This account is based on the recollections of a meal taken during the summer of 2006.
We were standing outside Kake Da Hotel at Connaught Place in New Delhi. Moaned over by food critics, the legendary eatery – its name implying ‘Uncle’s Restaurant’ in Punjabi - is supposed to be a carnivore's delight. Amateur gourmands drive great distances to feast on its celebrated Butter Chicken.
But Kake Da Hotel was a mere shack beside a smoggy highway. Worse, it was summer and the restaurant was full so we had to wait and perspire outside with many others.
A bearded man at the entrance, likely to be the Kake's version of a maitre d'hotel, was assigning numbers to the waiting diners. He would call out the number each time a table was cleared. While expecting to be summoned inside any minute, we dwelled on the mythical history of this gastronomical landmark. It was said to have been founded by a Sikh gentleman who had migrated to Delhi after the Indian partition in 1947.
With no disrespect to the refugee's entrepreneurial skills, we refused to be impressed. The eatery, with its cement floor, shabby door, and plastic chairs, was not a pretty place for a languid dinner. Just then the maitre d'hotel furiously gesticulated at us to walk in.
That Sinking Feeling
It was an unsettling sight. Our table top displayed remnants of a freshly dug graveyard. Chicken thighs, sucked out of all the flesh, were lying like ignored skeletons on jungle roads. The body language of the waiters warned the diners to eat, slurp, and be swiftly done. We shifted uncertainly on our chairs when an old steward flung a menu on the table. We guiltily pointed at the bones. He swapped a dirty cloth over the table and lo, the bones were down under!
Shocked but not awed, we tried to focus our attention on the laminated menu card, yellowed with old curry stains. There was no need to mull, however. Both of us simultaneously said Butter Chicken. It was the signature dish after all! We ordered it with Palak Paneer and Naan-bread. The steward demanded just how many naans we have in mind. After an exchange of glances we promised to let him know; once done with the first one. He shrugged his shoulders and disappeared.