Republic Day Exclusive: Kake Da Hotel’s Legacy Lives On

In the year 1931, the British Indian government formally inaugurated what is now called "Lutyen’s Delhi." Cannaught Place, or CP, as we call it, opened up as a state-of-the-art marketplace for the Babus in the vicinity. The same year, Amolak Ram Chopra lays the foundation of his modest restaurant in Mall Road, Lahore, without an inkling of how, in about 20 years, he would find himself in the heart of a brand-new country, in a corner of plush Lutyen’s Delhi, where he has to start all over again, only this time to make history.

For the late Amolak Ram Chopra, fondly known as "Kaka Ji," the transition from Lahore to Delhi was not easy. "We had a rollicking business in Mall Road, Lahore," Captain Arun Chopra, son of the late Amolak Chopra, told us. "But post-partition, we were just one of those refugee families struggling to make ends meet. My father was a gifted cook; he thought of restarting his business on a thela, later the NDMC allotted him this current location in CP as part of their refugee welfare schemes," he explained.

Speaking about the early challenges, he added, "The times were very tough initially. Not just our business, we had to restart our lives, that too without a penny in our pocket. But people around were very sympathetic; they had heard or read about the hardships endured by refugees, the massive bloodshed, and the lives lost. So many people came forward to help us financially as well. With some loans and savings, a humble shack was set up first. We never marketed ourselves; whatever good name we have earned over the years is through word of mouth."

Image courtesy: Kake Da Hotel

In this tough market too, Kake Da Hotel has found a loyal fan base that has ensured that the restaurant is here to stay for a long, long time. Surely it isn’t just nostalgia? The quality of food speaks volumes about its long-standing legacy. When asked about the most popular dishes then versus now, the captain said, "It is the same menu continuing from the past 92–93 years; we have made no changes. This is authentic Punjabi food, cooked homestyle. There’s absolutely no Mughlai influence. Our very first ingredient in most dishes is desi ghee. Our chicken curry is very popular; the same is the case with our Dahi meat."

Image courtesy: Kake Da Hotel

Speaking more about the West Punjabi food traditions, he shared some rather interesting trivia with us too. He told us how, earlier, whenever people used to travel inside of Punjab and decided to stop by a dhaba for food, they would place the order for chapatis only; dal was served complimentary. "I have been associated with the restaurant since 1976, right after my stint in the Army concluded. But it was somewhere in 2009 that I learned about this very practise from my old staff. This is what my father also believed in and practised. He loved to feed his patrons first and make business later. As a result, I froze the price of dal at INR 90 per portion. To date, a portion of Dal Makhani at Kake Da costs 90 rupees. I remember in my childhood, a portion of chicken curry was a mere 12 annas, so at least, we have come a long way from there (laughs)."