Growing up in an Indian household, visiting an Indian restaurant was never that exciting to me. I was a fussy eater as a kid and preferred pizza any day. Besides, my mum could make Indian food which was heaps better than any restaurant we would go to.
I’d graze a little at whatever the family ordered, reluctantly. The only thing in our local Indian restaurant that I would eat consistently was hot buttery naan bread, soft and moreish, which I would happily tuck into, dipping it in some saag paneer or butter chicken. I loved all the colours, the warmth and hunks of that warm, enriched, naan, but truly nothing beat my mum’s Indian food.
To be honest, it still doesn’t, anyone who knows my mum will know that she’s an absolutely excellent cook. Mum can make a meal out of anything and it always tastes amazing. That’s what mums do, right? It’s like they have some skill instilled in them by the universe for making food taste amazing.
Many years on, I’m much the opposite of what I was. I’ve developed a huge love for great Indian food and can eat it by the bucket. I guess it’s in my blood and it was always eventually going to happen! Now my comfort foods often have a spicy element to them and my taste buds have grown to love heat and complex flavours, that I didn’t like as a child. Whilst I’m yet to find an Indian takeaway I like, I have grown into the total opposite of what I was. I was the fussy little girl who had to be distracted to eat (and who occasionally hid food behind the sofa…), and now I’ve an absolute obsession for all types of Indian food.
When planning our trip, my other half had told me about one of his favourite childhood meals, one that had stuck in his head for years after and that was high on his list to recreate with me, whilst in India. Many years ago, he had visited Bukhara in New Delhi (his palate was clearly better than mine as a kid). Recently we had the pleasure of returning, this time together. Given all of the above I was oblivious that actually Bukhara is one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the world, visited by foodies from across the globe, as well as the Clintons, Tony Blair and many celebrities – and I’m so glad I had no idea as I went with no expectations. What followed was something truly special!
Bukhara serves traditional North West Indian cuisine, which has made it big in the foodie world – devoid of the pretentiousness in lots of luxury hotels; there’s no fancy décor, the walls are draped with carpets and pots hang from the ceiling. Instead, Bukhara focuses on delicious, hearty Indian food, based on dishes from the North West Frontier, with classic ingredients, done really really really well!
Now I am going to make a huge statement…
It was here where I enjoyed the best chicken and naan, I’ve ever eaten in my life. Ever. I wish you could taste it as it was truly phenomenal!
Big statement, I know. I’ll explain. But first let me share with you what we ate:
These were perfectly crispy, super crunchy and not at all greasy – these were delicately spiced and paired with the slightly tangy coriander green chutney and served with a mountain of sweet red onion slices.
Described on the menu as the “king of kebabs” and by me as the “best chicken tikka of my life”. It’s made with two different types of chilli, lemon, garlic, yoghurt and garam masala. It was so well marinated, full of flavour, succulent and moreish!
Normally the daal served in Delhi contains both beans and lentils – Bukhara makes theirs with just lentils. The lentils are soaked and cooked over the tandoor each night for many hours, then spices are added to give it the most incredible taste. Finally the daal is put onto a charcoal grip over a slow fire. It has the most delicious creaminess and richness but a much lower fat content than usual given the relatively small amount of butter and cream added, to what is typically a highly rich, indulgent dish.
This is the most exquisite type that makes you wish you had a second stomach to store more for later! It accompanied the Daal Bukhara so well and I immediately had a smile glued to my face from the first bite. Absolutely some of the best naan bread I’ve ever eaten – it was perfect and I could have polished it off myself if I had more space. Trust me just get it as soon as you get the chance! It was also wonderful that we could watch them make it as we ate. I love an open kitchen – it really brings the meal to life, doesn’t it?
Phirni is a creamy dessert made of ground basmati rice topped with pistachios and almonds. Whilst the menu described this as light, I didn’t find it to be so and I wasn’t too keen on it. If you like quite bold flavours in your pudding this may be for you though. Personally, I didn’t eat more than a few spoons of this. I’m a huge fan of creamy puddings, and I’d have loved to have something lighter like that incredible pudding we had at Pica.
The service was excellent – the perfect blend of attentive and hardly noticeable; our copper water glasses were constantly filled up without us noticing. The executive chef, JP Singh, was kind enough to talk us through the techniques that make this food so special. The chicken is marinated, seared, and cooked again in the hot tandoor. There are even rules about how much the chefs can use lids to stop the air from moving once the meat is coated! Finally, it’s then hung, and basted regularly with butter to “moisturise” it.
Chefs learn by practice, and they have to as the marinades change from season to season as the climate can affect the taste and texture of the tandoori chicken. Clearly, there’s some science involved!
We ended the meal with paan, a sweet betel leaf concoction and some traditional Indian digestive seeds and snacks – these are served all over India after meals as an aid to digestion – they also taste delicious and act as a makeshift mouth freshener!
The food was incredible and I’m itching to go back to Delhi to eat this again. It’s pure comfort food, perfect flavours and it’ll be hard to ever appreciate your local Indian takeaway after you’ve tasted food at Bukhara! There are so many spots I need to try, including these from Lindsay.
My tastes have come a long way from being the fussy child who would only want her mum’s food. Sorry mum, whilst your food is still the best, Bukhara has taken my top spot this time!
Bukhara can be found at the ITC Maurya Hotel in New Delhi. Website here. Go and make sure you go with an empty stomach as you will inevitably want to eat everything!
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