Blame it on the weather. When the temperature soars, I look for comfort food. And comfort food, for me, is urad dal. I grew up on urad dal in western Uttar Pradesh, and though I admit that I didn’t love it with a passion when I was a young boy, it’s something that I now really look forward to. And since somehow it has not been mastered in our kitchen, I am always on the lookout for some good urad ki dal in restaurants.
And every four years, I – almost unconsciously – move towards Old Delhi. There is one place there that sells the most amazing urad dal. And that is the famous vegetarian restaurant called Shakahari, at the corner of the Chawri Bazaar-Hauz Qazi junction. You’ll find a board in front of you. Go up a steep flight of stairs, and you’ll find Shakahari right there (phone nos: 23277336 and 23276337).
The moment you enter, you are embraced by a bouquet of aromas, because the open kitchen is the first thing that you encounter. I love the heady smell of pure ghee – and this is the aroma that you’ll get in almost every dish. I asked for a plate of urad dal, a plate of baigan bharta and some small besan rotis. In four years, the prices have gone up. The eggplant dish, which cost Rs.65 four years ago (and Rs.40 eight years ago), is now for Rs.110. The urad dal, which I bought for Rs.70 the last time I was there, is now for Rs.120. The besan rotis are for Rs.15 a piece.
But I have no issue with the rise in rates – everywhere, everything costs more. What I am happy about is the fact that the food tastes as good as ever. The baigan bharta was excellent – the eggplant had been roasted well, and then mashed with tomatoes in ghee. The besan rotis, small but filling, were doused in ghee too, and the crispy flat breads went well with the dal. I found the urad dal a bit runny this time (usually it’s thick) but I had no complaints with the taste – the flavours were as wholesome as ever.
Shakahari’s food is essentially Marwari, so the food is not just smeared in ghee, but also quite spicy. I usually stick to these three dishes, but the menu is huge. They have 14 dishes under the subhead of paneer. I was urged to try out their kadhai paneer (at Rs.180, the most expensive dish there), but I desisted. They have some old dishes – such as aloo-palak and aloo-mattar — that you don’t easily get in restaurants these days.
The food is excellent, and one of the reasons for that is the desi ghee that it’s cooked in. And I believe it’s the taste of the desi ghee that prompts my heart to ensure that I make a periodical visit there, though I suppose it’s this very ingredient that prompts my brain to ensure that there is a four-year-gap between each visit.
But when I am there, I love it. I just can’t wait for 2018!
The author is a seasoned street food connoisseur.