By Sourish Bhattacharyya
THE world of Dal Makhni won't be the same again. An 11-member Delhi Gourmet Club (DGC) tasting panel led by 'Mr Old Monk' and author of critically acclaimed cookbooks, Rocky Mohan, voted the Dal Makhni served at Masala Art, Taj Palace, as Delhi's Best.
The judgment should send ripples of shock along the corridors of neighbouring ITC Maurya because its famed Dal Bukhara has been unseated from its perch at the top by the judges who conducted a blind tasting of 24 Dal Makhni samples in three batches of eight across three days.
|The last lot of Dal Makhni samples that were tasted|
by the Delhi Gourmet Club panel led by its
founder-member, Rocky Mohan.
Photo by Rajeev Gulati
Just one point separates the weighted average of Masala Art's Dal Makhni and that of the venerable Dal Bukhara (70.44 vs 69.44), though, if I had my way, my vote would have gone to the Langarwali Dal at Taj Palace! Bukhara is separated by a whisker from (surprises don't cease!) Jamawar at The Leela Palace New Delhi (69.11) and Baluchi at The Lalit (68.44). So, just two points separate No. 1 and No. 4. It must be the closest contest ever. Spice Art at Crowne Plaza, Rohini (No. 19; 36.89) and Dhaba at The Claridges (No. 20; 30.67) are at the bottom of the heap.
The results must have taken the jury by surprise, which may explain why its members decided unanimously to honour Dal Bukhara with the Hall of Fame Award. It is indeed the benchmark, although Monish Gujral of Moti Mahal Delux (MMD) insists that it was his grandfather, the legendary Kundan Lal Gujral, who invented Dal Makhni, along with Butter Chicken. The jury had a shock in store for MMD.
It has been a real comedown for the self-declared inventor of this post-Partition Punjabi restaurant dish, which the rest of the country regards as an insult to our favourite urad dal (acclaimed columnist Vir Sanghvi calls Dal Makhni a "dairy product"). MMD's Dal Makhni is at No. 15 with 49.56 points! If the recipe given by Monish Gujral in his book, Moti Mahal's Tandoori Trail (Roli Books), is anything to go by, you might as well have lots of milk, butter and cream and start imagining that you've had dal!
Here's the list of ingredients used by Moti Mahal Delux (and it's pretty much true for all Dal Makhni variants, including Dal Bukhara, except that it uses only urad dal, or black gram): Urad Dal, whole, 3-1/3 cups or 500gm; Kidney Beans (Rajma), 1-3/4 cups or 250gm; Bengal Grams (Chana Dal), 1-3/4 cups or 250gm; Milk, 5 cups or 1 litre; Tomato Puree, 5 cups or 1 litre; Red Chilli Powder, 25gm; Cumin (Jeera) powder, 25gm; Garam Masala, 25gm; Butter, 1 kg; Cream, 2-1/2 cups or 500ml; Salt to taste. Did someone say this is dal?!
A Punjabi grandma would have an nervous breakdown if she were told this is a Punjabi dish. Sanghvi blames this on post-Partition Punjabi migrant restaurateurs from Peshawar, whose idea of making a dish shahi (blue-blooded) was to pump it up with butter, cream and tomatoes, and he extensively quotes ITC's hotelier-at-large Gautam Anand, who's also a brilliant blogger, to back his view.
Having said all this, I have to point out that Dal Makhni, like Butter Chicken, has a dedicated following, including the 11 brave men and women on the jury who went through the tasting exercise with dedication and passion. The jury represent the average anonymous consumer who keeps restaurants in business--just one of them is a hospitality industry consultant. And as with the previous Delhi Gourmet Club panels, which judged Delhi/NCR's best butter chicken, hamburgers, seekh kebabs (which, incidentally, was won by Bukhara), pizzas, dosas and now Dal Makhni, it is the voice of the average anonymous consumer that gets expressed in these results.
The rest of the list makes for interesting reading because of the fractional differences between the various contenders. Is this because of the fundamental uniformity in the Dal Makhni recipes across restaurants? Dal Bukhara is made with bottled water, others are not, but that doesn't seem to have helped its cause! Some may be using full-fat cream, others may not. Some may be using salted butter, others may not. The results show that there's no real product differentiation in Dal Makhni offerings across restaurants.
Before I wrap up, here are the rankings of the rest of the restaurants, other than the ones already mentioned, that made it to the First 20:
4. HAVEMORE @ PANDARA ROAD (63.89)
5. SET'Z @ DLF EMPORIO, VASANT KUNJ (62.89)
6. MINAR @ CONNAUGHT PLACE, OUTER CIRCLE (60.89)
7. INVITATION @ ASHOK VIHAR (56.44)
8. KWALITY @ PARLIAMENT STREET, CONNAUGHT PLACE (56.11)
9. MOET @ DEFENCE COLONY (56.00)
10. MADE IN PUNJAB @ DLF CYBER HUB, GURGAON (55.78)
11. THE GREAT KEBAB FACTORY @ RADISSON BLU PLAZA, MAHIPALPUR (53.89)
12. GULATI @ PANDARA ROAD (53.44)
13. EMBASSY @ CONNAUGHT PLACE (50.89)
14. KASBAH @ N-BLOCK MARKET, GK-I (50.67)
15. MOTI MAHAL @ M-BLOCK MARKET, GK-I (49.56)
16. MUGHAL BBQ (49.22)
17. UNITED COFFEE HOUSE @ CONNAUGHT PLACE (45.33)
18. MUGHAL MAHAL @ M-BLOCK MARKET, GK-II (40.78)
(This blogger is a founder-member of the Delhi Gourmet Club, but the views expressed in this post are entirely personal.)