Faqiri Muamalaat

EOiD trips are always an adventure, but the vegetarian excursions are a particular delight. Not because we’re all militant meat-haters. Quite the reverse in fact. However, despite the fact that most of us believe a meal without meat is no meal at all, our leader, Hemanshu, is committed to providing an equal opportunities dining experience.

inflation hits old delhi kebabs
Inflation Hits Old Delhi Kebabs

He means well, but it’s probably no coincidence that our ‘veggie’ evenings are invariably held in Old Delhi, where, if the meat-free fare fails to thrill, an emergency kebab is never far away. So on Sunday evening, to pre-empt possible disappointment at Shakahari (literally ‘vegetarian’) restaurant in Chawri Bazaar, we took a carnivorous detour via Gali Qasim Jan where the great Urdu poet Ghalib once lived. On the corner with Lalkuan Bazaar, sits the legendary beef kebab maker Ustad Moinuddin.

At first we couldn’t see him for all the drooling hordes crowded round. As we resigned ourselves to a lengthy wait, we watched the master at work, hands constantly on the move, packing soft meat onto skewers, judging the exact cooking time for optimum succulence before tipping them quickly onto plates and into waiting hands.

I can only guess what makes Moinuddin’s kebabs so tender – he wasn’t giving away any secrets – but hours of marinading and energetic pounding have to be a distinct possibility. The real puzzle, though, is how he can serve up something worthy of Bukhara at 4 rupees a throw (3 Rs till recently, apparently)

Of course, gorging on kebabs on a veggie night out is not really in the spirit of things but then EOiD has plenty of eccentric rituals. Another is a tendency to eat dessert before dinner – a new one on me, but essential according to Hemanshu because the best places often run out by 8pm.

Which was why, by 7.30 (we weren’t taking any risks!) we found ourselves standing in Lalkuan Bazaar before the undisputed King of Kheer. Bade Mian serves up his saffron-streaked delicacy from a tiny shop opposite Badal Beg Mosque, where his family’s 100 years of experience is evident in every moreish mouthful.

As I was waiting for my takeaway stash to be packed, I asked Bade Mian how much kheer he sells every day.  “Faqiri Muamalaat” he replied, enigmatically. The Urdu scholars among us explained a ‘faqir’ is a kind of wandering holy man and ‘muamalaat’ means ‘concerns’ but fell short of a totally convincing translation. I think the gist of it is that Bade Mian is doing quite well for himself.

I didn’t ask but I’m sure the kulfi-wala in Bazaar Sitaram, Duli Chand, where we had our second pre-dinner pud, is also a rich man, to judge by his delicious mango and pomegranate ice creams. In a first for me, the latter was served laced with the house masala mix.

Shakahari Restaurant in Chawri Bazaar
Shakahari Restaurant in Chawri Bazaar

And so to the ‘main’ event. It was always going to be a David and Goliath affair but Shakahari bravely fought the veggie corner. The Urad ki Dal was surprisingly peppy, expertly tempered and served with besan rotis doused in ghee. The Baigan ka Bharta and cumin potatoes were surprisingly hearty, the whole meal true to its gutsy roots in Uttar Pradesh. It might well have fared better on an empty stomach but then again, that wouldn’t be in the spirit of things.

Location: The best way to access these places is to start at the Chawri Bazaar metro station. Bade Mian, Ustad Moinuddin and Duli Chand’s shops are marked on our Google Map.

[ed. This entry was originally posted on Pamela’s personal blog]

8 Replies to “Faqiri Muamalaat”

  1. I must say that your blog has inspired me to travel to old delhi for these kebabs. In simple & kind words – ‘Faqiri Muamalaat’ means that asking that question is none of your business.

  2. Hi All
    A fellow foodie…love food of all kinds, other than the uninspired restaurant food of delhi which is nearly always a mix of XYZ and readymade tamato gravy, or ABC and readymade tomato gravy, …or 123 and readymade tomato gravy….

    have done some effort in finding foods in delhi, can contribute my bit to the fun of eating out along with you all.

  3. I was in Delhi last month, and unfortunately, I hadn’t come across your blog before departing for Delhi. I was on the lookout for places to eat in Delhi, and did manage a few (Kareem’s, the kabab maestro in Chawri Bazaar, Paranthe wali gali, Big Chill @ Khan Market). I so wish I’d come across this site earlier. Hopefully there’s another visit to Delhi in the near future

  4. This blog has been a one of a kind find; I am waiting on my visa and planned on visiting Delhi and had only tow major things I was looking for books and food. You are doing God’s work here for the hapless first time traveler such as myself and I cannot wait to get there and try out

  5. Hi All,

    amazing stories & great comments. can anybody tell me about the best place to have Nalli Gosht in Delhi. Had it once at Hyatt Regency….but i am looking for this at an authentic restaurant or dhaba…

  6. Nice write-up. I think this place deserves a definite dekho. Any chance of a trip anytime to Ustad Moin-ud-deen’s again?

    P.S: ‘Faqiri Muamalaat’ literally means ‘he is doing business like a faqir’; here ‘faqir’ means a ‘poor man’ or ‘beggar’. He was either being very modest or, as GT says, gently side-stepping the question with a non-answer. 🙂

    Muamla is generally pronounced as maamlaa by most Hindustani speakers.

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