I was a wretched mess after my last trip to Delhi. And the trip before that one too. The best part about last time was that nothing in Delhi really caused the germ onslaught. It was a simple bottle of cold Gatorade that I’d chugged after landing in Dubai which wiped me out for two weeks after. Sore throat -> no voice -> allergies -> infection -> MISERY.
Had it been a cold bowl of kulfi or ice cream falooda in Delhi, I’d have at least felt like a worthy martyr. But really…Gatorade? Alas, the life of a pansy.
Anyhoo, I finally dragged myself to the Doc a week later, wheezing into his office [after he was 45 minutes late and my emotional state had transformed from MISERY -> VIOLENCE] and ranting on about how I just got back from Delhi and felt stuffed up and congested and drained and flemmy and weak and ohforGodSakesgimmeantibioticsbeforeIkillsomeone.
Doc responded: You were in Delhi?? Tell me you went to Karim’s for their kababs!
I hadn’t. Violence -> Silent self-pitying sob at having missed one of the legendary Mughlai must-eats in Delhi.
All has been corrected now. Loaded up on the antibiotics and antihistamines. Cleared of congestion. And most importantly, as of last weekend, I have been to Karim’s.
The trip to the Nizamuddin branch of Karim’s (the original one is in the old part of town, Chandni Chowk) was made possible by the same blessed uncle who has been the chief curator of my earlier Delhi adventures. Nizamuddin Dargah is home to the tomb of a world-renowned Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya, and is a part of town immersed in Muslim footsteps, clothing, culture, and food.
My uncle and I seated my two aunts at Karim’s, dumped our bags, debated what to order, and then rushed out again into the alleys to squeeze some sightseeing in as the chefs at Karim’s cooked up our meal. Every meal should be like that. Order, trapeze around town, hustle back, eat. Zero waiting and wretchedly drooling as you watch everyone around you tuck into their food.
That little post-dinner tour of Nizamuddin Dargah was an enchanted, religiously-tinged blur. White-capped men and egg-and-bread stalls and colored textiles and flower baskets and cross-legged vendors and ridiculously narrow, alleyways with scooters trying to honk their way through them, and raindrops as it started to drizzle as we slipped off our sandals, covered our heads to enter the sacred tomb of Nizamuddin Auliya…only men allowed in the main tomb area, as a woman, I could only trace my fingers along the marble latchwork lining the tomb…and then dash to a beautifully-lit mosque-type dome, overlooking an open area where Sufi saints dance every Thursday night, and then, all of a sudden, the rain frenzies into a pelting shower. We turn around, start racing back to Karim’s, past the white-capped men and the egg-and-bread stalls and the colored textiles and the flower baskets and the cross-legged vendors and the alleyways. Those ridiculously narrow, but throbbing with life, alleyways.
The meal at Karim’s was indescribable. None of my words or photos can do justice. I cannot even begin to convey why the fenugreek gravy soaking through and through every tender chicken shred of the Shahjahani Murgh made me go weak in the knees. Or why I was shocked at how the meat, presumably lamb, in the famous Muslim Nawabi dish Naihari, was melting apart into threads of meaty juice on my plate. [I could have sworn this had been slow cooked overnight.] Or why I had never before really understood why people made such a fuss about Shirmal bread (aka Baqarkhani Kulcha at Karim’s). Why no bread I’d ever tasted before even remotely resembled the milky, cardamom infused buttery triangle that was blatantly teasing the savory richness of the gravies on my plate with its own soft, decadent sweetness. The kulfi we ordered for dessert felt redundant…the Shirmal could have been on both my bread plate, as well as my dessert one, and I’d still be floating out with that feeling of having just been fed one of the most royal meals of my life.
Most of you are accustomed to snickering at my accounts of food. But even jokers have their moments of deep contemplation when something touches them deep within, below all those layers of face paint and crazy foolishness. And this joker was having her moment right there, on that table at Karim’s, over Shirmal and Naihari.
I have to come back here. For Karim’s, for those pencil-thin alleys outside, and for the life that weaves between them. There’s an aura about Nizamuddin Dargah that draws you towards it. My uncle was afraid that I’d feel claustrophobic – but I felt anything but that. The place touched me with this overwhelming sense of peace…and just maybe, the religious air granted me a blessed seal of health. This time, when I landed in Dubai, I didn’t fall sick again.
…and even if I do, at least this time I’ll redeem myself at the Doc’s when he asks me if I visited Karim’s.
168/2, HZT. Nizamuddin West
New Delhi – 110016, India
Phone: +91 (11) 41827871/72/73/74