In the culinary circles in India, the debate is always on – which is the food capital of India? Is it the melting pot of Delhi that accepts all cuisines and lays claim to have the best street food in the country (a boast that Kolkata, which fiercely loves its egg rolls and jhal muri, may hotly contest!)? Or is it Mumbai that is all modern and futuristic in its approach to food, given that it is the financial capital of India? Or is it the South that has actually proved that Indian cuisine is much more than butter chicken and tikkas?
The argument can continue for long but fact is that Indian cuisine has evolved and with newer techniques and experimentation being the name of the game, it’s making its delicious mark on world palates too. The mushrooming of restaurants offering progressive food (including the overdone molecular gastronomy) is a prime example.
However, there are moments when you crave for a well-made curry or even a simple daal that gives off that irresistible, traditional and authentic flavour that can’t be replicated at home (so no, we aren’t talking of home-cooked comfort food). Thankfully, a new name has been added to the list where you can get exactly that – Purani Dilli that launched recently at Four Points Sheraton, Mankhool.
We loved the name. Ask any Delhiite what he misses the most about his home city, and the ambiance, vibe and food of Purani Dilli would probably be on the top of his list. The small restaurants and tiny kiosks serving mouth-watering kulchas and choles, are an integral part of life.
However, if you expect that vibe when you step into Purani Dilli, you would be a bit disappointed. The interiors are modern, with chandeliers, plush chairs, dim lights, neutral toned décor and the like. Yes, there is a quirky and colourful hand-rickshaw, a mithaiwala and a bangle kiosk set up. Like some other restaurants in Karama and Bur Dubai, Purani Dilli offers live music too with a band belting out popular ghazals and Hindi film music. But a little touch of the ‘real’ Delhi would have been nice. The reason why the décor is international while the food is Indian, we are told, is because the restaurant intends the spotlight to solely shine on the food. No gimmicks, no distractions. Fair enough! For there is much in the menu to savour.
The preparations for this restaurant has been going on for a while and apparently, three chefs were flown in from India before chef Mujeeb-ur-Rehman was finally selected to curate the menu along with resident chef Mohammad Afroj Alam. Obviously, the inspiration is Delhi, hence the Mughlai touch is hard to miss. But what stands out is the beautiful melange of flavours.
Our top favourite has to be the Galouti kebab that is truly exceptional. One doesn’t know how this dish – known for its royal antecedents - was served for the nawabs of yore but this one comes close. One bite and the mincemeat patties dissolves in your mouth. Just perfect. The Aloo tikki, dahi kebabs (perfectly crisp on the outside and moist with the yogurt on the inside) and Paneer tikka (stuffed with apricot and nuts) deserve brownie points too.
What we loved about the cooking is the way one single element added the zing to an otherwise regular dish. So be it the Ajwaini fish tikkas where the sharp taste of ajwain stood out or the Lahsuni Bhuna Palak that had its flavour enhanced considerably by the roasted garlic, each had a special flavour.
Then there was the pièce de résistance – the nihari. Now, this popular Mughalai delicacy isn’t the easiest to make but one can definitely judge a chef by his Nihari-making abilities. By that standard, Purani Dilli passes with flying colours as this was the best Nihari we had tasted in ages. The perfectly flavoured stew had the softest chunks of lamb swimming in it and paired with rotis or the delicious biryani, they tasted divine.
As we mentioned before, it’s the real taste of Delhi that wafts through the dishes. We wonder if they ever will be tempted to introduce the more modern elements to the cuisine. But no, some things are better kept ‘purani’.
Resident Chef Mohammad Afroj Alam on what went behind planning and creating the menu
Dubai has a host of Indian restaurants, how do you plan to make the cuisine here different from the rest?
We realized there is not much choice when it comes to Indian restaurant specializing in the Old Delhi - 'Purani Dilli’ favorites. In today’s demanding customer-focused world, specialization is key. Our specialty is Old Delhi Mughlai cuisine.
What are the three must-trys from this menu?
Non Vegetarians - Galawati Kebab, Jama Masjid Murgh Biryani, Jama Masjid ke Nihari
Vegetarians - Dahi ke Kebab, Lahsooni Bhuna Palak
Dessert - Chukandar-e-Afroz
One complaint against traditional Indian food is that it is too heavy. What’s your take?
We have worked hard to stay true to the flavors of Old Delhi while keeping in mind that our guests are becoming more health conscious. So you won’t find them too greasy or heavy.
Would you be introducing anything new or modern elements too?
Our mantra is authentic Old Delhi cuisine and we want to walk the talk.
Is there a ‘Delhi cuisine’ as such?
Delhi is known for its Mughlai cuisine which originated in the capital during the Mughal empire. The food has influences from Persia and Turkey as well as the North Indian states. Today Old Delhi is famous for its Kebabs, Biryanis and desserts. Now you can try these dishes in the heart of Bur Dubai.