “Karim’s” signboard and had just started calling it “Mezbaan”. I agree with Pankaj that the outlet at Preet Vihar probably comes closest to the one at Jama Masjid in terms of taste. Incidentally this outlet also claims that theirs is the only genuine outlet of original Karim’s. And they get their niharis from Jama Masjid which is available here around lunch time.

  9. They could serve all kinds of mediocre junk on their menu for all I care, as long as they keep serving these two sublime, nonpareil things forever:

    Mutton Ishtoo (stew to all you angrezophiles)


    Why bother with all the other extraneous stuff when these would suffice for a brilliant meal, with the addition of a few khameeri rotis.

    But I exaggerate. They make a lot of other stuff very well too.

    For instance, the dal to order at Karim’s is not the godawful dal makhani. Rather one should order the masoor ki daal which is made in a very characteristic North Indian Muslim style with onions and garlic. It’s a very subtle dish and provides a lovely counterpoint to the more spicy offerings.

    The shaami kababs are very nice – I actually prefer them to their seekh kababs.

    If you’re going to order two curries, don’t order the nargisi kofta and the qorma together. They have the exact same gravy.

    Everyone knows Karim’s biryani sucks – it’s completely pointless to order it.

    The sheermal, as you noted is delectable. The khameeri rotis are great too, though the place that has outstanding khameeri rotis is the Afghan restaurant in Ballimaran.

    As for the whole bakra fiasco…hmm…here’s the thing. Roast goat is rather tricky to get right because as has been discussed, the meat is rather chewy and better suited to prolonged cooking (which roasting over a low fire for a long time should take care of)

    I’ve been present at many a lamb roasting, and granted lamb is more fatty so perhaps less of a challenge. But the trick has been – a) get a young spring lamb, b) baste with some sort of marinade continuously.

  10. Hemanshu many thanks for this great blog.
    I remember very fondly many nights at Karim’s this past summer and am sorry to hear about the bakri fiasco. As I see it the Chicken burra is the way to go – the dal makhani and biryani should be avoided.
    I went once with a vegetarian who tried a dish whose name I don’t recall – dates in a thick gravy and surprisingly good.

  11. I will describe Karim’s in 2 words: Overrated and pedestrian. By no stretch of imagination does Karim’s at old Delhi or its avatars all over Delhi, serve gourmet Mughlai food. In one of my trips to Delhi, I specifically made a beeline for Karim’s, on the basis of its reputation (I consider myself a foodie, with leanings towards Lakhnavi food). I was disgusted at the arrogant behaviour of the waiters at Karims; the meat portions being served were of dubious quality.. untrimmed… I have been buying meat for my household for many decades – I know how joints should be cleaned and trimmed. Apparently Karim’s does not know, or does not bother. The curries were floating in orange oil – a common phenomenon in such restaurants. And of course, the prices were hitting the sky. Next door neighbour of Karim’s, Al- Jawahar, I would prefer any day. At least it does not share the superiority complex of Karim’s. Nor does it share the crowds of un-informed touristy-type customers, for whom, the ‘name’ is more important than the stuff that they are paying for.

    When I was posted to Delhi, I made it a point to explore many food joints of Delhi, both in the street food category as well as the starred category. I have come to the conclusion that in both varieties, the hyped food joints are useless.. and the lesser known ones are worth their salt. As for Karims? Its a big NO for me.

  12. “Nor does it share the crowds of un-informed touristy-type customers, for whom, the ‘name’ is more important than the stuff that they are paying for.”

    Excuse me? Unlike you, I have been to this particular location of Karim’s dozens of times. Not once have I seen tourists outnumber local diners. You make it sound like some sort of tourist trap which it isn’t.

    You seem to imply that those who love the food at Karim’s do not know better. That is a very ill-informed arrogant assertion to make. I come from a goat-meat loving family, and for many years my father used to buy his meat and fish at the Jama Masjid fish and meat market.

    Everyone has their own preferences with cuts of meat. Some folks like just plain chunks of trimmed meat, some like the odd bits and bones. When it comes to making a curried dish with goat meat, it is undeniable that it is the bony bits that give real flavour to the gravy.

    Also this paranoia with oil is pretty recent (read Gary Taubes’ excellent book), but in every Asian nation with a hot climate and tradition of curries, the dish calls for a layer of oil floating on top. Whether it is the Iranian khoresht, the Thai gaeng, the Indonesian kari. The oil acts as preservative in the absence of refrigeration.

    All you need to do is spoon out the excess oil. If you’re still squeamish just don’t order the dish. But don’t complain when something is the way it is supposed to be.

  13. Just to put this in context: even I regularly buy meat, and almost always instruct the butcher NOT to trim the joints and not to cut it too small. I always get quite perplexed by customers who prefer their meat trimmed and in small pieces.

    Matter of personal preferences, I guess…

  14. This place is grossly overrated. I was in Delhi a few months ago. Tried it a couple of times. Mediocre stuff.

    Persian Durbar at Bandra, Bombay or Delhi Durbar at Colaba, Bombay are superlative any day…. And of course much less hyped.

  15. @Samiulla – Far be it from me to start a Delhi-Bombay standoff, but Delhi Durbar is hardly what I’d call a “less hyped restaurant. Almost every food guide to Bombay mentions Delhi Durbar, and usually in fairly superlative terms.

    I’ve never had a meal there though, so can’t really compare.

    BTW, which Karim’s did you visit?

  16. Thalassa
    Permit me to persuade you that I do not harbor any regional prejudices. Incidentally I do happen to be from Bombay though I have been not been staying there for a while.

    I was in Delhi on a business trip mid 2008. The eatery in question has been endorsed pompously by CNN, TIME, BBC, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, FT, GUARDIAN etc. and of course every Indian media outlet worth its print. On their premises you will find beaming and grinning endorsements of a broad phalanx of Indian politicos of all denominations. The Indian blogosphere too abounds with unadulterated plaudits for Karim’s. So much so for the “hype” part of my post.

    I visited their Nizamuddin outlet twice in a week. The service is extremely unfriendly and overbearing. I found the staff to be cold, indifferent and slow to respond. Prices too are un-reasonable by comparable standards.
    My first visit was a disappointment, the second was worse. I tried a variety of their offerings and none could mark up. On the insistence of a friend, I visited it again after a couple of days. Karim’s is and remains a myth. Their food sadly is pedantic and mediocre and does not deserve any attention.


    P.S. Do try Delhi Durbar (Colaba) and Persian Durban (Bandra) on your next trip to Bombay. You will then surely agree that Karim’s is a over glorified shack.

  17. Ah – poor you. You went to the Nizamuddin branch. That’s not the one everyone waxes eloquent about. Next time, visit the Jama Masjid branch.

    Also, I find it very hard to believe that you do not harbour any regional prejudices given the strength of the ire directed towards Karim. Nizamuddin Karim is a “glorified shack”? Given the pictures I’ve seen of Dilli Durbar, it hardly looks any different.

    Granted the Nizamuddin branch is not a patch on the Jama Masjid branch, but it’s hardly terrible food.

    By the way, what exactly is “pedantic food”?

  18. I think you are getting a tad too touchy about this, Thalassa. Why?

    From what I hear the Jama Masjid branch is not maintained hygenically and is located in a ghetto.

    I wish you happy grubbing at Karims for the remainder of your existence.

    Peace. Each to his own.

  19. @Samiulla

    “From what I hear the Jama Masjid branch is not maintained hygenically and is located in a ghetto” is a very strong statement to make considering that you have not even visited the area. Ghetto is a very western description and sounds too snobbish in Indian context – there are mohallas and bastis all over the country which have the best eateries run by same families for generations – all in places which by your definition would be ghettos. Well is ‘Ghantewala’ or ‘Parathewali gali’ in a ghetto? Would ‘Rahim ki Nihari’ near Akbari Gate and ‘Alamgir’ in Nazirabad in Lucknow be considered a ghetto? Or what ‘Noor Mohammadi’ and ‘Shalimar’ on Mohammad Ali Road in Mumbai be ghetto restaurants?

    I can go on about it that’s why (as mentioned in my earlier post on this page which would also indicate that I hold no brief for Karim’s) I was keen that my 4-year old son visits this ghetto – a trip which we had to squeeze in during a short 6 hour stopver in Delhi. I feel so good about the decision because during the rickshaw ride from Chawri bazaar to Matia Mahal next to Jama Masjid we came across two ‘Daulat ki Chaat’ vendors, even though we were a tad late for the Nihari. And no, not even with a European conditioned stomach, did my son have any problems with ‘hygiene’ at these places:


    I have known more Europeans fall sick after eating salads at 5-star hotels than after eating Nihari at Karim’s near Jama Masjid!

  20. It’s funny.. to have someone commenting about Karim’s without even bothering to visit Jama Masjid! And..

    “From what I hear the Jama Masjid branch is not maintained hygienically and is located in a ghetto.”

    I would be really interested in knowing the source of this brilliant piece of information !!!

    Wish you happy commenting and judging for the remainder of your existence.

  21. I dont mean to aggravate your wounded sensibilities, but if Jama Masjid or Bhendi Bazaar in Bombay do not qualify to be called “ghettos”, which place does?

    Also since when did this term become a Western affront on Indian sensitivity?

    They have more than their share of China Towns and Little Indias.

    Thats a cute pic of your son. I wish him all health and cheer.
    Point taken. Karims at Jama Masjid is the kosher one.

    Soumya, an acquaintance (a Delhite) was the source of that brilliant piece of information. She stands by her words.

    No offence meant folks, I did not mean to use any term for a derogatory or offensive way. If it did seem that way, it was not intended to be so.

    Good luck and keep up the swell work on this blog.

  22. Wow. Just wow. So Chinatowns and Little Indias are ghettos?

    By the way, the cognitive dissonance between your two comments is rather amusing.

    I feel sorry for your acquaintance. She’s missing out on some of the best food in Delhi if she wouldn’t step foot in the area surrounding Jama Masjid.

    Next time, ignore the naysayers and head straight to the Jama Masjid Karim. I’m sure you’ll find much to delight.

  23. Ooh – but Hemanshu, the Karim version is slightly chewy and I find the hint of kewra to be just right.

    Which restaurants serve your favourite phirni? I should go check them out when I’m in Delhi next.

    1. @Thalassa:

      Hmm.. you’re probably right about the kewra. I wasn’t thinking of any restaurants, though.. just places like that guy at Nizamuddin basti, or the one in the Urdu Bazaar in front of the Jama Masjid, or even that Pehelwaan chap at Zakir Nagar.

  24. Hi,

    I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be very good.. u write well.. Why don’t you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘Eating Out in Delhi’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;

    BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run http://www.rambhai.com where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!

    This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. 🙂


  25. @EOiD :
    Do check out the chicken available near Filmistan, Karol Bagh, in an area called “Baada”. You just might forget Karim’s !

    The shop’s name is something like “Chickan corner”…dont remember the exact name.

  26. I was at Karims on Saturday. Ordered the burra kabab, seekhs, kheema, mutton stew and chicken stew. They didn’t have any brain curry that day. I think the food was pretty mediocre and overpriced for the taste/quality.

    Any recommendations for beef seekh kababs in Delhi. I am muttoned out, need some beef! Arrived at lunch so missed the nihari and paya. Is it worth the trip to Karims or should I just head to Haji Noora?

  27. i totally agree with this review and specially when you say that Karim is just overhyped…. it truely is.. the roadside small muslim dhabas are way better and i have been hearing about jawahar in jama masjid more and more now… for me i dont ahve to go out and hunt for mughlai delicacies.. all i do is wait for some family dinner or lunch at my mamu’s place… we get dehg’s cooked of achaari biryaani and korma and that does it for me… even nihaari… 🙂

    but still everyone i know still wants to go to karim and taste the bad food there… ohh and the vegetarian food is a pity….

    btw i have a suggestion… there is this place in east delhi called al nazeer.. they have really good mughlai food… the biryaani and the butter chicken is to die for say my hardcore purani dilli mein pali badi mother… 🙂

  28. Wow!! Sorry to catch up so late with the discussions. Firstly, to go back to my earlier post: by untrimmed meat, I meant portions which have not been trimmed of unwanted, generally inedible parts, like ligaments, glands, fatty sheaths, membranes, tissues etc. I did not mean small or large pieces, bones or boneless portions. When an informed meat purchaser visits a butcher shop, he is generally particular that the meat should be ‘clean’, i.e trimmed properly. Mostly, butchers grab the nearest portion, slam the chopper on it to create chunks and pack it for the uninformed. The informed customer, will have none of it, I am sure. I am also sure that Karim’s is an informed customer, but is least bothered about it. And why should he? He already has a surfeit of customers, who wouldn’t care less!! About the floating oil bit, I fully agree that oil acts as a preservative layer, in tropical countries, in the absence of refrigeration. I also know that if a dish is freshly prepared and consumed soon after, as in a fast moving goods category, it won’t need preservative!! If it does, maybe its an indicator that the curry is not so fresh, and is from the previous day’s batch, being re-heated!! LOL. Summer or winter, do curries in our homes need a layer of dubious quality oil to last the day?? I think not.

    But why blame Karim? I indicated that the much hyped restaurants are known for their hype rather than their preparations. Another example would be [i]Parathe Wale Gali[/i], now in the limelight again due to a spate of Delhi-based movies. The parathas of the Gali are not parathas by any stretch of imagination!! They are fried like poories in a kadhai (wok) and served with a watery aloo sabzi, on greasy steel plates and earn a ‘wah wah’. The prices of these poori-parathas are by no means inexpensive. OK by me. I am not going to be outsmarted by these fellows, who hang photos of celebrities on their grimy walls, serve food of dubious quality and have people going ga-ga over them. Its a sort of snobbery in inverse, I guess. There are suckers born every minute, and now its my turn to have quiet laugh, while another generation of foodies get ripped off in these joints.

  29. @ Joey

    Hmmm.. Two points:

    1. The definition of “edible” (and by extension, “inedible”) portions of meat really differs from person to person and across cultures. You must have seen a butcher carefully preserving many pieces of meat that we often tend to throw away as “inedible” (chicken feet, for instance). On the other hand, I always get horrified at the sight of some customers throwing away portions that I would relish: the layer of fat, for instance, between skin and the flesh, or the liver, stomach and the brain. For that matter, in many parts of the world people throw away the chicken legs – something which probably would be among the most preferred portions in much of North India. So think twice before you call any portion of the meat “inedible”, and those buying meat with these parts as “uninformed”. It is quite likely that they relish these portions and are probably more “informed” than you are..

    2. Regarding the layer of oil, I hope you would know that one of the fundamental test that an Indian curry has been cooked properly is when the oil comes and floats at the top. This does not necessarily mean that the curry is more oily than the one where oil does not come up. Typically, oil not coming up at the end of cooking an Indian curry would imply that the cook has messed it up. Of course, you are free to not like a curry cooked in this tradition. But then don’t blame the cook for this – just go to a joint where the curry is cooked in a different cooking tradition.

  30. I agree with you, Soumya. I did not use the word ‘offal’, for fear that it may sound offensive. However, while one man’s meat is another man’s poison, it is also true that ligaments, tissues, glands, membranous parts etc. are normally removed from meat portions. By your argument, (and you are correct, of course), nothing is inedible. The butchers and fish-mongers will raise their hats (caps) to you, I am sure. Don’t clean the meat / fish. Sell together with the offal.. at the usual rates, earn money and also earn kudos from less-discerning customers!!

    As regards oil floating on top.. OK by me again. Why should I bother about your triglycerides. Why should I comment that this oil of dubious quality is either cheap hydrogenated vegetable oil (vanaspati), saturated with trans-fats, which you and I would not dream of using in our homes, or it is molten beef / buffalo fat, which, again, you and I would not dream of using for domestic purposes. Its strange that we are so strict in our homes as regards to food quality, but become liberal and non-discerning while visiting joints which survive more on the basis of their market hype than on the basis of the food served by them.

    I rest my case here. Bon apetite!!

  31. @Joey

    “molten beef / buffalo fat, which, again, you and I would not dream of using for domestic purposes”…

    very presumptuous, indeed! I hope you know that in many regions and cooking traditions, molten beef/buffalo/goat is the principal cooking medium. It is the main medium, for instance, for cooking most fried vegetables in my ancestral town in Bengal. And most of our previous generations in the countryside who have been brought up on this have lived longer and have had much lesser instances of heart problems than us.

    By the way, current scientific understanding holds the so-called healthy oils (like sunflower, groundnut) to be the greatest health hazard. A little bit of googling will give you a lot of information on this.

    1. I agree with Soumya about the oil coming on top – this is not only the cooking oil but also the fat from the meat. Called the ‘loab’, this is an integral part of Mughlai and Awadhi cooking. Regarding concerns for triglycerides, I can only say that since the fat separates from the meat and the gravy it is easy to remove it. First when your portion is plated, lot of the oil is removed by the person serving. Later on, you can remove the oil/fat onto another plate – and , no, you dont need to feel ‘out of place’ place doing this. In fact in many such restaurants, you would find patrons seeking a separate plate on which they drain the fat on top.

      And then no one is making a case that this is food that should replace you daily ‘daal-chawal’.

  32. Oh gosh, Joey if you’re so goddamn paranoid about your food, just give Karim a miss. In fact give most restaurant food a miss, because most places would use a lot more oil than what we use at home. But don’t make this masquerade as some sort of discerning gourmet criticism of Karim’s food. You obviously know nothing of the cuisine and yet do not hesitate to shoot your mouth off about it.

    Oh, and as for Paranthey Waali Gali, Sirji, I could sit here all day trying to disabuse you but I have better things to do with my life. Paranthas can be made in many diffrent ways. They can be even made on a greased ulta tawa, shallow fried in a shallow kadhai, toasted in a tandoor, and then toasted on a tawa. There is no one standard way to make a parantha – try to respect food diversities and do not impose your own version of how things should be on others.

    And then we have Mr. Samiullah, who continues to repeat his claim ad nauseaum even though it has been explained to him very patiently that the Karim’s where he ate was the Nizamuddin branch and we are discussing the Jama Masjid branch. What part of Jama Masjid branch do you not understand?

  33. I have already rested my case, remember? But if you guys cannot tolerate divergent views, why do you leave this discussion open for guests? Supposing we all say the same thing: KARIM’S IS GREAT!! Will it be OK? End of discussion?

    Cheers and Bon appetit!!

    1. Joey, if you browse through the earlier comments on this post as well as on others, I’m sure you would realize that there is plenty of divergence in views between people interacting here; divergence which I heartily welcome. There are no insiders and outsiders here, everyone (except perhaps the authors), are “guests”. I’d welcome your constructive response to the criticism, but please don’t make it sound like you’re being victimized.

  34. Joey, discussion of divergent views is exactly what we are doing here. But it seems it is you who is getting irritated with the discussions here.

    Speaking of tolerance, I hope you show some tolerance for people who relish eating portions of meat you would rather throw away, cooking in a tradition that requires oil to come to the top, or, horror of horrors (!) likes to cook with molten beef/buff fat..

    And yes, most of us criticized you not because you criticized Karim’s (which many of us do in any case: just read Hemanshu’s original post again), but picking on some of the aspects of it’s food which are a part of it’s cooking tradition and not due to a mistake made by it’s cooks. So let us stop getting so touchy and get back to what this is all about: debating and discussing divergent opinions about food and eating joints.

  35. Yeah, Thalassa. I admit I am paranoid, and I know nothing about cuisine. So I will not shoot off my mouth now. Samiullah is also a highly disturbed person. God help our souls. Anyway, can you informed foodies inform me as to where I can get moderately decent galouti kebabs in Delhi? Almost every joint I visit in Delhi: Punjabi and Mughlai, has tikkas and seekhs. Few have shamis. No galoutis. Recently I ordered a plate of seekhs and a plate of shamis at Al Jawahar, next door neighbor to the the superlative Karim’s. The seekhs @ Rs 17/= a piece were OK. The shamis @ Rs 20/- a piece were hard, compact and not fried properly. Since I know nothing about cuisines, I asked them to refry the shamis again, which they did willingly, but the kebabs were so compact that the heat and the oil could not penetrate inside, while the outsides were fried crisp. A nasty experience. So any advice on availability of galoutis?

  36. The first time I visited Karim’s was in 1994 and immediately fell in love with the food – mutton stew (or is it ishtew?), tandoori roti and seekh kababs, eaten with rotis. In the 15 years that followed, I am a regular visitor- about once a month-with a bunch of friends who chnage according to their availability.

    Our menu usually revolves around kabab and safe curries like stew, qorma, chicken jahangiri and sometime mutton burra. I must confess kabab, roti and stew taste the same as 15 years ago!

    BUT, everytime we tried to be adventrous we have failed here. Tandoori Raan looks and tastes like over-cooked tandoori juck. Biryani [with boiled eggs? and without gravy??] tastes like fried rice with boiled mutton thrown in for extra spectacular measures, Vegetarian fare that rouses by suspicion is prepared only because it has to be in the menu- a burden Karim’s would rather not like to have but HAS to. It tastes so BAD and BLAND, I wonder if it is deliberate!?

    All in all, I have started looking for a different option. Tried changezi’s at Hindu Rao but was not mightly impressed. The chicken gravy is great but the quality of chicken is nothing to write about and the mutton? Dont try it if you are there. The worst part is the rotis. When you are brought up [as a foodie] on Karim’s rotis, comparisons are inevitable and the rotis at Changezi fail miserably.

    Give me some choices Hemanshu…

  37. Joey – Galaouti kabab are a Lucknawi tradition. We in Delhi don’t really do those very well. Though apparently now Tundey kababiya (the most famous purveyor of the galaouti) has opened up a formal shop in Delhi so that should provide some food for thought (they used to have a stand in Pragati Maidan).

    If you want a taste fairly similar to the galaouti but shaped on a seekh, you should try the kakori kababs ( I believe Dum Pukht serves them, and so does the UP stand at Dilli Haat).

    If you can stand to set aside your distaste of Karim for just a few minutes and get some shaami kababs to go, they actually make very decent shaami kababs.

    Hmm…Rampur kitchen used to make all these Lucknawi specialities but they closed down. Where does one get decent Lucknawi food in Delhi these days?

    1. Thanks for your inputs. As I am a Lakhnavi myself, having being born and stayed there for 21 formative years, I do sometimes yearn for Lakhnavi food, now that I am out of Lucknow for so many years. As a Central Govt. employee, I have had the good fortune of moving all over India and appreciate Mughlai foods of different flavors, be it Hyderabadi, Dilli, Kashniri, or even Kolkata (Rezala gravies, champs, haleem and other Matia Burz and Park Street delicacies). Coming to galaoutis, I have savored some at the UP stall at Dilli Haat, at the Food Court at Life Style Mall, Rajouri Garden, at a small stall adjacent to Shopper’s Stop, Rajouri Garden, etc. But there is no harm is trying on and on for better galaoutis, at Delhi. Being the eternal optimist, I consider Delhi as the food capital of India, and I am sure many unknown kiosks serve authentic stuff, but they remain unknown, because they are not covered by TV or print media hype. Lets hope that something really great hits my jaded palate sooner or later.

      I am aware of the one-armed Tunde mian of Lucknow. He started off with a small kiosk, more of a thela, way back in the 60s; and his stuff was just OK. But a combination of good luck, media hype and market forces soon made him a legend and he acquired cult status, with a lineage supposedly from the Newabi dastarkhwans. LOL. His family (and chain) expanded in Lucknow, quality suffered and I can vouch for a dozen small kiosks at Lucknow, which are way ahead of Tunda and his franchisees at Lucknow today (in quality, not hype) Of course, as you have so kindly informed me, I know nothing of cuisine, so I will not shoot off my mouth any further 🙂 Ciao and Tk Cre.

  38. Thalassa is right, Delhi was never really known for it’s galoutis. Personally, probably because I am a Delhite myself, I could never appreciate a galouti much: I always found the extra tenderness of a galouti came at the cost of reduced meatiness, due to added ingredients used to tenderize the meat. It might suit someone with weak teeth (which according to the legends was behind the origin of galoutis). Seekhs at Moinuddin’s or even Karim’s are as soft as it can get without the added interference of external tenderizers like raw mango, and I do not see the point of tenderizing it any further as long as you are still young/fortunate enough to have your teeth intact!!

    In Delhi, they do a fairly decent kakori at Salim’s in Khan Market (read about this in the Al Zahid piece by Hemanshu in this blog).

    Joey, it is good that you mentioned the Muslim/Mughlai cuisine of Calcutta. I am surprised why it has received so little attention than it deserves, and people hardly know about this unique cuisine outside Calcutta. With it’s characteristic dishes like rezala, chaamps, dhakai parottas etc. made typically from beef (though at places you have the mutton version) it is a cuisine distinct from the much better-known traditional Bengali cuisine of fish curries and fried veggies. I hope some enterprising chef brings this cuisine outside Bengal.

  39. Yeah.. Kolkata city cuisine has branched off into 4 distinct areas: (1) East Bengali cuisine, with spicy red curries and a profusion of green chillies (2) West Bengali cuisine – bland, sweetened with sugar (3) Tangra cuisine: Chinese – a mixture of authentic Chinese, Indianised Chinese, influences of Tibetan and NE snack foods and (4) Mughlai: famous for its Mughlai paranthas, rolls (Kathis for Delhites), rezalas (white, creamy meat curries – reminiscent of Afghani cusine served in Delhi), champs (desi steaks, in a fiery red curry base, biryanis (more of a pulao, sweetish, often garnished with kajus and raisins) and of course, haleems and niharis. The inspiration from the House of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah is obvious, although rezalas are unknown in Lucknow, the native place of the Newab!!

    Kolkata, and for that matter, all 4 metros of India, are foodie’s delights. But one must know the right place to savor the authentic goodies. Without the snob value, of course. And for that, the guidance of locals is a must. Guide books and restaurant reviews are a strict no-no.

  40. Yes, the mughlai Kolkata cuisine is strongly influenced by Lucknow, though in a much modified form. For those unfamiliar with the city and visiting it shortly, the rezala and champ at Aminia’s behind New Market or Sabir’s at Chandni Chowk comes strongly recommended. For more adventurous ones, it is worth visiting the Kidderpore area. Dominated by Bihari muslim community, this offers a very different kind of food. You have very small roadside joints offering simple and cheap working class meal of beef curry and rotis. Though less sophisticated than the mughlai food mentioned above, it is worth a try.
    For vegetarians, you also have joints offering authentic marwari food, especially in the areas dominated by marwaris like Brabourne road or Burrabazar.

    1. In Calcutta, Kidderpore is dicey, as we all know.. 😉 Hahaha… We can get good stuff in Park Circus area, also.. “BEEF BIRYANI”, loudly proclaims a signboard in front of a hole-in-a-wall eatery, in Free School Street. LOL. Another famous joint, near Esplanade (I forget the name.. ).. serves good haleem.

      As for Bengali cuisine at Delhi, try “Oh Calcutta”, if you are on an expense account. Else try “Shonar Ziaka” at Munirka, which serves authentic Bong food, minus the frills. Again, I would personally avoid the CR Park food joints. “Hype is Invariably Inversely Proportional to Quality”, says Joey’s First Law of Authentic Dining. Recently, I came across a restaurant, BABU MOSHAI in Faiz Road, Karolbagh, which announces itself as specialising in Bengali and Oriya cusine. Have not tried it yet. The place is not listed in any of the blogs / website devoted to foodies of Delhi. Ciao.

  41. I dont about Delhi but there are many restaurants in Bangalore making a living out of Kolkata Mughlai food (couple of outelts of Lazeez, Nizam’s etc.). Since my knowledge of Kolkata Moghlai is restricted to a couple of visits to Shiraz and Aminia, I cant comment on how autehntic they are but Rizalas taste good and Biriyanis come with a boiled potato!

    Soumya – In Lucknow (and I guess in most places for Awadhi food), they use raw papaya rather than raw mango as a tenderizer. Not sure if raw mango will work (no papain), and anyway will make it too sour. I accept your point, though, on Galauti being too soft for some – some westerners who have tried it find it akin to a pate’ and hence the almost paste-like texture is no big deal for them. Being in a democracy, I respect all these views (:-)), but being from Awadh I still think Galautis are great and Shamis are not match for them!

    Thalassa – Rampur Kitchen guys have moved to Bangalore and now run a restaurant named ‘Taste of Rampur’ there with the same chef (two years since I last visited the city, but I hope it still exists)

  42. You are right about galaoutis. They are an acquired taste, and being not-so-common, that acquired taste is rare. Shamis have a base of chana dal, plus onions and khada masala, together with the keema, which are cooked, then blended to form kebabs, before frying. On the other hand, galaoutis can be considered ‘raw’ kebabs, as the meat mince is simply ground with papaya shreds, salt and chillies, and made to stand for about 2 hours. The mixture is finely ground, mixed with a bit of roasted besan and slow fried. That way, shamis are cooked twice and galaoutis are cooked once. Correspondingly, shamis are longer ‘shelf’ life than galaoutis. The raw papaya and the raw meat mince mixture of the galaoutis possess a certain peculiar flavor, which can either attract or distract the foodie. But it can’t be ignored. The semi-rawness of the galaoutis also ensure that ready-to-fry galaoutis are not available in the market, even in Lucknow. But ready-to-fry shamis are available almost everywhere, due to their longer shelf life.

  43. I’ve been going to Karim’s since past 8 years now on a regular basis. I would like to say that quality has really gone down. I feel it’s the most “over-rated” Mughlai resturant in Delhi. The food is spicy & extremely oily. In the last 2 years whenevr I have ordered Mutton Burra, it has been complte waste of my Money. First of all, there’s hardly any meat & secondly, whatever meat is there is chewy…..burra should be tender, cooked on slow flame( charcoal) till it gets tender & has that Bar-B-Q taste. Karim’s burra has neither! When we complained to the waiter that we are not been able to chew the meat & it’s totally under-cooked, he gave us a strange look & informed us that it’s exactly like it should be! He meant to say that burra should be “Rubbery” & difficult to chew!

    Curries are slightly better then the dry itmes but still not upto the mark. I would (unfortunately) not recommend mutton curries to anyone b/c of the same fact that the meat is not tender. In chicken curries, atleast it’s somewhat better. The brand Karim’s has become so big that they now can sell anything! Their main problem is that their dishes are under-cooked & since they have to cater to heavy rush on weekends , the quality of food is extremely bad on weekends ! So, all in all, if one has to visity Karim’s then kae sure you visit them on weekdays!

  44. Condescending waiters from high profile restaurants, whether its Moti Mahal and Karim’s of Delhi, or Tunde of Lucknow are a pain in the ass and deserve a box on their ears, before being thrown out of the restaurant, where they work. On second thoughts, it is also true that they become the way they are, due to years of serving not-so knowledgeable customers or touristy types, who go ga-ga over brand names. I felt like slapping the waiter who served me mutton, with the ligaments and odds & ends still attached to the mutton pieces, at Karim’s, and that too with a supercilious attitude. Waiters prefer NRI types and expats, who eat blindly and leave fat tips to ‘local’ customers, who are critical and may not be fooled so easily. While one cannot slap a waiter (or the owner) in such circumstances, what one can do is never to visit such places again.

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