Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Mughlai Affair

Delhi is a generous city. It has assimilated the cuisines of Banias, Rajputs, Arabs, Afghans, Mughals and the English and more recently, the Punjabis. Sometimes it makes you wonder if what unites the country is not language or religion, but the food.

People of the early Vedic civilization ate meat and were fond of soma rasa (fermented fruit juice). In the following centuries, the priestly class became vegetarian and so did those who adopted Buddhism and Jainism. The Turko-Afghan invaders of Delhi were fond of lamb and poultry but their food was not very spicy, and peppercorn was used to liven a dish. The mughals, who became thereafter, favoured various types of meat cooked with ghee, curds and spices. They were fond of fruit and they imported grapes and musk melons from central Asia. What is today termed ‘Mughlai’ food in Delhi has little resemblance to what the emperors ate. It is a blend of Punjabi and Mughlai cuisine, standardize so much it tastes the same all over the city. If anything can be called the original Delhi food, it is probably the vegetarian Bania food which retained its original flavour despite the influence of mughal cuisine. After the partition of India in 1947, many people from west Punjab moved into Delhi and the city was introduced to Punjab’s vegetarian fare which is spicier than the food eaten locally.

Nowhere else in India will you find so many types pf cuisines-each with its own pedigree-which have evolved over the years. While Delhi’s ethnic specialities can be identified as Bania, Mughal and Punjabi, the European and Chinese food available are of a high standard.

Places that offer Muslim food are the areas around Jama Masjid, Bara Hindu Rao near Sardar bazaar and Nizamuddin. Some restaurants in the exclusive five-star hotels serve excellent Muslim food. Jama Masjid is today probably the best place for Mughal cuisine in North India.The variety and the quality are incredible, from the gola kebabs of Babu Khan who sits near the mosque in Matia Mahal, to Kallu’s halim and nahiri at the end of Gali Chitli Qabar. The different types of kebab and bread thet are available in the Jama Masjid area are mind-boggling. The kebab range from seekh and reshmi to kathi and kalmi, and the bread from naan and roomali roti to bakarkhami and tandoori roti.

For Puinjabi-Mughlai food the most popular places are the restaurants in Pandara Road Market, Karol bagh and Connaught place. Pindi and Gulati in pandara road and kake d hotel in connaught place have large clientele. Every locality in south and west Delhi has one or two good eating places serving this hybrid of Punjabi and Mughlai food. The menu here is predictable, with the ubiquitous tandoori chicken, butter chicken and dal makhani being favourites.The most famous non-vegetarian restaurant in Shahjahanabad area is karim in gali kababiyan in matia mahal.The restaurant has been run by the same family for over 90 years. Mutton korma, ishtew and barra kababs are musts for the gourmet visiting karim and the meal should end with firui, a milk-based dessert served in an earthenware dish. Karim has a branch near the dargah at Hazrat Nizamuddin. There is an interesting story about how the beef stew, nahiri, first came to be made during the reign of Emperor Shahjahan. Delhi’s water supply came from the canal in Chandni Chowk. The water in the canal was once found to be unfit for consumption, so the hakims of Delhi put their heads together and devised a recipe far a stew, cooked overnight over slow fire, with beef and a large measure of red chillies. The furiously hot chillies were meant to burn any germs present in the polluted water. It is said that the use of chillies and amchoor in bania food started around this time.

Interestingly, there are no restaurants in Delhi offering the traditional, vegetarian restaurants or bhojanalayas offer Marwari food. The better known being sakahari in Chawri bazaar, New Soni on Nai Sarak and Brijbasi outside Katra Neel. In most places the vegetarian food available is basically Punjabi. Unfortunately, most restaurants trend to thrive on dal makhani and the eternal paneer or cottage cheese. These restaurants give any international fast food chain competition when it comes to standardizing the flavour of food!

The mainstay of the restaurant scene is the numerous makeshift eateries or dhabas. Originally dhabas were located on major highways, catering mainly to the truck drivers. Within the city these modest eateries have acquired a different dimension, serving reasonably priced food ranging from Punjabi to Chinese. The speed and dexterity with which food is splashed out on plates and brusquely placed on rickety tables is commendable. Special mention must be made of the Punjabi favourite, chhole bhature or chhole kulche. The best thing about chhole is that it taste different in every household and in every restaurant. One of the best places offering chhole bhature in Kwality in Connaught place. Another Delhi favourite is rajma-chawal, kidney beans cooked with spices and tomatoes, and served with rice. Rajma-chawal is available outside most office complexes though this is a dish best cooked at home. An important part of bania food culture is its savouries, chaats and snacks, for which Delhi is famous. The chaats available in Delhi include gol gappas, papris, dahi pakore and raj kachoris. Some old chaat stalls survive in the Shahjahanbad area. Ashok Chaat Bhandar at Hauz Qazi Chowk is a great favourite asare the shopps selling chaat in Bengali market in New Delhi and Haldiram Bhujiawala on Mathura road near Badarpur.

Satellite TV has made the dilliwala familiar with international cuisines. The generation that grew up on Archie comics knew what burgers and pizzas were. But only recently did phrases like Fettucine Verde, Quiche Lorraine and Spaghetti Bolognaise start tripping off the dilliwala’s tongue. Apart from restaurants in five-star hotels , Delhi now has a large number of restaurants specializing in food ranging from Mexican, Lebanese and Italian to Indonesian, Japanese and Thai. Also, the small restaurants in Paharganj, where young foreign tourists on shoesring budgets gather, serve reasonably good European food. Major international fast food chains find a karge clientele in Delhi, although the desi eateries next door serving spicy chaat and hot masala dosa with equal efficiency, are just as busy. Delhi’s children are as passionate about chaat as they are Chinese noodles and burgers.

For those with a sweet tooth, Delhi is the place to be. Apart from the original fare associated with Delhi, popular sweets from all parts of the country are available here, rasmalai, pakeezah, mohan bhog, kalakand, milk cake, gulab jamun and all kinds of burfis and laddos. The oldest mithai shop in the city is Ghantewala in Chandni Chowk which has been run by the same family since 1790. They make the traditional sweets of delhi-habshi halwa, sohan halwa, pinni, and all-time favourites like pista and kaju burfis and motichur laddoos.

Other well-known sweet shops Chandni Chowk are Haldiram Bhujiawala and Annapoorna. The latter is the oldest authentic Bengali sweet shop in Delhi. Annapoorna has branches in Green park and Chittaranjan park. Among the best sweet shop in New Delhi are Kaleva in Gole Market. Nathu’s and Bengali sweets in Bengali market. One of the best loved sweets in Delhi is kulfi, made with thickened milk and yopped with saffron and nuts. Kulfi is eaten with falooda, a type of vermicelli. Roshan Di Kulfi on Ajmal Khan Road in Karol Bagh serves excellent kulfis. Delhi is also known for various kinds of halwa-mung dal and gajar halwas are popular. Jalebies are another fovourite, eaten throughout the year, but especially in winter, when all sweet shops reserve a corner for frying piping hot jalebis. The best jalebis are to be found at Old Famous Jalebiwala at the crossing of Dariba Kalan and Chandni Chowk. For those with western tastes, Delhi has a host of excellent confectioneries. Wenger’s in Connaught place, Sugar and Spice and Nirula’s with branches in different localities are among the best. The bakery at Santushti complex makes excellent breads, while the one at Aurobindo Ashram is recommended for its variety of biscuits.

Savour specialties of different states. The Makki Ki Roti and Sarson Ka Sag of Punjab; Momos from Sikkim; Chowmein from Mizoram; Dal - Bati Choorma from Rajasthan; Shrikhand, Pao-Bhaji and Puram Poli of Maharashtra; Macher Jhol from Bengal; Wazwan, the ceremonial Kashmiri feast; Idli, Dosa and Uttapam of South Indian and Sadya, the traditional feast of Kerala, all are available under one roof.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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