It is not as well-known outside the immediate locality as, say, Karim’s is, but Purani Dilli is headed for its place in the sun. No artificial flavourings (like kewra or screw pine), no lashings of pure ghee. Just no-fuss surroundings in the heart of South Delhi, good biryani and down to earth prices.
You’ll have to park your car well away from the narrow, single-vehicle lanes of Zakir Nagar and walk in or get a cycle rickshaw as there is no parking space anywhere in the area. Purani Dilli is the most prominent of the restaurants that make up a fascinating “Khao galli” that is reminiscent of the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi, without the grit and gore. None of the restaurants are known for their décor: they’re all eat and run places, approximately like those in Old Delhi. Purani Dilli is clean and respectable. The family room is airconditioned; the main dining area is not. On the evening of my visit, there was a mother-daughter duo from the neighbourhood at the next table. Nobody felt uncomfortable at their presence, or at mine (I ate alone). There are only two kinds of biryani: mutton and chicken. Vegetarians, please excuse. The former is only available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; the latter is available every day of the week.
One half portion of biryani is enough for a hearty eater. It is served with sliced raw onions, a rather watery green chutney that I didn’t try and an equally watery raita that didn’t inspire confidence. The biryani is made in the Lucknow style, but with a punch of red chilli powder that would not be the case in Lucknow. The Purani Dilli biryani is all about delicacy of flavour and robustness combining in a proportion that cannot but appeal to your tastebuds. It is one of those deceptively simple dishes where everything is in the stock. It is the stock that is rich in flavour, having been made with simmered chicken bones. No added flavour mars the simplicity of the biryani which is the palest golden in colour. The restaurant calls it “zaffrani chicken biryani” but it’s nothing of the sort. In any case, you cannot sell a generous half plate for Rs 115 if it did include saffron. The full plate, at Rs 230, is enough for 3-4 persons.
No gravy is served along with the biryani, and to be honest, none of the qormas, niharis and haleems that the restaurant specializes in would enhance the delicate flavour: they would only serve to drown it. Do eat it on its own: there’s enough oil in it to keep it from being dry and the long grain rice, obviously soaked before being cooked, like the Persian tradition, makes it soft and fluffy. No whole spices spoil the appearance of the fragrantly golden biryani: just two generous joints of chicken nestle deep inside the plastic serving bowl.
Looked at from one angle, Purani Dilli ought to have a greater variety of biryanis, including something for the vegetarians. Looked at in a different light, when the rest of the city is playing to the gallery, this little eatery is making its own statement for authenticity. I’d chalk up a point or three to them.
CHOICE ON MENU 4/10
371, Main Road, Zakir Nagar, Okhla, New Delhi 110025
Phone: 011 26983371, M: 9911201206
Open from 12 noon to 3 pm and 6.30 to 11.30 pm
No credit cards accepted; no alcohol served (or tolerated in the premises)