Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD

Calcutta Classic – Sabir’s Hotel

sabirs hotle

Photo: Kanishka Chakraborty

In not too distant past, my workplace used to be a short walk across a busy street from Sabir’s Hotel. Despite that, in my two odd years of working in the vicinity, I managed to go to Sabir’s only once. Before that, Sabir’s was the stuff legends were made of.
My father used to tell me about his visits to Sabir’s. All my uncles praised Sabir. All my friends talked about Sabir’s. And they talked about only one thing there. Rezala.
I imagined that to be some kind of ambrosia. I did not visit Sabir’s while growing up. Much later, I did go there with a couple of college friends. But even that seems eons ago. But on a recent Saturday, my wife’s cell phone troubles took us to that locality. While the phone was getting fixed, we wanted to catch a bite. And we just had to go to Sabir’s. At least, I have been there a couple of times, some of which I actually remember. My wife has never been there. And only the other day, we were talking about going to Sabir’s with our friends.
Walked up steep stairs (why are steep stairs such a feature of most places in Calcutta? Royal, Aliah, Sabir’s) to an air conditioned room. Despite it being a Saturday, the place was empty.
We sat down and had no hesitations in ordering the famous rezala. My wife, heretic that she is, wanted butter naan. I stuck to tried and tested tandoori roti. My wife ordered tandoori chicken as well. And we asked the kind waiter to set aside firni for us.
Then the wait began. That awkward moment when you desperately want your food to come but also know that if it comes too fast, it will not be good. The customary plate of sliced cucumber, carrot, tomato, onion, lime and green chili came. Then the rezala made its way to the table.
A deep dish, full of creamy broth with one red chilli adding a designer touch. One large piece of goat meat (maybe I should stop calling it mutton) placed smack in the middle of the gravy as the piece de resistance. Blistered, mildly charred, smoky tandoori roti came too. And the heretic’s butter naan as well.
For the next five odd minutes, there was complete silence except for the odd slurping. We looked up and realised one of our friends had instructed us in eating roti and rezala the right way — tear a piece of roti. Make a little shovel out of it. Delicately hold that between your fingers. Carefully dip it in the grave to scoop up some of that spicy, milky stuff. Carefully put it in your mouth avoiding spillage.
For the next five minutes, two supposedly mature adults played this game. And let me tell you it was one of the more pleasurable games I ever played. The firni was good, if not great. Creamy but too milky for my liking. The milk was not caramelised enough. Still, we had two helpings each.
Somewhere in the middle of this feast, there was a tandoori chicken which was a bad advertisement for tandoori chicken. More yellow than red, I tasted of turmeric more than anything else.
The redeeming feature was the chicken itself. Nice free range chicken. Tasty meat. None of that saline injected chunks of Styrofoam that pass off as chicken these days.
Happiness comes in many forms including a deep dish with a milky gravy and a lovely yielding piece of meat siting in it.