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Delhiwale: From Nizamuddin West to Matia Mahal, city’s haleem trail

A journey into the world of a legendary one-dish meal of wheat, lentils and meat.

delhi Updated: Sep 03, 2018 08:34 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Mayank Austen Soofi
Hindustan Times
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Mohammed Naimuddin sets up his stall of haleem daily at noon at Gali Kababiyan in the Walled City’s Matia Mahal Bazar.(HT Photo )

This is hearty food, different from the nazakat (sophistication) of the usual Mughlai dishes like koftas and pulaos.

Gooey as a mash, haleem is a one-dish meal of wheat, lentils and meat. The best haleem in Delhi is of course found in homes — the one served in the kitchen of writer Jawed Naqvi in Nizamuddin West is out of this world. The second-best haleem is to be had in Gali Kababiyan, the lane behind Kareem’s restaurant in the Walled City’s Matia Mahal Bazar.

Mohammed Naimuddin sets up his stall daily at noon. A ravenous crowd gathers around him immediately. The deg (cauldron) gets empty within three hours. Like most traditional cooks in this part of the city, Mr Naimuddin inherited the business from his father, the legendary Bundu Haleemwala. Though he is shy to give the details of his preparations, the recipe is deceptively simple and consists of three parts: boneless meat, usually of burra (buffalo), is cooked with oil and spices; soaked wheat grains (or broken wheat used for breakfast porridge) is boiled in water; chana lentils are boiled and mashed, or pulverized in the food processor. All three are finally mixed together and cooked for some more time.

Haleem could be made in two hours, though unpractical purists insist on slow-cooking it for ten hours. Onions, tomatoes, green chillies, coriander leaves and lemon juice are added before serving. A decent haleem should be fibrous with a sticky texture. Because it has wheat, pulses and meat, the dish is wholesome and needs no accompaniment. The roadside sellers, if the customer demands, serve it with biryani.

The haleem is sold elsewhere too in the Walled City, such as in the stalls of Meena Bazar, in front of the east-facing gateway of Jama Masjid. There the dish is plainer; you won’t find stuff like mace and nutmeg in it. Priced super-cheap at Rs10 a plate, it is kept hot in a wood-fired deg. The customers – usually labourers, rickshaw pullers, street children and pilgrims on their way to the area’s sufi shrines – stand patiently around the cart, waiting to be served with a dish that would give them strength to last for a good number of hours.

To get a feel of the Meena Bazar variety, you may try Muhammad Yusuf’s atmospheric stall. His ladle is of wood and his spice box has a sticker printed with Ayatul Kursi, a verse from the Quran. Mr Yusuf’s entire family comprise of haleem cooks. His father sells it in Turkman Gate and his two older brothers hawk the same near Red Fort and Kasabpura (near Idgah).

Mr Yusuf’s haleem is a bit too generous with garam masala but having it at his establishment gives one the thrill of being just another old Delhi local.

First Published: Aug 30, 2018 13:14 IST