As winter envelops the city, foodies flock to Delhi’s famous nahari joints for the delicacy’s warm sustenance. Though available year-round, in summers a meal nahari can leave you sweating — not only because the Delhi variant is made exclusively with red meats but also because the curry inculcates many fiery spices. If that weren’t enough, the traditional garnish is finely sliced or chopped green chillies.
“Nahari is counted in the list of foods with a warm constitution. The ideal season for enjoying it lasts for four months starting in November,” says Khalil Ahmad, who runs the Madina Mashhoor Nahari in the bylanes of Zakir Nagar, a Muslim neighbourhood in Jamia Nagar.
The dish’s name comes from the the Arabic word ‘nahaar’, or morning, signifying a dish that is had ‘nahar munh’ or with a fresh mouth.
Nahari is said to have its origins in Shahjahanabad with one legend about the dish being invented in the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who was to have an important visitor for whom he wanted his khansamas (royal cooks) to create a special dish. Other legends speak of its invention as a dish that could be cooked over night in a sealed pot on embers and had in the morning by workers as sustenance for long work hours.
“Primarily, nahari and haleem were invented more for sustenance, than for flavour,” says restaurateur and celebrity chef Marut Sikka. “It’s not a flavour that everyone will like. However, you can see many places-mostly Islamic centres-serving mutton-based nahari, but not in restaurants around the city.”
The fiery yet well-blended dish gets its melt-in-your-mouth quality from the slow process of cooking meat with stock in large vessels called shab deg or overnight vessels, sometimes even buried underground. The deg is then left on dum, a term used for the process of sealing the deg’s lid dough and allowed to cook on a slow coal fire for four to five hours.
“Though nahari can be made of mutton and chicken, it tastes best when cooked with beef shanks,” says Rafiquddin, famously known as Kallu bhai of Kallu Nahari of Daryaganj. Nahari’s cooking time of around six to eight hours ‘melts’ the beef (buff in Delhi).
“Nahari is left for dum for another three to four hours before it is served garnished with sliced chillies, ginger and a bit of rogan (flavourful oil which floats on the surface of the curry),” he adds.
One of the most popular variations of nahari is made with bone marrow. For a foodie tourist nahari is more than a simple dish, it is an opportunity to explore a tradition and an art handed down the generations.