Welcome oil slick

August 8, 2010

Which are the temptations in life i can’t resist?

Watching a Formula One race with lager and chips, Sunday siesta after steamed hilsa and rice, a pampered overnight train journey in a First Class coupe, scotch in a boat on the Narmada with the full moon glinting against the marble rocks…

Well, you guessed it right. Am prone to succumbing to pretty much any temptation, provided you serve it up right!

The meat eaters (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

So when i breeze into office last Saturday, farm-fresh and in buoyant spirits (i am allowed to laze and loll in the backseat, after a hearty lunch, while my wife chauffeurs me), i know i will, like most weekend, fall for Shahid Bhai’s charms.

For those coming in late, ‘Shahid Bhai’ in our lingo refers to the Mughlai food we order to office every Saturday from Planet Chicken, an Old Delhi eatery owned by Shahid Bhai, a highflying entrepreneur, who we hear keeps shuttling between the US and Delhi.

So what’s so special about his food? Well, can you tell me what’s so special about the tunde they serve at Chandni Chowk’s galli kababiyan? Or Nizam’s (in Calcutta’s New Market, not CP) beef rolls? Or patrani machhi in one of those ubiquitous Irani cafes in Mumbai?

Yes, that’s precisely Shahid Bhai’s pull. Or USP.

The keema kaleji he sends us is the meanest i’ve ever had, the mutton ishtew (pronouncing it as a ‘stew’ would anger Artemis, who would curse you into having to make do with chicken ever after) will reconvert any vegetarian, yet you can’t pinpoint why the meat is so tender and the curries have the extra zing.

I mean, Planet Chicken bungs in the same old ginger-garlic-onion paste in a punch of Dalda and white oil, the chefs probably source their mutton from one of those butchers who cater to all Old Delhi eateries and certainly, their red chilli powder and garam masala are procured from the local wholesale spice market. So, the way the meat cooks — a stir here or a simmer there, produces a world of difference.

However, i am not partial to the mutton korma — the chef drizzles it with two much ittar, but the rest of the menu can beat the hell out of Karim’s item by item.

Even the biriyani is — and it’s very, very hard to convince a Bong that all of Calcutta isn’t the best biriyani joint in the world — one of the best you can lay your hands on in Delhi. (Of course, I miss the chunks of lightly fried potatoes and boiled eggs without which you aren’t allowed to serve the dish in Bengal, but that’s the price you pay for being an economic refugee.)

Shahid Bhai’s chicken changezi, which i am yet to sample because he doesn’t cook it before 7 pm, is a dish that, the admirers say, can move heaven and earth.

Shahid Bhai's keema, ishtew and rumali roti (Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

So, on Saturday the 7th, precisely at 3.30 pm, before attending an editorial meeting, Alcazar calls up Tabrez Bhai (the manager?) and asks him to rush Alam Bhai (the courier) with a keema, an ishtew, a dozen rumali rotis and some phirnis.

Having already treated myself to butter rice and pomfret fry at home, i naturally opt out of Shahid Bhai this week. The food arrives soon and i accompany Alcazar’s four-man entourage — normally, it’s bigger at eight to 10 — on the office’s 13th floor balcony which we have the expertise to reconvert to a terrace restaurant at the drop of a fork.

Five hungry men — well, not exactly hungry, because most of them have (like me) already have had their lunch — arrange the frugal cutlery and start pouring in the curries.

It’s a ritual only of, by and for the brave, like the Haka dance of the Maori warriors. The ‘mobil’ (our term for the inch-thick oil coating the surface of all Shahid Bhai dishes) is ceremonially poured into the bowls.

The sight — sunset in a bowl ­— banishes the (imaginary?) fear of our (especially, a colleague’s who’s trying to shape up) protective spouses from the plucky hearts.

One of the bravest chiefs shouts in glee: “Oily (Veerappa) Moily!” as the mutton chunks swim and sink and swim in the red and yellow spill.

The ritual completed and the rotis rolled out with care, the gourmand five pounce on the food while i keep a tidy distance and pick up a phirni on the sly (I haven’t contributed to today’s funds).

It hasn’t rained for four-odd days, the sun beats down and it’s quite hot in the open air. I borrow a Blackberry and start clicking the meat eaters: Eating and sweating, repeatedly wiping their foreheads with their left hands, leaving oil slicks on their skins and in case of Alcazar, on his chin and shirt.

Ten minutes into my rare role as a spectator, temptation suddenly tears apart the floodgates of resolve. I lurch forward to the table, like a devotee blindly pulled to the shrine of his god.

Just two pieces of mutton and a smattering of keema remain on the plates. Sporting a sheepish grin, i pick up a roti and ambush one of the pieces, only to find that my brave comrades have already stripped it down to bare bones and a thin scraping of meat. Not one to be discouraged, I smear the roti in oil — embattled BP boss Tony Hayward would have shrieked in panic — and retrieve whatever remains of the keema.

My wife calls me up in the evening. In a halting voice heavy with pleasurable guilt, she confesses that she had polished off a couple of truffle cakes after sneaking into Wengers in the afternoon.

“And what did you eat?” she asks me.

“Well, nothing much — a chai, a couple of nankhatais and a little bit of… ”

“That mobil?”

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12 Responses to “Welcome oil slick”

  1. Sharmi said

    Oh that’s why there was such a calculated silence when I asked you what you had as tiffin, huh?!?!
    By the way, I did not eat a couple of truffle cakes. I had just one chocolate truffle pastry that was over in two bites 😦 But t’was delicious. Perfect treat after an entire day of shopping!!
    You must give up this mobil someday and try the pastry instead. You will not regret it 🙂

  2. netdhaba said

    Thank you so much for the proposal. I will have the ‘mobil’ and then the pastry!
    Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. Sachin Kalbag said

    Wah, wah, sir! Well done. We need our great historians to write about great events in culinary history. I am proud that you have done so. May Shahid Bhai choke many more arteries and veins. And a few aortas, auricles and ventricles.

  4. netdhaba said

    @Sachin: How can i not be overwhelmed by your lavish praises & blessings? And the fact that one of the brave men has left his imprint on the blog makes the situation more memorable.
    Thanks so much for the comment and please keep on visiting the blog 🙂

  5. NP said

    Such a delicious post! Reminds me of my days of gluttony in Delhi 🙂

  6. netdhaba said

    @NP: Thanks a ton for the comment. Btw, gluttony should never be a thing of the past 🙂

  7. NP said

    haha…totally agree. Whoever included gluttony in the “Seven Sins” never walked in Chandni Chowk or CR Park.

  8. netdhaba said

    @NP: You just said it. And if i might add, gluttony is the most benign of the seven sins. A rendezvous at Chandni Chowk on a wintry Ramzan evening won’t shame us like Tiger Woods or poor Peter Crouch 🙂

  9. nandini said

    Hey! You know wat, your post very nicely illustrates why it’s so difficult to convert to vegetarianism in Dilli. Ask me!:(…
    “temptation suddenly tears apart the floodgates of resolve.” ohmigosh I’m wondering when I’ll succumb, cos it’ll happen, for sure.
    very nice writing. I’ll have to learn to sample meat vicariously through such posts rather than actually stuffing it into my mouth:)

    • netdhaba said

      @Nandini: Don’t worry, Nandini, meat is not the end all. Ask me, i stay a vegetarian till lunch everyday!
      Thanks for your nice comment and please keep reading the posts 🙂

  10. Alcazar said

    Hope this post serves as inspiration enough for more spirited displays of gluttony (and we are not left desperately counting heads every Saturday :-)!). Jokes apart, I vote that we give Shahid Bhai to put us under the spell of his superlative Chicken changezi as well (with apologies to goat-lovers!). Looking forward to this week’s lunch and many more delicious posts from you

  11. netdhaba said

    @Alcazar: Well said. Ha ha. I hope people like me join the lunch EVERY Saturday!
    Chicken Changezi, sadly is not feasible in office simply because all of us can’t halt work for dinner.
    But ya, the lunch is on and long live the keema king!
    Thanks for the comment and please read on 🙂

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