My obsession with these ultra-soft kababs that have martian craters named after them have been documented repeatedly in this blog, but luckily more places continue to appear at regular intervals to add my my supply of stories.
The droolworthy picture above is from Sanjiv Khamgaonkar’s article in CNNGO about Mumbai’s best Kabab. Guess who won? One of the votes was mine.
My first kakori ever was in Delhi, appropriately attached to one of my earliest uses of an expense account. This was the Dum Pukht, ensconced suitably expensively in the Maurya Sheraton. Kakori is not traditionally Delhi food; old Delhi and the Jama Masjid area, chock-a-blok with the smell of cooking meat, will nevertheless leave you completely kakori-less. Hence, a decade later and many non-kakori trips to the capital later, I’m in Delhi and Sunanda gushes at me about how she had a great kakori experience on a midnight forage with her crew. It does not take much for her to convince me to repeat it; that very midnight, much expensive scotch later, I’m found poking my head out of the car on Lodhi Road and ordering away.
The place in question was Aap Ki Khatir, not too far from lots of tombs – Humayun, Hazrat Nizamuddin, Mirza Ghalib – all dead mean of distinction. A small dhaba-like outlet on the side of a big wide road amidst a bunch of auto-repair shops, Aap Ki Khatir already sported imitators on either side (one called Aap Ki Pasand) and nearly every review google found for me screamed that it was the best kakori in Delhi. You didn’t actually sit at the eatery – service is usually carside and food is eaten either inside or propped up against the bonnet.
The much awaited kakoris duly landed up, and were indeed quite as melting as one was promised. Some very nice barras were also ordered and consumed before we made our merry way back home. A little research also told me that the person who started it was a former alumnus of Al Kauser that not so long ago was your best bet for a kakori that did not require an expense account.
I and Sunanda thus planned to visit Al Kauser next. I was told that our best bet was RK Puram market, but on actually getting there things turned out to be more confusing that anticipated. Al Kauser seems to have cashed in on its popularity, morphed into a chain and (possibly to make itself idiot-proof) now calls itself Al Kakori Al Kauser, sometimes just plain Al Kakori. Or maybe they’re all different; sometimes its hard to tell. Al Kauser shares the same address as Al Kakori, and there’s a mega one on the Gurgaon highway (next to that humongous Shiva statue) that is definitely a branch (we called up the RK Puram Al Kauser to confirm)
Next option was Khan Market. We were looking for Khan Chacha, but the original has apparently gone the way of the dodo so we did some more calling, got more recommendations and landed up instead at Pandara Road with Gulati Non Veg (there’s a Gulati Veg right next door). As the name suggests, Gulati is soundly Punjabi - tandoor is scattered all over the menu and the dal has ma attached - but its also got a decent-sized foot in the Mughlai boat. Faced with a huge menu, we plumped for that boon for the undecided - The kabab platter. Apparently the platter usually avoids the kakori but the waiter informed us that kasturi was absent so instead, kakori would be served - on a platter, as it where.
Gulati kakoris were not up to the previous night’s exhalted levels but certainly very good - soft and melting and tasty enough. The galoti (I wonder if anyone calls it the gulati galoti) was similarly verging on great, but not quite tipping over. The burrah (grandiosely called the Barrah Akbari) was definitely grandiose – better than last night and seriously thinking of challenging big daddy Karim’s. The dal makhni was nice too, but the garlic naan blew us away.
How do they compare with the exalted Dum Pukht variant or Kakori House of my previous post? I personally think Kakori House wins, but there are differences in approach. The fancy gourmet kitchens of Lucknow’s richest nawabs were all about blending spices till you could not make out where one flavour ended and another began. The spicings can be very complex, sometimes over a hundred ingredients are involved – spices, aromatics, condiments, multiple stages of smoking. The result is supposed to be like a flowing river of taste, individual flavours delicate and indistinguishable but merging into a complex glorious whole. The other school is more about combinations of distinct flavours – think aloo chaat where the aloo, the curd, each different chutney can be tasted separately, but combine in wonderful ways.
For the first school (of which I am a fan), Kakori House produces the best product – beating Dum Pukht, Al Kauser and I’m told Salim’s. For the second school, Aap Ki Khatir, with its more distinct meat and smoke flavours and less complex spicing, overtakes Gulati and most other kakoris on the list. Maybe I’m just biased, but happy at last that I found a kabab in Mumbai to beat Delhi.