Monday, 30th October 2017

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Beef it up

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By Nondon Bagchi revisits Nizam’s and is delighted to find that all of his old favourites are back on the menu.
  • Published 3.06.08

Most people I know, and myself as well, have made uncountable number of visits and spent vast amounts of money at Nizam’s restaurant, before ever going inside for a proper meal. So famous, and delicious, were their kathi rolls (which they invented), that people hardly thought about anything else and, night-time clientele particularly, would drive up, order large amounts of these sublime goodies, and eat in their cars, or take them away.

Nizam’s was set up in 1932 by Raza Hassan Saheb, he named the place after his only son. At that time, only three kinds of kebabs were on offer — mutton, beef and khiri (cow udders), grilled on iron skewers over an open sigree. A story goes that one day a customer, a foreigner, was in a big hurry and he asked for something light and dry and minimally spicy, which he could take away quickly. He did not want mutton or beef, so small bits of chicken were removed from the day’s curry, the bones were removed, the gravy was shaken off, the pieces were wrapped in a paratha and handed over. Thus was born the Nizam’s kebab roll.

The idea was applied to the other kebabs being made there and soon mutton, beef and khiri rolls became the order of the day. In 1964, chicken rolls were added and the use of iron skewers was discontinued. Bamboo sticks took their place and this gave birth to the term kathi (“stick”) roll. For decades, Nizam’s had a monopoly over this item, and although other establishments copied the idea, the Nizam’s roll was considered the genuine article and with about a dozen cinema halls and theatres in the locality, they did brisk business before, during the intermission, and after the night show.

The first time I actually went inside Nizam’s and had a meal was a good four or five years after I started enjoying their kathi rolls. I was with a friend who frequented the place and he said, “Check this out,” as he ordered only potatoes and gravy from their beef curry, and parathas. “See how the potatoes have absorbed the gravy, as if by osmosis,” he said, and it was true; the reddish-brown gravy was visible inside the large half potatoes. Soft as butter, and with crispy, golden-brown parathas, they went down easily.

The other day I was in the Hogg Market area and, on an impulse, I entered this old haunt for a quick lunch. I used the entrance from the lane where Society cinema hall is, and my heart sank when I saw the sign “No Beef”. Anyway, I had Mutton Rezala, tandoori rotis and salad, which was quite good, and I related the incident to a friend, with a tone of lament.

“Knucklehead!” he said, “Just last week they reopened their Mughal Gardens wing, opposite Chaplin cinema hall, all newly done up, and you get at least a dozen beef items there, including all the old favourites.” “You mean khiri rolls, Beef Curry and Beef Bhuna?” I said. “Sure, and a whole lot of other stuff as well.”

Naturally, I went back. I knew there had been a closure, but had not kept in touch with things, and I found out that this particular Mughal Gardens wing, which used to be their “Family” section, had reopened after 15 years, and had reintroduced all the beef items which had been stopped for some time. And just as recently as May 16. Welcome news for Nizam’s fans.

“Does that mean you can just drive up after a movie (they are showing Indiana Jones at Elite Cinema) and get khiri and kathi rolls just like the old days?” Of course you can.

A neatly laid out 50-seater with a mezzanine which they intend to have air-conditioned quite soon, Nizam’s Mughal Gardens has a compact menu which has all the items available in the other sections, plus as many as 18 beef items, from rolls to kebabs to chaap, biryani, curries, kasha and even beef stew. And the prices are very reasonable. The only place in the city where you get all these things in comfortable surroundings, under one roof. For samplers: chaap and bhuna for Rs 20, biryani for Rs 30, khiri rolls for Rs 16 and the good old kathi rolls for Rs 14.

Nizam’s has grand plans for the future, planning as many as 19 outlets across the city in the next eight-nine months. But if, like me, you like Calcutta beef (recognised as among the world’s best), you have to visit Mughal Gardens.

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