At about 7am, though even 8 or 9 will do, head to the Jama Masjid. On the east side of the masjid, just off Itwara Road, is Kalyan Singh’s Swad Bhandar (0755-2731495). You will find it easily because of the crowd of people eating his famous, fresh and hot Bhopali poha with Sev and Jalebis. This is a breakfast you will find all over the city, in both old and new quarters. Walk down to Itwara Chowk and get yourself a cup of authentic Bhopali Sulemani chai (Rs 2) from Jamal Bhai’s chai ki dukaan. Served from a huge samovar, this tea is uniquely sweet and salty, with generous amounts of cream. At the same place, you can try toast with pure thick cream. Better still slowly savour a regal breakfast of delicious mutton biryani from famous briyan shop next to the Jamal Bhai with Bakre ka paya. Very few other cities in world will offer you Biryani for breakfast!
By lunchtime, make your way to one of three restaurants in Bhopal that offer Bhopali food on their menus. Two of these are in Koh-e-Fiza. The first is at the Noor-us-Sabah Palace(4223333, 4239996). The open-air restaurant here offers beautiful views of Bada Talab and retains a few Nawabi specialties from the menus that once dominated its kitchens. Try Bhopali chicken korma (Rs 255), a rich and spicy chicken gravy and khada masala ka gosht (Rs 255), a dish of mutton cooked with whole spices that included star anise. The former royal khansama Ustad Saeed Khan, who used to cook for HH Hamidullah Khan and still cooks authentic Nawabi food to order (c/o Imran, 09893036807), proudly talks about how Bhopal uniquely prizes and uses star anise and about Bhopal’s rotis, which have to be so thin that “kauwa kaan par baandhen, uda le jaye aur pata na chale”. Saeed Khan regularly cooks murgh mussallum, biryani and murgh rezala among other Bhopali dishes at the Noor-us-Sabah and also cooks on occasion at the Jehanuma Palace (2661100). Lunch at the Shahnama Restaurant at Jehanuma Palace could include delicious Bhopali mutton korma (Rs 260) and murgh rezala (Rs 270) as per recipes handed down from the days of the nawabs. One of the most precious of these is the Bhopali filfora (Rs 275), a most unique dish made of turkey breast, marinated and slow cooked. They make a very good Bater (quail) mussallum (Rs 225) at the Jehanuma too. The other place in Koh-e-Fiza, Filfora is also the only place where you can find delicious shahi piece (Rs 15) readymade, without having to order in advance. The superb dessert of fried bread soaked in custard and flavored with cardamom is among the best. Also try the excellent phirni here (Rs 15). Their boti (Rs 55) and shami kebabs (Rs 45) are succulent and soft, and their kormas spicy. They serve excellent biryani (Rs 55) complete with traditional burani (Rs 30). The menu is replete with Nawabi dishes like khada masala ka gosht, roghan josh (Rs 70 each), kaccha kebab (Rs 40) and murgh rezala (Rs 70). The service tends to be bad and slow, please take it as part of Bhopali tradition
For evening snack in the tiny chowk adjacent to the Jama Masjid try barfi rasmalai dona at Surendra Jain’s stall. He places crushed ice in a pattal bowl, pours sweet and thick rabri over it, topped with syrup and finished with a sprinkling of rose water. Try Fariyali Khichdi, a khichdi of cooked sabudana with a peanut or two, curry leaves, kothmir and chillies, topped with thin wafers, a good sprinkling of sev and spicy batata chips. Now it is time for what Bhopal was waiting for all day. Make your way to Chatori Gali in Ibrahimpura, a short walk from the Jama Masjid, by 7pm so you can be there when the lid of the nahari pot is opened and swoon in ecstasy. The entrance to Chatori Gali is marked by crowds hanging around the Jhilli Miyan Ke Bade Ke Bun Kabab. He takes the tenderest bade ka kebab, made from meat that has been pounded hour upon painstaking hour, stuffs it into a tiny bun and serves it with chutney and onions (Rs 3). Once you’ve had it you’ll agree that the world henceforth is divided into those who’ve eaten bun kebab and those who haven’t. Then get to Hotel Gazala, a few steps ahead in Chatori Gali, announced by thick stacks of kulcha tandoori. Mohammad Sarwar’s (09893191733) will give you rotis and a thick and peppery stew full of soft meat that brings tears of gratitude. Look at the unspeaking crowds in the gali around you engrossed in enjoying this most perfect dinner.
Still Hungry? Food Check List
– Hotel Gazala (09893191733), Chatori Gali, Ibrahimpura after 7pm for the fabulous nalli nihari (Rs 20), bhuna korma (Rs 10), special stew (Rs 20), nargisi kofta (Rs 15), bater (quail, Rs 50 apiece) and aloo-sabzi-dal-anda.
– Hotel Jameel, Ibrahimpura after 7pm for kebabs and fried chicken
– Manohar Dairy and Restaurant (2740465) Hamidia Road for Chaat, Dosa, Sweets and other Paneer based items
– Taste of Hyderabad (2533431) Jishan Complex, Emami Gate fluctuates in quality makes excellent khumani ka meetha, phirni, biryani and Bhopali mutton korma on a good day.
– Haji Lassiwala, Itwara Chowk – falooda is the world’s best.
– Ibrahimpura – Varki samosa at only a couple of stalls after 4pm – it is a layered samosa stuffed with spicy mutton keema
– Arif Bhai Bhajiye – Shabban Chouraha!
– Shahjahanabad Ka Badam Milk – only in winters.
– Laxmi Talkise Ki Namak Wali Chai.
– The mutton chaamp (Rs 80), keema kaleji (Rs 70) and bhuna gosht (Rs 80) at Hakeem Hotel (5252181), New Market, TT Nagar
– The Vegetarian menu at Bapu ki Kutia at Roshanpura T. T. Nagar
– The famous Cycle Soup Walla of No. 10 market in Arera Colony (now Sagar Ratna): Veg cheese soup, Triple Decker Cheese Sandwich, Veg Biryani made with Soya Koftas.
– 6 no. Stop Hawkers corner – Samose, Kachori, Chat
– Milan Sweets, M.P. Nagar, Zone I – Samose, Kachori, Chat
– Brajwasi New Market – Pani Puri
– Chole Kulche at 10 No Market thela
(Please contribute your tips. Let us make this a complete food guide of Bhopal)