Apart from being unusually steep, Subhas Chowk turned out to be a relatively quiet, nondescript street. There was a sweet shop doing a brisk trade in chhole bhature and a vendor firing up his jalebi pan, but nothing to suggest I was in the presence of culinary greatness. Heading upwards, I dodged a fast-flowing stream of waste near a tea stall, where a young boy was crouching over the gutter, scraping steel plates and rinsing them in a plastic tub of murky water. It was a few minutes before I noticed a faded, grimy sign—‘Ashok and Ashok Meat Dhaba’, although the shop itself was sealed with a battered steel shutter. A passing local told me I was early, the shop didn’t open till 1pm, so I ordered a cup of sweet chai from the stall and found a ledge to sit it out.

Groups of hungry-looking men started to arrive, but nearly an hour later there was still no sign of life. Soon, about thirty men, a macho-looking bunch with Bollywood shades and slicked-back hair, were hovering around the shop looking at watches and wondering aloud about the delay. Most of the men seemed to be regulars—one told me that he and his team of travelling salesmen had compiled a list of the best places to eat all over India. ‘Shokkys’,’ he said, ‘is definitely in the top five. We always come here for Diwali lunch.’ He couldn’t quite put into words why they were so devoted to the food we were all waiting for—Ashok and Ashok’s korma—but the words ‘tender’, ‘rich’, ‘spicy’ and ‘ghee’ were uttered with a faraway look in his eyes.

Korma, Kheer &Kismet—Five Seasons in Old Delhi: By Pamela Timms, Aleph Book Co., 169 pages, Rs 395
Korma, Kheer &Kismet—Five Seasons in Old Delhi: By Pamela Timms, Aleph Book Co., 169 pages, Rs 395

A nervy silence gripped the diners; then at last the rotis were ready and plates of korma were unceremoniously slapped down in front of us. Juicy pieces of mutton shimmered in a lake of deep mahogany sauce—so far removed from the anaemic, gloopy, bland concoctions that go by the same name in British curry houses as to be an entirely different species. Armed with pieces of hot, crisp, coriander-laced rotis, we all dived in. Some immediately started chewing on the bones but most of us made straight for the gravy. The first taste was an eye-watering blast of chilli heat that had me spluttering and reaching for the water bottle. This was quickly followed by layers of more nuanced, elusive ingredients—‘Up to thirty different spices,’ one of my dining companions assured me between mouthfuls—in a devilish pact with ghee.The meat itself had been cooked long and slow, and fell away easily from the bone at a nudge from the bread. For the few minutes it took us to devour our korma, no one uttered a word, and we paused only to signal to the waiters when more rotis were required. Too soon, we were again staring at empty plates, this time with no hope of a refill. The day’s korma was already sold out.

Goggia Uncle’s ‘Ashok and Ashok’ mutton korma

Serves 6-8

Mutton Korma and Coriander Chilli Roti
Mutton Korma and Coriander Chilli Roti

Ingredients

6 tbsp ghee

2 onions, peeled and grated

4 thumb-sized pieces of ginger, peeled and grated

6 garlic cloves, grated

1 tbsp garam masala

1 brown cardamom

5 green cardamoms

6 cloves

10 black peppercorns

500 gms minced mutton (make sure the meat is as finely minced as possible)

1.5 kg small pieces of mixed shoulder and rack of mutton

2 tsp turmeric

1 heaped tsp red chilli powder

2 tsp salt

10 medium-sized tomatoes, skinned, seeds removed and finely chopped

A few slices of ginger and coriander to garnish

Method

Melt the ghee in a large pan. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and cook until well browned, 10-15 minutes. Add the garam masala, brown and green cardamoms, cloves and peppercorns and stir well. Add the minced mutton and mutton pieces, coating well with the spices. Stir in the turmeric, chilli powder and salt, then cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes until everything is well browned.

Add the chopped tomatoes and enough water to cover the meat then simmer gently for 1-1K hours till the gravy is thick and glossy. Check seasoning and add more salt or chilli if required. Garnish with slivers of chopped ginger and fresh coriander and serve with roti.

Coriander and Chilli roti

Makes 12

The roti served at Ashok and Ashok is seared in a tandoor. This recipe is an easy way of achieving a similar bread at home.

Ingredients

300 gms wholemeal flour (atta)

1 tsp baking powder

300 gms plain yogurt

3 small green chillies, finely chopped

A large handful of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Ghee for frying

Method

Mix together the flour, baking powder, yogurt, chillies and coriander. Knead for a few minutes to form a smooth, firm dough. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least an hour. When you’re ready to serve the roti, divide the dough into twelve pieces. Roll each piece into a ball then roll out as thinly as possible—about 2 mm thick. Heat the ghee in a tawa or frying pan. Cook each roti over medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side until they start to blister and turn golden brown. Serve hot with the mutton korma.

Also Read | Eating Out: The Old Delhi secret

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