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Pune’s ‘Ramadan restaurant’ where people from across India show up to cook, serve

The Imdadi Hotel has been serving Punekars for 32 years during the Ramadan season and has cooks from across India and Nepal who come in to create the special dishes.

pune Updated: Jun 10, 2017 16:35 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
The cooks at the stall are migrants from Lucknow and small villages in Uttar Pradesh and play a vital role in the success of the stall.(RAVINDRA JOSHI/HT PHOTO)

A gang of bikers are sitting together at one of the large tables inside the makeshift eating area pandal of the Imdadi hotel. The table is laden with typical Mughlai dishes including biryani, dalcha chawal, dabba ghosth, khichida, a whole tandoori chicken, a variety of sheekh kebabs, sweet phirini, and shahi tukda, all jostling for space on the narrow table.

Vaibhava Rele is a ‘bikerni’ who loves to visit the Imdadi hotel every year with her friends and family. “We love the food cooked here. It is fresh and tastes delicious. You don’t often get dalcha chawal or a khichida in regular restaurants. Coming here to eat during Ramadan is a fantastic experience,” she said.

The Imdadi Hotel has been serving Punekars for the 32nd year and is a make shift hotel which is only open for one month during Ramadan and was started by a group of 24 members from Momimpura in the Gurwar Peth area of Pune.

“The word ‘Imdadi’ was coined from the word ‘Imdad’ meaning ‘to help’,” explains Bashir Khan Bargir, one of the people behind the Imdadi Social Welfare Organisation. Along with him, Mustafa Jaffar Sheikh (Bhaya), Shakeel Mujaid, Ibrahim Sheikh and Aziz Bagwan,Zubair Tajmat are all part of a friend’s circle in Momimpura. While enjoying sharbat in Zubair’s cold drink house, they came up with the idea to start a small shop to help people with food post the fast during Ramadan.

In the year 1985, the group of friends put up Sharbat, Chai, Chana, Bhaji pav in Momimpura and on the first day, managed to make around Rs 3000.

“For us to make this kind of money was a big thing. Towards the end of the month, we made around Rs 25000 and we decided to use it all for the needy and gave it away to people for paying for children’s education or even buying school paraphernalia,” adds Zubair Tajmat.

Caste and religion are put aside when it comes to cooking and enjoying this festival. A prominent example would be that of starter specialist Dhan Sonar, who hails from Nepal. He used to work at the Radisson hotel in Delhi and later with Courtyard in Hinjewadi. But he felt that he could not show much creativity and wanted more direct interaction with his customers, hence left the job to join Shalimar hotel near Azam Campus.

Though a Hindu, he feels that as his ‘brother’ is celebrating the festival, it is his festival too and ensures that he gives his best for the one month to showcase his culinary skills.

“I have created a special menu for the iftar to break the daily fast. They usually prefer dry snacks so I have created threaded chicken, afghani chicken leg, spicy chinese sauce special chicken and the ultimate is the whole bakra roast which will be made on order,” he said.

He works together with ‘khansama’ Wahid Baig who brings his experience and skills of the‘Lucknowi Nazaqat’ to the table.

But it is their hand picked cooks from Mumbai, who actually make the food taste so delicious. These cooks are migrants from Lucknow and small villages in Uttar Pradesh and play a vital role in the success of the stall.

Aziz Bagwan (45) has settled in Pune and is part of the Imdadi group. He is the expert chef who manages the production of Dalcha Chawal. Though the dish looks simple, similar to a regular dal chawal, there are a lot of ingredients involved. This dish is usually served during weddings and needs a strict practice to get it right. According to the other members of the group, the best Dalcha ever produced was cooked by Aziz. He considers cooking as a hobby but by cooking over the years for more than 1000 people, he has mastered the art.

“We make it fresh, nothing is kept ready except for the tur dal which is the main ingredient. When I see people asking for second helpings, I know that my dish has turned out really well,” he said.

Lalla Umar Ali (48) hails from Lucknow and is the ‘khansama’ for all the mains served at the Imdadi hotel. This is a one month job and after he usually returns to his regular work in Mumbai. He begns cooking at noon every day so as to ensure the dishes ready on time. He has been cooking for Imdadi for last 15 years and says that his specialities are korma, khichida and bhendi ghosth. There are many takers for the ghosth cooked with vegetables and he proudly states that he has retained the flavours of Lucknow from all his Abba’s teachings.

Nizzamuddin Khan (48) hails from a small village in UP and loves coming to Pune to cook for Imdadi hotel.

“Its very festive and the fact that my dishes like chicken kandy and chicken stick are enjoyed by all. this gives me a warm feeling. I feel like working more and more in this special month,” he said.

Tandoor specialist Sadakat Khan also hails from UP and is always busy handling not one, but four tandoor skewers for roasting chickens.

“I am cooking constantly over the open tandoor which is very hot, but when orders come flying for tandoori chicken, I cannot suppress a smile. Allah wants me to feed all of them, so let me get back to work,” he said.

These stalls will be open until June 25 or till the sighting of the moon.

First Published: Jun 10, 2017 14:53 IST