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6th November 2017 was a special day for Nagpur foodies. Moti Mahal restaurant in Sadar was re opening after being closed for renovation for close to 9 months! It was an event many have been looking for impatiently… for Nagpur may have many eating places, but Moti Mahal is Moti Mahal ( though there are some name sakes too now.) ShoutOut Nagpur gives you its New Look!
What makes this place so popular? It was one of the first fine dining/ Mughlai/ Punjabi places to open its doors to hungry and foodie Nagpur people. We are into November 2017… Moti Mahal was started on 1st November 1961, exactly 56 years ago. When families like mine went out for dinner we didn’t say ” let’s eat out today”, we said “let’s go to Moti Mahal”. The place felt like a second home; we had a cubicle of our choice and waiters who regularly served us became family friends. If I wasn’t accompanying my parents they asked “aaj baby nahi aai?”
How it came about?
Kedarnath Sethi was displaced from Pakistan at the time of partition; the whole family was not just displaced, but even dispersed, no one knew where the other was. Kedarnath had settled temporarily in Himachal Pradesh, Simla. On a visit to Bhopal, he suddenly met his brother, who had been assumed dead during the violent riots. He was living in Raipur, so that is where Kedarnath moved too. Then to Durg, which was just a village then, and finally destiny brought them to Nagpur. Since he had already worked in restaurants/ catering, he took up a job as Manager in a restaurant called Blue Star. He soon learnt that the then owner was planning to sell it, since it wasn’t doing too well. Somehow he and his brother in law Sommprakash Nayyar managed to buy it, because they thought it had potential. They renamed it Moti Mahal.
Story of the ‘Chilly Chicken’!
The partners worked very hard to please the customers they got. Remember this was the early 1960s, Chinese food was not in vogue then, specially not in Nagpur. (Nanking was yet to happen!!)
One day two gentlemen came for dinner and wanted to eat a dish called ‘Chilly chicken’. They had just been to Delhi where they had tasted it and wanted it served in Moti Mahal. The partners had not a clue about Chinese cuisine and had never heard of this peculiar dish. But they did not want to displease customers so they went into the kitchen and experimented. They broke the dish into the two basic elements: chicken and chillies. They sauted and boiled some chicken and then added chopped Bhiwapuri green chillies and added them to the broth along with some usual Indin masalas. When they served the dish, the customers were very happy!
“This is the BEST chicken dish we have had – even better than the Delhi one” they complimented the experimental cooks. (This Indian ‘Chilly Chicken’ has been part of Moti Mahal menu since then – though authentic Chinese is also served).
Even otherwise their menu included exotic fare like Nargisi kofta, Murg Mussalam, Brain curry and the usual Punjabi/ Tandoor items like Tandoori chicken, kebabs, Nan and Roti. Many will never even have heard of Nargisi kofta today! What was it ? Eggs boiled to perfection, covered with mince kheema, fried and then put in a rich gravy made of cashew nuts among other things.
Even their soups were a first. It will not be an exaggeration to say that many city folks had their first taste of soup with Moti Mahal’s cream of tomato soup. Thick red soup, covered with generous dollops of cream served with crunchy crotons fried in butter! Who wouldn’t like such a soup?!!
Their desert was equally popular. The Moti Mahal ‘special’ was a glass layered with : jelly, then fruit salad, and topped with ice cream. It was a treat to your eyes as well as your taste buds – even after they had been satiated with all the rich food.
This iconic restaurant ruled the roost for many decades. Not just weekends, on many week day evenings too there was waiting. After the 1965 war, when Shastriji, our then P.M. gave a call for observing Monday as a ‘day of fasting’ to Indians – since food grains were scarce then – Moti Mahal has been religiously keeping its doors closed on Mondays! (It is ironic that it re opened on a Monday!!)
The past 7-8 months were the only time it has remained closed, for some much needed renovation, a wise decision off the owners. The old restaurant was divided into three parts, the A/C section, the general area and family cubicles. This look was popular among old timers, but now is the age of New and Young India with new decor and open spaces…
And new ‘Sethias’ at the till! Welcome to the food scene of Nagpur Ankit! Hope you understand us as well as your father and uncles did. Nagpur was waiting impatiently for their own ‘Moti Mahal’ to re open, they will come flooding to see the change in decor and satisfy themselves that food is still the ‘same’.
And yes, it was very heartening for old timers like me to see the old staff still retained and still on their feet! They don’t make waiters like them any longer.
Shop no-5, Residency Road, Sadar Bazar, Nagpur – 440001
+(91)-712-2532813, 6490001, 6617813