City Food – Nihari & Paya, Al Jawahar & Karim’s
Old Delhi’s power breakfast.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Fish cutlets from the steps of the Jama Masjid, meatballs from Kucha Pandit, kheer from Hauz Qazi, qalaqand from Ghantewala, jalebis from Bhangi ka Katra, parathas from Qutb Shahi… The Delhi Walla ran through this line in an old cookbook on Old Delhi.
A food lover’s Old Delhi, or Shahjahanabad, is like a timeless novel that is being constantly discovered by new generations of readers. The Walled City adventures of a determined gourmand almost always starts with nihari and paya, the region’s signature delicacies.
The landmark Karim’s restaurant near the Jama Masjid is a popular starting point. But its nihari is not authentic. A true version uses the upper thigh of a cow. Since beef is a sensitive theme, most pavement eateries resort to buffalo. At the Karim’s, it is mutton.
The adjacent Al Jawahar is considered a better option, although here too it’s the same meat.
The owner of this no-frills eatery claims that it was inaugurated by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The place teems with clientele as the sun rises. Hungry breakfasters savour the nihari and paya, glistening in pools of red spice and fat.
Like nihari, paya is a wonderfully satisfying dish and is simmered overnight until the marrow is softened and the gelatine seeps off the bone. The khameeri roti is fresh off the tandoor and the side plate of lime wedges, chopped chilies and ginger slivers complete the nourishing meal.
Stewed in spices, turmeric and chillies, the meat in the nihari is extremely soft, and the marrow enhances the garlicky gravy, liberally spiced with mace and coriander powder. Each bite should invigorate, which is why nihari is associated as the morning food of labourers who need great amount of energy. Some say it originated in the royal kitchens of the Red Fort, before it percolated down to less exalted levels, following the fall of the Mughal Empire.
After you have got Al Jawahar (or Karim’s) out of the way, you are ready to embark on your culinary journey to Old Delhi.
Where Jawahar Hotel 9-10 Matia Mahal, Jama Masjid (23269241, 7am-11am), Karim’s 16 Gali Kababiyan, Jama Masjid (23269880, 7am-9pm) Nearest Metro Station Chawri Bazaar
A necessary pilgrimage