The Market That Could Have Been

Palika Bazaar was completed in the late 70’s and opened to public as an underground airconditioned market, beneath the central garden of Connaught Place, which was at one point considered to be the heart of Delhi and it’s premium Central Business District. The 80’s and 90’s was the time of India opening up to the outside world and the coming in of electronics goods from abroad. It was the time when it was mandatory to have a Japanese wristwatch, a Sony Walkman, a cassette player / VCR at home and to wear jeans, if you wanted to be seen as cool and hep. The rise and fall of Palika Bazaar, both can be attributed to this. There was a time when the shopkeepers of Palika were the keepers of cool, but slowly the action shifted to other parts of Delhi as ‘cooler’ malls and shopping centres opened up and electronics and jeans became part of daily life and shops. Thus Palika lost it’s edge. It’s still fairly busy as a market but with the constant physical aggressiveness of the shopkeepers and their assistants trying to force you into their shops

Palika Bazaar Ka Mutton Wallah

My this impression of Palika Bazaar completely changed when my friend and fellow foodie, Rohit Uchil told me that he’ll get me to taste the most wonderful mutton korma within Palika Bazaar. I was initially sceptical, but trudged along. Midst of all the Make-In-China might at display and the Make-in-India copies of Chaineez goods (Indians are now bettering the Chinese at their game 😊), we came to this small khau galli or food street of 5-6 shops selling mostly vegetarian lunch items and some snacks

One stall S-5, had a particularly bigger crowd of people in front of it, jostling and elbowing to get their stuff. Most of ’em were getting food packed and there was a small thin wooden ledge inside the shop, enough for 2-3 people to stand and eat. So me and Rohit were pushed in towards the ledge, when we indicated that we wanna eat here. There were only two dishes on the menu – Mutton Korma and Chicken Korma. We ordered one half plate of each alongwith some Khamiri Roti. Both dishes, true to Rohit’s word were delicious. The sign of a good korma is the ‘dana’ which translates as the gravy not being smooth and pasty, but being more grainy in nature. The graininess mainly comes from the onion being sautΓ©ed and not overly fried Β and hence doesn’t become mashy and pasty and also because of the yoghurt that’s slow-cooked in the gravy. This wasn’t just a tasty, but also a well-made korma

Details of the shop’s origins are a bit sketchy. I was told it was started by a gentleman by the name Naresh Mehra around 18 years ago (his photo hangs on the wall). He was from Peshawar and the korma here has been inspired by the Peshawar style. It’s now owned by Gauri Shankar who I believe use to work with Naresh. Thankfully, the transition hasn’t resulted in any sorta fall in quality, unlike the many kormas of Old Delhi, which haven’t really stood the test of time

Palika Bazaar Ka Mutton Korma

Gauri Shankar at his Palika Bazaar stall

I’ve now been here many times but only met Gauri Shankar on my last visit. Luckily he was there and I got to click a snap of him dishing out korma to customers. He came across as a sweet sorta fellow and quite grounded. I sincerely wish that he continues to do what he does and maintains the quality of the korma, as it’s a really wonderful dish

Once you go past the gullies of Palika and eat the korma here standing on that small thin ledge. Trust me! You’ll never see Palika Bazaar and Connaught in the same light again. I hope Palika Bazaar will now be known more for the quality of its mutton korma and not shady tattoo joints, porn cd shops and jeans that don’t fit

Address – Shop S5, Palika Bazaar (just ask anyone in Palika – where’s the Meatwallah and they’ll guide you. The korma’s available both for lunch and dinner but gets over quickly. Gauri Shankar told me that they do a Jackfruit biryani on Tuesdays and a Saag Mutton on Sundays. Next trip will be for that

Happy hunting and chowder-on