Food is one of the best factors that bring people together. The major aspect that defines any culture in the world is its cuisine and its architecture, and for me both these aspects are almost the same. Any cuisine to be enjoyed to its fullest needs to have the right ambience too. A Chinese dish is not Chinese enough if one doesn't use chop sticks or a mallu food on banana leaf can't be enjoyed unless eaten with one's hands; that's why when it comes to taste the legendary mughlai food, then it needs to be at Karim's in Old Delhi. There are many places, like Al-Jawahar, which gives better food (some dishes) than Karim's, but nothing can beat the sheermal and kebabs in Karim's, as well as the ambience needed to enjoy a full goat (with chicken rice and egg inside) roasted to perfection called The Tandoori Bakra.
Apart from the taste aspect of it, it needs a minimum of 15 people to finish it and when such a large group arrives together to have a dish for which one has to use both hands; it breaks the inhibitions towards eating with strangers, and presents the stone age barbaric human instincts, an instinct that links us back to our roots, an instinct that can't be described in words.
I have been planning to get some 20 people on board to try this exciting dish, but due to the fast urban life that people seems to have today, was never able to organize it. Last week I decided to have it for sure and started inviting people over the social media sites. Some people did confirm, but I was skeptical about making a guest list of 15 people on a Friday evening, that too in old Delhi (which means there will be no alcohol involved, and no one can find a bar in the vicinity), but the craving for the tandoori bakra of which legends are all over the places tempted me enough to go ahead. This dish costs INR 6750 (tax inclusive), and need to be ordered 24 hrs in advance, so on Thursday with half assurance I went to old Delhi and booked one bakra. As a skeptical organizer, I kept on texting all the expected attendees on how great it will be to have a tandoori bakra. Then when the day arrived, I read online articles which criticized the taste of it, so I got even more skeptical, but I had to try this for myself.
So we all reached Karim's and waited patiently, sure that each of us had a different expectation from the bakra. As the traditionally dressed waiter got the tandoori bakra and placed it at the centre of our table, our eyes started shining as we had a physical manifestation of our simmering slurpy dreams and a battle began to reveal our barbaric inner self. I had the luck to taste the first chunk of it, and all my skepticism melted away in my mouth, the meat was simply amazing, soaked in the perfect blend of spices, roasted to perfection, I could not even keep my eyes open as the different layers of roasted tender meat with its subtle spicy flavors unfolded in my mouth.
It took about 15 minutes for all of us to reduce the full goat into something un-recognizable. All of us were eating with both hands and the whole table was silent and everyone was engrossed in the food, with an intermittent utterance of words like "wow" "awesome" and "ammm" with mouths that could not stop munching while speaking. After some time, everyone started digging into the rice and the chicken too, which was way better than any biriyani rice.
Not that the Mughlai cuisine is very spicy, but the Tandoori Bakra definetly had much more subtle play of different spices than any of the other Mughlai dishes, all the more since the spices have seeped deep into the tender meat that made the experience out of the world. The semi-charred-semi-crispy outer crust with an influx of spices to the inner tender portions presented a perfect texture to the dish, which complimented the soft rice and fibrous nature of mutton.
Very soon we realized that 19 people is way too big a group for the bakra, which I guess is meant for 10 to 15 people; so we started ordering other mouth watering dishes, but none could overcome the experience of ripping meat with both hands and eating extraordinarily big pieces.
Before the bill for the feast could be paid, people started talking about organizing another event to have one more bakra…. Hope the 'slurp barbaric feast' continues….
1. One bakra is for 10 to 15 adults, so arrange accordingly, and it is highly advisable to have only one tandoori bakra at a time. When more than one tandoori bakra is ordered, the quality comes down (probably because of the limited tandoor space, that leads to not-so-well cooked meat).
2. Karim's has started many branches in Delhi, but none of them are any way closer to the taste and ambience that one can experience in Karim's at Jama Mazjid (Some of the dishes at Karim's Nizamuddin is good, but still…!)
3. The 'Tandoori Bakra' costs INR 6750 (including tax) and need to be ordered 24 hours in advance in person after paying 25% of the bill.
4. First timers may find it difficult to locate the place, so it's better to take a cycle rickshaw from chawri bazaar metro station which will cost INR 10-15 per passenger.
"Nipesh P Narayanan is an urban designer by profession, and a wanderer and wannabe sailor by passion. For him, travel is an essential need of life. You can read more of his urban writings at http://nipppo.wordpress.com/"