Hidden in the alleys of Old Delhi is Karim’s: where every tourist goes to feel like they’ve found something authentic. But within this secret Delhi institution lies an even deeper secret. It’s there on the menu, glistening with the greasy prints of a thousand other patrons who have rested their finger on it in wonder:
Tandoori Bakra. Twenty-four hours. Ninety US dollars. On a menu where the average dish costs $2 and arrives at your table in five minutes, this item sets your mind salivating: with mutton burra this good, what must their tandoori bakra be like? And what the hell’s a bakra?
My tourist dream came true last Sunday, when me and thirty-five of my closest friends descended on Karim’s with our appetites and our orders placed twenty-four hours in advance. What’s a bakra? It’s a whole goat, stuffed with rice and eggs and almonds, slow cooked and presented on a silver platter.
In the summer of 2000, my band headlined an outdoor pig roast in the woods of Maine. A hundred people, a warm night, an excess of loud music and cold booze all leading up to the main event: the unveiling of the pig. Buried in a pit of coals since early that afternoon, it was scheduled to rise out of the ground like a delicious zombie around ten PM. But the pig took its time, arriving four beer-soaked hours late to meet a frenzied crowd that became piranhas in a David Attenborough special at the sight of it. We surrounded it, tearing at it with bare hands, stuffing pig flesh into our mouths with one claw while reaching for more with the other. It was a vision of man reduced to his basest state: grunting, eating, swallowing, slobbering, wiping his hands on his shirt and going back for more.
It was the most delicious meat I’ve ever had in my life.
And this is what I was expecting to waft out of Karim’s kitchen: melting off the bone, melting into my mouth. My heart leapt by the sudden appearance of men bearing meat, followed by other men bearing tiny knives for us to carve with. Hungry hands sawed and pulled and jerked the flesh off the bone and onto my eager plate.
And that was when the dream ended. The juicy piece of midsection looked like heaven; but in my mouth, it was rubber. I chewed it for minutes. The rice was delicious, but the meat itself was tragically disappointing. I was expecting a Maine pig roast. I was expecting a street fair turkey leg. I was expecting Thanksgiving. I was expecting Hooters’ hot wings. What I got… was old, chewy meat.
This is the curse of the tourist who spends too much time in the town he’s touring: eventually he discovers that the secret treasures reserved for the locals are, in fact, just old, chewy meat.
Also, points deducted for the boiled egg stuffed in the goat’s former anus.