While some of us don’t know what we’ll be doing the day after tomorrow, Mohammad Rizwan, third generation chef and proprietor of Tundey Mia kebabs, in the Chowk area of old Lucknow, knows he’s still going to be at his sigdi one year from now – or three or 10 – as he has for the last 26 years.
Rizwan, 38, is currently in Mumbai for the Mughlai food festival at Renaissance, Powai, with his mentor and teacher Azhar Hussain.
“I knew since I was 12 that I wanted to take up the family business,” says Rizwan, who inherited the kebab shop set up by his grandfather Haji Murad Ali.
Rizwan comes from an older Lucknow that produced delicately embroidered garments, heady itar incense and beautiful mehndi.
And somewhere in its maze of lanes is a tiny kebab and paratha stall called Tundey Mia, renowned for its fabled melt-in-the-mouth Galouti kebab.
Kebab connoisseurs across Mumbai believe Tunde Mia is possibly the last repository of the centuries-old kebab secrets of the City of Nawabs.
One of them is acclaimed photographer Rafeeq Ellias, who assures us there is nothing exaggerated about Tundey’s reputation.
Ellias’s first taste of Rizwan’s kebabs was a few years ago when he was in Uttar Pradesh on assignment.
“I changed my travel plans by a few 100 km just to eat in Luc know,” he says.
That evening was divided between Tunde’s outlets in Chowk and Meena Bazaar. “I preferred the old-world charm and coal cooked flavour at Chowk,” he says.
Hussain says Rizwan, who’s here on his third visit, has come a long way from his first kitchen job of making Galouti kebabs as a 12-year-old at their shop.
Rizwan remembers there were no shortcuts and he learned things from scratch. “My grandfather would have it no other way.”
He describes how a Sufi saint told Ali of a special combination of 107 spices, which would bring him wealth and prosperity. Ali found acclaim when he mixed these spices into ground meat and presented it as a kebab to the then Nawab.
“Only the family has ever known the combination of spices used in the Galouti,” says Rizwan, saying his parents are the only ones who know the recipe – even he’s not in on it yet. And they have great expectations of the man who supplies them mutton, chicken and beef for over five decades. “God help him if he sends us meat that is ‘cold’ (not slaughtered fresh),” says Hussain.
The prices too haven’t changed much in 140 years. Four rupees gets you a sumptuous meal of one paratha and two kebabs. Which could explain how the business has grown to add two more stalls in Lucknow and franchises in Delhi.
Rizwan hopes to pass the legacy downwards and says: “I hope at least one of my two sons enters the family business.” We hope so too.