Everyone even remotely in love with non-vegetarian food in Delhi has been to Matia Mahal (the lane in front of Jama Masjid Gate No-1) multiple times to gorge on delicate kababs, finger-licking-good curries and sweet somethings. More often than not, it’s a group affair. Some are there for the love of food, some for the bragging rights it affords, some to impress their friends, some out of pure curiosity, and some because they happen to have befriended one or more of these types.
The area has legendary status as the mecca of Mughlai food in the subcontinent, and so it should be, as any foodie exposed to its charms would swear by.
I have had the good fortune to visit this place with multiple friends’ groups in all seasons. Here are my top picks:
- Al- Kareem: If there’s one place that’s synonymous with the Jama Masjid food scene, or loosely with Delhi food scene itself, it’s the world-famous Al-Kareem or Kareem’s as it is popularly known as. Upon entering Matia Mahal lane, take the little 2 foot- blink-and-you-miss-lane to your left. As soon as you enter the lane, you are transported to the magical world full of gentle lights, ‘intoxicating’ aroma and excited faces. Sit in one of the 4 seating areas surrounding the kitchen, and hold your breaths while your order is lovingly prepared and served. Its Sheermal (sweet bread) is a delight, kababs are succulent and ooh-inducing are the curry preparations like Jahangiri. Jahangiri it is said, was the dish most in favour with emperor Jahangir and hence the name. If you are a large group, you can even lay your hands on Tandoori Raan or the full goat, both of which need to be ordered 24 hours in advance. Times may have changed, but Kareem’s continues to evoke days of the Mughal Raj. The owners claim to be direct descendants of royal cooks of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. It’s storied for sure, both for its lineage, as well as the goodwill it has since generated.
- Abdul Ghani Qureshi’s Kabab corner: It’s not in the main Matia Mahal lane, but on the main road right opposite the fabled but rusted Meena Bazaar, and Gate no-1 of Jama Masjid metro station. A small shop with many similar ones on both sides, Qureshi is famous for its melt-in-the-mouth seekh kababs. It’s an experience watching the masters behind the raised platofrm continually preparing and cooking the kababs right in front of you. There’s smouldering fire all around- beneath the kakabs as they get cooked, wrapped around your eagerly waiting tongue and inside your tummy once you finish gorging. All of this is absolutely worth it. It’s a standing place, so you may actually choose to start your little eating sojourn here before moving into the main lane.
- Aslam Butter Chicken: It’s undoubtedly the most off-beat and unique place in the entire jamboree. They serve all but one dish with roomali roti. That’s their signature butter chicken. But it’s not the usual sweetish Moti Mahal variety. It’s actually tandoori chicken pieces dipped in a rich gravy of, pure molten butter, mixed with a hint of curd! Let it sink. You just can’t miss it. Just go light on quantity.
- Haji Mohd Hussain’s Fried Chicken: All who swear by KFC need to be brought here. Fried chicken can’t get better than this. Period. Watching the old Haji prepare, and his associates fry scores of kilograms of chicken in large pans is a treat to the eyes, and ideal waiting activity for your piping hot plate. The old man is charming, sweet and loves a little conversation as he goes about his business.
- Haji Shabrati Nihari wale: Not everyones loves Nihari. But those who do, swear by it. Nalli Nihari (Brain-fry mixed with mutton/buff curry) is sumptuous, filling, and helps release pleasure endorphins in your brain. As with everywhere else in the area, just go easy on the quantity. You don’t want to sleep right there. Tucked way inside the Matia Mahal lane, in a little lane known as Chitli Kabar, this unpretentious little place is a connoisseurs delight.
- Al Jawahar: Al Karim’s slightly less famous cousin, sitting right beside it. It offers everything that Kareem’s does, and even has its little army staunch fans who claim it to be way better that the better known cousin.
- Dahi-Bhalle next to Hussain fried Chicken: Easily the best I have ever had. The most-soft and absolutely perfect dahi-bhalle located conveniently next to the hot fried chicken of Md Hussain.
- Jama Masjid area’s famous dessert is the Shahi-Tukda: The shop right opposite Hussain’s fried chicken serves Shahi-tukdas topped with rabdi. It’s the absolutely perfect ending to every amazing visit to Jama Masjid area’s food heaven. If in the mood, you may also try some delicious faluda-kulfi at Kallan Sweets (just before Al-Jawahar as you enter the Matia Mahal lane from Jama Masjid side), or Paan from the shop right outside it.
PS: There are a few good bakeries too on the street. I have bought their special breads on occasions, esp. from Asghar’s Bakery, and those are delightful. Even the sevaiyan’s and dates are worth taking home.
A happy tummy is a happy life. Life couldn’t get happier as you slowly make your way out of the food lane, and exit the potpourri while admiring the dome and minarets of the great mosque; all the while planning the next trip..