In the lanes of Lajpat Nagar are plenty of options for Afghani, Iraqi and Iranian cuisines. They cater to the respective communities who visit or live in Delhi. Each place is meant to be cosy and unpretentious, where cooks of each country recreate the familiar tastes of home. Requests to Indianize/spice up the food may not always be understood!
Iranzamin is run by Muhammad Ali Jannesar. Everyday, there are only two things on the (non-existent) menu: mutton or chicken shish kebab or tikka kebab. Side orders include dahi: tangy hung curd, olives in a clinging sauce and a green chutney that has a fruity sweet-sour tang. The mutton shish kebab is the softest minced lamb that is halfway between a seekh kebab and a kakori in texture. Everyday Ali cooks one dish. On my first visit, there was gormeh sabzi – a gravy made from chopped mixed greens in a fragrant sauce with two pieces of lamb in it. It was intensely flavourful and as good as the sabzi pulao of my next visit: mixed greens in a vegetable stock. With a plate of shish kebab (two pieces), it is a grand meal for two people.
Iraqi Restaurant is as dark and forbidding as Iranzamin is light and airy, but the duo who runs it are friendly enough, if a trifle hampered by their English. The menu contains Arabic names that are totally unfamiliar: Delmiya sheep meat (Rs 280) and Koba Borqal (Rs 200) didn’t convey much to me! I did order an Iraqi Mixed Grilled (sic) (Rs 250) and it was delicious. Chicken and mutton tikkas, a mutton seekh kebab and lamb liver were artfully arranged on a plate surrounded by salad vegetables and a plate of Arabic pickles. Grilled on a charcoal fire, the meat was intensely smoky. Koba Halab turned out to be an intriguing kibbeh: coarsely minced lamb meat subtly flavoured with cinnamon loosely packed inside a thick coat of mashed rice and fried so that large puddles of oil remained on the plate. What I saw and tasted seemed like peasant’s fare. Iran and Iraq may be next door neighbours, but their cuisines are worlds apart in terms of delicacy and sophistication.
Mazaar is the one restaurant among these three that actually has the resonance of a restaurant. Ahmed Fawad is an Indian citizen, having been born here; his mother is from Mazaar-e-Sharief, known in Afghanistan as the home of good food. Ahmed can articulate the intricacies of his cuisine to us desis and even has distinct vegetarian and non-vegetarian sections in the menu because many of his customers are Indian.
The two best things on the menu include Qabuli pulao (Rs 220) and Tikka kebab (Rs 210). The former is studded with raisins and sometimes cooked in rich lamb stock in addition to julienned carrots; the latter is served on the heavy skewers for a delightfully macho touch, sprinkled over with fruity, tangy anardana that is obviously from Afghanistan. They have qormas as well, but they while they look like our curries, they don’t contain a trace of any spice. Do try the Borani banjan – a mildly sour aubergine dish blanketed with fresh curd and tomato, as a great accompaniment to the Qabuli Pulao, that Fawad says is the national dish of the country.
Iranzamin: 161, C Block, Lajpat Nagar 2; call: 41090741, 9711767100, 9711965100
Iraqi Restaurant: E 178, Lajpat Nagar 1, call: 9999943759
Mazaar Restaurant: E 86, Lajpat Nagar 1, call: 41579595, 9810665610, 7838009000
Open from 12 noon to 10 pm;
no credit cards accepted; no alcohol served;
meal for two: Rs 500