It is too late today, but for breakfast Monday morning, visit Noor Mohammadi Hotel at Bhendi Bazar. Order nalli nihari, methi kheema and ghee dal, all in half plates. They don't serve tea, but with a breakfast like that, who needs tea!
You'll have to go early, the nalli nihari finishes by 9 a.m., even earlier. The meat (beef) is lovely, the best part of the buffalo, the thigh muscle, cooked on slow coal fire for 12 hours, till it becomes so tender that a toothless customer can eat it. That is the boast of Mr. Abdul Hakim, proprietor of the restaurant, and I would say it is not an empty boast. It is just meat, boneless, one nice chunk of it. And it comes with a spicy gravy, quite sharp with garam masala and pepper. In the gravy, somewhat thick, you will spot bits of nalli, eat it fast, before it melts. Order a fresh roti, a tandoori, or a softer chapatti, 100 gms., weigh it in your hand, feel the weight. Dip the roti in the gravy, break the meat with a spoon, and eat. Yes, it is spicy, for your Bombay palate, that is. But if you are a Muslim from Moradabad, like our Mr. Hakim, you will eat it with a sort of a pickle. A combination of thin strips of ginger and chopped green chillis. They call it nihari ka masala, and it is put on the table in front of you. Help yourself to it. One warning, if you find it too spicy, don't drink the water, I cannot vouch for its safety. Order a Pepsi instead. Who drinks Pepsi at breakfast? Those who eat nalli nihari and kheema roti at breakfast.
Let me go into a few details. Noor Mohammadi is practically at the junction of Bhendi Bazar, where Mohamedali Road meets the roads going to Dongri and C.P. Tank. You can't miss it, the name board is prominent (see pic), and ask any local in your Bombay Hindi --where is Noor Mohammadi? He'll know. It is a small restaurant, nothing fancy, crowded at lunch and dinner time, a little easier at breakfast, the service is brisk, as it always is at these type of restaurants, and everything is served in half plates, unless you specify you want a full plate. There is a mezzanine, they call it family rooms, but neither the main restaurant not the mezzanine is air-conditioned. From the kitchen comes a blast of heat at all hours. But also from the kitchen comes some fascinating aroma of meats and gravies. It is like filing past the eating houses of Lucknow, nose in the air.
The menu is on the wall. Some years back, Mr. Hakim also had painted on the wall the ingredients that go into the making of nihari. The wall has been painted since and the ingredients not repeated. The place is about 70 years old, started by Mr. Hakim's father. Now the third generation (teesra pidhi) is running the business, Khalid Hakim.
Nalli Nihari is the speciality of the place. I do not know any other restaurant in Bombay which serves it. If you do, please let me know. Nalli is the thigh bone of the buffalo, and the marrow that is obtained from it. In other words, it is bone marrow, and, naturally, its quantity can't be much. A bone gives about 50 gms. of marrow. though some bones can give as much as 200 gms. Then, if the restaurateur is not lucky, in ten bones he may find three without any marrow. Noor Mohammadi is aware of this, hence it has its own special butcher at Crawford Market, Haji Khalid.
You may have the nalli by itself, Rs.7.50 per half plate. The quantity is very little and you will not fill your stomach with it. But it is a luxury item, gourmet food. A sensible thing is to have the nalli with the nihari (Rs.15, half plate). In any case, the two are cooked together. The bhattis for the nalli nihari are started twice a day, at 6 o'clock in the evening to get ready by 6 the next morning, and at 9 o'clock in the morning to get ready by 7 in the evening. They are cooked on dum, the marrow bones and the meat, in large vessels, sealed with an atta paste and a heavy 10-kilo weight put on the lid. When ready, the marrow is knocked out of the bone. There's a whole lot of extras that go into the vessel: saunf and sonth, jaifal, elaichi, lavang, javitri, wheat flour, jeera, black pepper, tej patta, ghee (vanaspati), crushed garlic and finely chopped onions.
As the vessel is opened at 6 a.m., so is the restaurant, and the first customers come in, after morning prayers at the mosques in the neighbourhood. The kheema, made of beef, with chopped methi, is also prepared at this time. And the kheema is the standard Muslim breakfast dish. Go to the northern states, everybody has it. Also, the dal, it could be masoor or channa. Before serving, they give it a tarka of ghee, and add some biresta (crisp fried onions) to it, they make all the difference. Another morning item is paya, and this also is beef. Paya comes from the bones in the lower part of the leg, nihari from the bones in the upper part. Remember that and you have mastered 30 per cent of Muslim cooking.
Shammi kabab is another speciality of the place. Again the meat is beef (it is an insult to make shammi kabab with mutton), with channa dal, potatoes, garam masala, mashed, grounded, made into flat tikkis. Not tikkis, it is more like cutlets, quite large in size, Rs.3.50 for one. And there is kofta in a thick gravy.
Most of the food is available throughout the day, but for nalli nihari and paya it is early morning and late evening.
So, remember, tomorrow morning be a little adventurous, forget your cornflakes and cream, your eggs and bacon, butter and marmalade, drive into Bhendi Bazar and eat at Noor Mohammadi.