When I wrote about Moti Mahal, I knew there is just one other restaurant in Delhi that could exceed it in fame, fan following and legend. There is no foodie in Delhi who has not been there, taken photos to prove his credibility or written about it. The restaurant is an icon and I have been going there since the days I used to be a vegetarian.
Yes, that is the amount of craze that the place has. Two vegetarians can make the hard trip, wait in the courtyard and on the stairs only to finally eat Shahi Paneer. The dish is incredibly tangy, both at Karim’s and Moti Mahal. That’s the original recipe and is credited to the sour tomatoes and curd. So, no remarks to be made about it.
Karim’s, one of the most mentioned restaurants in Delhi is the easiest to miss. You can walk right past it in that busy street and never notice. Here is a clue: on the main street there is restaurants named Jawahar and right next to it a narrow little lane that leads to Karim’s. It’s always to easier to ask someone, anyone.
Anyway, I have been going there for years, a vegetarian for years and as a meat meater for the last two. Let me tell you honestly, it’s not worth the trouble if you are a vegetarian. Granted the curries are ok and the yellow fluffy tandoori rotis will spoil you silly, but still, not worth it.
On the other hand, you are a meat eater, don’t grudge the raving reviews. Don’t act all superior and believe it can’t be all that great and it’s all hype. Of course, it is partly hype, just that people debate about how much. Karim’s like all famous places is part substance, part legend. I know serious foodies who prefer Jawahar over Karim’s. They are convinced it is cheaper and the food is better. Anyway, there is nothing called a neutral testing, so we will never know.
I am not a mutton man and mutton is what you go to Karim’s far. Foodies order the whole roasted goat that you have book ten days in advance and claw it off the bones. My friends gather together, leave the kids at home with the maid and make compulsive trips every second week. I have spent nights at the receiving end of whatsapped photos of meals at Karim’s. But we have always gone there for the milder, less meatier items. The Chicken Saagwala, the Narghisi Kofte… I have written previously about Karim’s Mutton Qurma and the amazing Chicken Handi too.
So, if you are in Delhi for a day and love crowded historic places, this is totally the place. That never works for me. When I was in Lucknow and everyone wanted me to go the original Tunday Kebabi. I asked a few locals and they all directed me to an outlet in a mall closeby. Same food, why bother was the usual suggestion. I understand the bragging rights come only by visiting the original but let’s not be too hard there.
Karim’s the original is not as grand as its fame. The seating is divided over 3 sections and feels like the dawatkhana of a haveli. Finding a seat at meal times is difficult on weekends and at nights. During the winters, no one minds the congested interiors. The summers may make you a little testy though. Despite being photographed a thousand times a day, some of the staff will still look angry upon seeing a camera. The service is not the fastest. But still…
Make the effort, take a walk around the place. Get hungry, go to Karim’s at least once. Thereafter, explore the places around , for example, Aslam’s, a few doors down has the most unconventional and amazing butter chicken that you can ever have. More on that later.