Many years ago, perhaps more than a decade, I found myself standing in front of Jama Masjid in Delhi, at the beginning of Matia Mahal, a food street renowned like no other. It was my first time, and while I knew the legends spoke of streets lined with kebabs of the kind that drove men wild with lust, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer number of vendors.
They were everywhere, masters of the makeshift barbecue, and I had no idea where to begin. Everything smelled and looked so good! And the prices were shockingly low – a meat-eating glutton’s paradise.
But this story is about Dilshad Qureshi’s kababs, then a handsome young boy with incredible skills on the grill. My go-to at the time was Lalu Kababi, from whose wares I never strayed, until one day his stall was closed and in wild-eyed desperation, I chose to try the kababs at Al-Nisar Kababi, Dilshad’s stall.
That was ten years ago and since then I’ve never been elsewhere, choosing not to eat at all if his stall was closed; he’s that good.
Watching Dilshad at work is somewhat mesmerizing.
Vats of spiced meats lie prepared next to him, one minced and the other mostly organ meats. The minced meat he shapes into seekh kebabs on heavy squared seekhs / skewers, while the botis (chunks of organ meats) are skewered, both placed on a shallow metal grilled filled with glowering coals, a portable fan placed at one end, keeping the embers glowing.
A few minutes after being placed, the seekh kababs are given a single turn each, rapidly, one after another in a smooth practiced motion that in itself is a thing of such skill, exposing the next side of the seekh kebab to the hot coal below. When four turns are done, the kebab is done,
The boti kababs on the other hand are cooked in bunches, one side after another, the whole lot placed in one bunch on the grill, a few minutes later gathered up and with one flick of the wrist all of them are flipped over so the other side can cook.
All this while there’s a sauce pan close to the coals literally filled with boiling butter.
When my order is done, usually three or four seekhs of both seekh and boti kababs, they’re slid on to melamine plates, topped with finely sliced onions, drizzled with chili-hot, piquant green chutney and then comes the cascade of golden butter poured liberally over the whole lot, finished with a bunch of thin rumali rotis grabbed from a plastic bag hanging close by, and handed over.
Now imagine the chap doing different parts of this process simultaneously for different orders, while also yelling for his staff to gather used plates, collect money from patrons – such busy.
Most of us aren’t likely to have eaten kababs sizzling hot, right off the grill. Watching the meat, fat and spice bubbling and sizzling inches away from hot coals, slow browning and developing that crisp, crusty exterior that is all but gone by the time kababs reach us from restaurant kitchens. I’m especially fond of the fatty bits of meat with globules of boiling fat visible. If I can get away with it, I’ll slyly point out those skewers with the most fat and Dilshad usually gives in to my enthusiasm.
And then comes the eating. Tearing off bits of the rumali roti, we’ll grab chunks of seekh or boti kebabs, then plenty of onions, the lot swirled around in that heavenly mixture of chutney and butter, before being quaffed and chewed, liberally delimited with sighs and hyperventilation and smiles of satisfaction, sometimes with closed eyes and murmurs of contentment.
I found the photo above while clearing out my Dropbox, and thought I’d share. :)