Travelers in Delhi have a lot on their plate. Mughal monuments like the hulking Red Fort and the elegant Jamma Masjid, India's largest mosque, loom above the city's myriad bazaars and the dusty homes of forgotten poets. But no matter how much there is to explore, locals and visitors alike always return to Delhi's most beloved haunt: Karim's.
A cycle-rickshaw ride from the Chandni Chowk Metro stop, Karim's is neither soaring fortress nor ancient temple, yet it is an unmissable landmark nonetheless, often filled to capacity with the faithful. This drab roadside dhaba (or eatery) serves up the most authentic Mughlai fare in the citywhich is what you might expect considering who runs the place. Haji Zahuruddin comes from a family whose bloodline extends back centuries to the chefs who conjured elaborate feasts in the courts of Mughal emperors. Generations of chefs honed their culinary wizardry in the nearby Red Fort until the last Mughal ruler was toppled by the British in 1857. Returning to Delhi in 1911 after his family spent decades in exile, Haji Karimuddin, the grandfather of the present owner, set up shop in the same alleyway where his descendants now prepare their family recipes, each one a closely guarded secret.
They are certainly secrets worth keeping. Sumptuous curries like the lazeez murgh saag (a spicy chicken-and-spinach dish) or the badshahi badam pasanda (tender chunks of mutton simmered in a tangy almond paste) complement perfectly the selection of succulent grilled meats from the tandoor, an array of flavorful rice biryanis studded with dried fruits and pungent spices, and the steaming hot naans and rotis. Best of all, these regal delights still come at dhaba prices. In this imperial city, even paupers can eat like kings.
by Ishaan Tharoor