The chap who first declared that there was a silver lining to every dark cloud knew what he was talking about. I thought of him warmly the other day when I was at a heart hospital near Friend’s Colony where a friend was undergoing a heart surgery. Naturally, we were all worried out of our wits. But when you are troubled, there’s nothing as effective as food to get your mind off your worries. That’s when the silver lining bit hit me. There I was, I told myself, just a kilometre or two away from one of the nicest eating places in South Delhi. So I tootled off towards a restaurant called Purani Dilli.
I first went there a little over three years ago when it had just opened. I wanted to check and see if it was still there – in Delhi, after all, restaurants open and close in the blink of an eye – and if the food was as good as it was when I was last there. Allow me to give you some good news, and then some more good news. The restaurant is very much there. And the food is as good as ever.
This time my journey to Purani Dilli was fraught with excitement. I first took one of those grameen seva tempos and got down at Batla House just after Jamia. From there I took a rickshaw and went up to Badi Masjid. Purani Dilli is right next to the mosque. The last time I had driven up there, but found parking such a chore that I decided to take a rickshaw this time. But in case you want to drive, I would suggest you go down an alley next to Purani Dilli, and park somewhere there.
I wanted to take some food back to the hospital for friends and their family, but the gathering there was mostly vegetarian. The couple of meat loving friends there declined to accompany me. They probably thought that since they were in a heart hospital, they needed to show respect to their arteries. So I had a nice meal all by myself.
A waiter came and placed a bowl of onion rings, lemon pieces and a green chilli in front of me. I asked for half plates of haleem and nahari (Rs 135each). But the helpings were enough for two. Two large bowls were placed in front of me – one containing haleem topped with green coriander leaves, crisp onion strips and ginger pieces. The nahari had lots and lots and lots of ginger in it. I squeezed a lime wedge over the haleem, and one mouthful told me that it was delicious as I remembered it to be. The meat, the lentils and the cereals -- their flavours enhanced by spices -- had been mashed perfectly.
The nahari, again, was superb. The meat on the shanks – cooked over slow heat -- was very, very tender. And though it had been prepared with heavy spices and masalas, I loved its taste. I broke a piece of a soft roti, wrapped it around the gravy and popped it into my mouth. This was life, I told myself.
I went back to the hospital, and found everybody talking about heart, diet and exercise. Vegetables are the best, I said, and burped quietly.