Tried and tasted: Where to find the best nihari in Old Delhi this Ramzan
One of my happiest food memories of all time is about an early morning breakfast in a narrow lane near the Jama Masjid. Morning had just broken and already a whole lot of people were standing outside a non-descript eatery, waiting for a huge sealed pot to be opened.
I stood among them and we collectively sighed when the lid was opened. A delicious aroma of spices and meat wafted in the air, and the thick and reddish gravy in the cauldron looked most appetising. We stood with our arms outstretched, waiting for our bowls to be filled with nihari, and I could tell that almost all of us wore a goofy grin.
Nihari does that to me. As you would know, it is a dish of shanks and spices, cooked on slow heat over long hours. In many places, the nihari is cooked overnight and served early in the morning. And people line up for it before they begin work because it is a hearty dish that keeps them going for hours.
That is one reason why nihari is much sought after during Ramzan, the period when devout Muslims fast through the day, break their fast in the evening, and have a meal early in the morning before they start their ‘roza’ again. And one of the places where people come for their nihari is an old shop, locally known as Shabrati.
Haji Shabrati Nihari Wale is in Haveli Azam Khan, a bylane off Matia Mahal in Old Delhi. Old man Shabrati is no more, but the eatery has its loyal clientele. On the menu are nihari and rotis and for those who want something more, brain fry.
We went there one Ramzan evening, and found the place packed. You get the aroma of food even before you can enter the eatery. Right in the front you will find a degh with the nihari and piles of freshly-made rotis. You enter, take a seat and wait to be served.
Shabrati only sells buffalo meat nihari and brain fry. The nihari is hot and spicy. You scoop out some of the thick and rich gravy with a piece of the hot and crispy khamiri roti. You pop it into your mouth and feel at peace. The buffalo meat is nice and soft, the shanks are juicy and add flavour and texture to the gravy and the spices are rather hot.
I had earlier given readers a recipe for a lamb nihari. You could substitute the lamb with buffalo meat if you wish to.
But do try out Shabrati’s nihari this season. When the rest of the city sleeps, Old Delhi is vibrantly alive during Ramzan. It is brightly lit up, with fairy lights merrily twinkling away, and there is a sense of anticipation in the air. Eid, after all, is just around the corner.
Recipe: Lamb nihari
Ingredients: 1 kg mutton (largely shanks), 4 tbsp ghee, 3 small onions finely sliced, 2tsp ginger garlic paste, 2tsp coriander powder, 1/2tsp turmeric powder, 2tbsp powdered roasted channa, 2 tbsp nihari masala (usually a mix of roasted cumin, fennel, green and black cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon, black peppercorn and nutmeg), salt to taste.
Method: Heat the ghee in a heavy-bottomed pot. Fry onions till brown. Now fry the mutton with the pastes and the powders, barring the channa powder and the nihari masala. Mix well and sauté for 10 minutes or so. Add the nihari masala, stir for a bit and then add 10 medium-sized cups of water. Mix well, cover and cook on very low heat for five hours or so, or till the meat is tender. It should be so soft that it falls from the bone when you touch it with a fork. Now mix the channa powder in half a cup of water, removing the lumps. Add this to the gravy and then let the stew simmer for 10 minutes or so, till the gravy thickens a bit. Before serving, garnish with slivers of ginger, green chillies and chopped coriander leaves, and squeeze a wedge of lime over it. Serve with khamiri roti.
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