During a short stopover in Delhi’s Meher Chand Market, Rahul Verma is compelled by the fragrance of meat and coal to return for more

We were on our way to listen to a talk on protest music by two of our musician friends – Rahul Ram and Kajal Ghosh. We had some time to spare, and since Khan Market is no longer an option when you have 30 minutes in hand (just weaving in and out of the traffic takes double the time), I thought we’d stop at Meher Chand Market to buy some last-minute gifts. And it was while I was parked in front of the long row of shops that I smelt a wonderful aroma wafting in the air.

My nostrils twitched appreciatively, and my feet followed the aroma. Soon I found myself standing in front of a small shop, where a gentleman was busy grilling kababs on a skewer. The fragrance of burning coal and grilled meat was most appetising. And even though I didn’t have the time to try out the kababs, I took a few minutes to ask the gentleman a few probing questions. His name, I learnt, is Haji Mohammed Zuhaib, and the shop is called M.I. Food Centre. (43 Meher Chand Market, Lodhi Colony; Phone numbers: 9818906500, 24625979 and 24654596).

I had seen the shop years ago – but that was when it was solely a meat shop. The meat shop still exists, but next to it is the food counter. I could see containers carrying biryani and korma. I explained that I was in a hurry, but would return in a day or two. I was told that I would have to do that after 5 pm, for that’s when the shop opens.

I went back there last week and was again wooed by the delicious aroma of kababs being grilled. I asked for a plate of mutton seekh kababs (Rs.80) and mutton korma (Rs.180). I also asked for biryani, presuming that it would be cooked with mutton. When I went home, I saw that they had packed chicken biryani (Rs.140) for me. Once I read the menu card I’d picked up from there, I realised that they only sell chicken biryani, which was a bit disappointing.

But the food was anything but disappointing. I started with the kababs, which were soft, garlicky and great to eat. The meat wasn’t rubbery, and neither had it been over-spiced. It had been grilled just right too – the kababs were succulent but did not come apart. The chicken biryani was a surprise too. Though I am not particularly fond of chicken biryani (it’s usually mutton or nothing for me), this was rather good. The chicken was spicy, and the pieces were small and juicy, which added to the taste of the rice. The rice was a bit greasy, as biryanis in Delhi tend to be. But the overall effect was very nice indeed.

The korma was delicious. The gravy was thick (and yes, oily – you can’t have korma without oil, can you?), and the meat pieces were soft and had soaked in all the flavours of the spices. The korma gravy did a lovely tango with steamed rice – and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I might as well tell you that my stomach had been acting up that day. So – feeling most virtuous – I ended my meal with home-set curd and sugar. It seemed just the right dessert for a rich meal. You get all kinds of dishes at M.I.’s – from tikkas and butter chicken to chicken changezi, rolls, chicken fry, pakora and fried surmai. I shall try those out one by one. It’s good to know that there’s a nice korma place in Central Delhi. Meher Chand Market used to be a sight for the eyes (well, for some people). Now it’s a treat for the nose too.

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