A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.
Some aromas stay with you for a lifetime. How the sense of smell affects your appetite became clear to me long years ago when I stood next to a degchi of nihari. A heavenly aroma – of meat and spices – wafted in the air, and I immediately lost my heart to this delectable Muslim dish.
There was a time when I used to often walk down the little lanes of Old Delhi in search of some good nihari. But many of the old bawarchis known for their nihari are no more. Kallu Nihariwallah of Chhatta Lal Mian, whose nihari was to die for, has gone up to the big sky, where, no doubt, he is feeding hungry souls. Haji Noora, another master chef, who sold nihari from a shop in Bara Hindu Rao, has departed, too. And I can’t remember when I last visited Haji Shabrati in Jama Masjid’s Chitli Kabar area.
These days, when I want some good nihari, I move southwards. Zakir Nagar, close to the Jamia Millia Islamia University, is a treasure trove when it comes to food. And I think you get the best nihari at an eatery called Javed’s Famous Nihari Shop.
Nihari is essentially a meat stew, prepared with shanks cooked over hours. The meat with the spices is put in a big vessel, half of which is covered and placed below a lit platform, while the top half with the mouth is above the platform, and covered. This is to ensure that the heat is low, which soften the meat to such an extent that it just melts.
Javed’s shop, which opens only in the evenings, is in the Zakir Nagar Market near the main masjid in the area. A few steps up lead you to the shop, and you will find a huge deg there, besides which sits a man who scoops out the buffalo meat nihari from the deg onto the plates before him. There is a huge mound of ginger slivers and other ingredients used for garnishing. A small deg contains rogan, a hot curry which you can add to your nihari if you like it especially hot and spicy. On the other side, freshly baked rotis are tossed up from a flaming hot tandoor.
I love this dish because of its flavours and the balance of spices such as fennel and cumin seeds. And the softness of the meat, which really blends into the gravy, along with the marrow, is what makes Nihari so very special.
Javed gives a special touch to his nihari by adding some desi ghee to it. The dish is not just delicious and nourishing, it is also filling. Yet, you keep coming back for more.
(Rahul Verma has been writing on food for over 25 years now. And, after all these years, he has come to the conclusion that the more he writes, the more there is left to be written)
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