Sunday, August 10, 2008

She's a Mall Wonder

I'm not the biggest fan of the new food phenomenon of "food courts" in Malls, particularly because you get sub standard food at high altitude prices which you are forced to eat in the most cramped up and loud circumstances. Hunger and boredom, however, led me and few friends to the food court at the Orchid City Centre Mall, Bombay Central. Besides the usual food court suspects, Madras Cafe, some Shady Chinese etc. I had a pleasant surprise in store for me - Hakim's, which sells unabashedly non vegetarian mughlai food had a delectable menu as well as reasonable prices. As I was scanning the menu, I was shocked to find Chicken Sanju Baba as a starring member on the cast of the gravy items.

The Noor Mohammadi Hotel has been known for decades for its quality of food, though many a prospective patron would find the ambiance slightly lacking, especially when compared to its extravagant neighbour, Shalimar. Nevertheless, the Noor Mohammadi Hotel has its loyalists who make sure the highly divine Nalli Nihari (a rich gravy dish featuring tender mutton and loads of bone marrow) disappears by 9am every day. Celebrities including most of the Khan boys order from here with a vengeance and Sanjay Dutt struck up such a rapport with the owners that one of their signature dishes, Chicken Sanju Baba, is a result of some recipe sharing from the superstar's home cauldron.

(Courtesy the Noor Mohammadi Website)

What does this have to do with a mall food court? Well, if you want the good stuff but don't want to deal with the Bhendi Bazaar/LJ Road traffic, have no fear. Hakim's is "Haute Moghlai Cuisine" (oh yeah, baby) from the house of Noor Mohammedi, as I found out when I confronted the cashier.

"We get the food from there only, madam. We don't cook anything here except the kababs."

He obviously knew what I needed to hear.

So I packed up a Chicken Sanju Baba and a Roomali Roti for dinner. Bombay Foodies are obliged to have Chicken Sanju Baba on their "to do" list, and I needed to score a tick off.

Chicken Sanju Baba has earned its share of hype and prominence, particularly when the owners of Noor Mohammedi cooked and distributed vats of the dish to the poor every day during the pendency of Sanju Baba's bail application before the Supreme Court. However, it doesn't make for a mindblowing food experience, something which even the owners silently acknowledge by not mentioning the dish on their website. I excitedly unpacked the plastic container to find a gravy of a slightly waxy consistency. Puzzled, I popped it in the microwave, and one minute later I discovered why - there was a layer of pure desi ghee, now liquefied, on top of the gravy. Tough pieces of chicken swim in a thin gravy populated by sliced onion and a large number of red chillies, which is highly misleading, as the product is pretty bland. It does have an interesting tartness, but in the end it's a rather amateur piece of cookery which does no justice to the legend that is Hotel Noor Mohammadi.

One day, however, I am going to wake up early and take the Harbour Line to Dockyard Road and trudge over to Noor Mohammadi, and get me the grub that has tantalized patrons for 110 years. The description is on their website which I have no reason to disbelieve (except for the part about the Pepsi):

You can eat anywhere but for authentic "nalli-nahari"you have to visit Noor Mohammedi.It is very tender and just melts in your mouth.You'll have to go early, the nalli nihari finishes by 9 a.m., even earlier. Cooked on slow coal fire for 12 hours, till it becomes so tender that a toothless customer can eat it. That is the boast of Mr. Khalid Hakim, proprietor of the restaurant, and it is not an empty boast. It is just meat, boneless, one nice chunk of it. And it comes with a spicy gravy, quite sharp with garam masala and pepper. In the gravy, somewhat thick, you will spot bits of nalli, eat it fast, before it melts. Order a fresh roti, a tandoori, or a softer chapatti, 100 gms., weigh it in your hand, feel the weight. Dip the roti in the gravy, break the meat with a spoon, and eat. Yes, it is spicy, for your Bombay palate, that is. But if you are from Northern part of India, you will eat it with a sort of a pickle. A combination of thin strips of ginger and chopped green chillis. They call it nihari ka masala, and it is put on the table in front of you. Help yourself to it. One warning, if you find it too spicy, don't drink the water. Order a Pepsi instead. Who drinks Pepsi at breakfast? Those who eat nalli nihari and kheema roti at breakfast.Most of the food is available throughout the day, but for nalli nihari and paya it is early morning and late evening.

Ambiance may be one thing, but wolfing down a dish which celebrates the delicious bone marrow of mutton, is quite another. My sister and I still fight over who gets the 'soo soo bone', as it is refered to in my family, coined on account of the sound one is forced to make while extracting the tantalizing mass from the back of a highly unco-operative marrow bone.

While Noor Mohammadi is at Mahim and Bhendi Bazaar, Hakim's Haute Moghlai Cuisine can be found at the City Centre Mall, Bombay Central, and the Inorbit Mall, Malad.


John said...

Top post. Count me in on the tip.

John said...

Trip, I mean.