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Have you tried kebabs in Ahmedabad?
February 17, 2006
We continue with our reader-driven series on must-sample restaurants and eating places across the country.
Bhaskar MR discovers three restaurants in Ahmedabad, which are havens for lovers of non-vegetarian food.
You would probably assume I have lost my marbles. Or that I am going through one of those new age 'quarter life crises'.
That would be a natural reaction if I were to talk about doing an article on non-vegetarian delights in Ahmedabad. I can see the disbelief on your faces -- non-veg food in the Gujju heartland? My answer is a resounding YES! Tucked away in the old city of Ahmedabad are a few must-visit places for connoisseurs of red meat.
Just before I launch into a monologue, a quick geography lesson.
Ahmedabad is divided into two distinct parts -- the old city and the new areas, conveniently bifurcated by the river Sabarmati. The old city, as it is referred to by the English speaking class, is home to some of the best non-veg cuisine around. Rather than an exhaustive tour, I will focus on just three places -- La Bella, Bhatiar Gulley and Khamasa.
This is like Shangri-La. The Promised Land for non-veggies. If you are a veggie, scram. At the same time, know that La Bella is probably more difficult to locate than Shangri-La.
This is a small, dingy one-room eatery tucked away into the forgotten by-lanes of Khanpur in Ahmedabad. There are just two ways of getting there -- die trying, or take the first auto to the National Institute of Design campus at Paldi. Get out and ask any one of the handful of autos parked outside the NID main gate (ask for Nasirbhai or Saleembhai) and, presto, you have your guide to the Promised Land.
I think La Bella survives because of NID-ians, CEPT-ians and IIM-ites. It is run by a frail Goan lady and her companion, called Anna by the faithful. Once you find the place, don't balk at the interiors. It makes no pretence of being anything but a street eatery. Before you enter, I suggest you get yourself a bottle of mineral water.
The standard fare here is beef, chicken, fish and pork. You won't find many choices and here's why this is good -- Aunty concentrates on making a few items that are amazing. Mutton is too expensive, so you will find it on the menu only on certain days. There are no menu cards either; dear Anna will rattle off what is available for the day. When she wants to know what you want, this is what I recommend: 2 plates of rice, 1 Chicken Curry, 1 Pork Chilly Fry or 1 Fish Fry. This is enough for one person.
The bill is the biggest surprise here. Even if you eat like a pig, it rarely crosses Rs 60. There are rumours by non-believers that Aunty cooks cat meat, hence the cheap prices. Who knew cat tasted so good?
I stand guarantee for Aunty and her culinary skills though. After six years in Ahmedabad and innumerable visits to her eatery, I am still standing. Take my word for it. One more thing about La Bella -- if you don't get there by noon or 7:30 pm, it is a cold wet cloth on an empty stomach for you. Aunty's cooking is much in demand and she only makes fixed quantities. If you don't get it, better luck next time.
And, by the way, they are closed on Mondays. God bless Goan aunties.
This actually refers to the name of the area, and the food stretch I am referring to is colloquially referred to by its generic name.
The way to reach Khamasa -- if you are coming from across the Sabarmati (the new areas of Ahmedabad) -- would be to take an auto to the old city. Cross Jamalpur Bridge and take a left after hitting the main signal. Go straight without turning for 2 kilometres and you burst upon a series of roadside eateries on your left. You can smell them from 30 metres away and when you see the birds being grilled on coal fires, stop.
There are four main 'laaris' that cater to your tastes -- one specialising in egg, one in beef and two in chicken. The normal route through such an evening would be to try Hanifbhai's specialties. Once you find a seat, you will have a long list of local names narrated to you -- jinga, chaap, kaleja, bheja, gurda, etcm referring to the various parts of the animal you are about to eat.
I would recommend Chaap 1/2 plate (Rs 22), Tandoori Chicken Dry (whole Rs 100; half Rs 50), thin large phulkas (Rs 2 each), Chicken/ Mutton Fry (Rs 28 and very oily) and Kheema Khichdi (Rs 11). That should be good enough. To finish, order a hot, special chai from the shop on the other side of the street.
Khamasa is slightly more expensive than La Bella. A meal for 2 will cost you between Rs 100 and Rs 120. Don't drink the water though. Ask for a bottle of mineral water or an aerated drink. Another cardinal rule: Avoid the fish.
The third place don't miss place is Bhatiar Gulley, located just off the historical landmark Teen Darwaja. It is a lane with eateries on either side. The place offers a wide choice of dishes, all eaten with rotis, all mouth-watering. The essential mix is still the same -- variations on the chaap, gurda, bheja and kaleja theme.
The highlight of Bhatiar Gulley is Seekh Kebabs. Eaten with freshly diced onions and lime, it is a foodie's delight. It is also accompanied by a green chutney that adds a dash of fresh herbs to the kebabs. Other dishes such as Mutton Fry and liver are equally good. And yes, the eateries are open only in the evenings.
Bhatiar Gulley has several famed eating houses, but my vote would go to ZK. It has an air-conditioned hall a street away on Relief Road; you could head for their stall for the roadside experience.
A meal for two could range between Rs 40 and Rs 150, depending on the choice of eatery and food ordered. Do carry your own water or buy mineral water though. As a fitting finale, order a Suleimani or Lemon Chai. I have heard this is an important part of the meat-eating experience, as the lime tea breaks the meat down, prevents gastric build-up and hastens digestion. The only thing left is a paan from any of the galas.
Then, head home, turn off the lights and hit the sack. Tomorrow is another day, and there are more places to try. Happy eating!
Bhaskar MR, 30, is a senior industrial designer at Parryware, Chennai.
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