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Noor- The flickering light of lost recipes of the Mughals

Noor- The flickering light of lost recipes of the Mughals

                                                                                                            Saira Mujtaba

Baat niklegi toh bahot dur talak jayegi… This couplet from the famous ghazal echoes in my head whenever I have a conversation on Mughlai food with someone. The city which was once an epitome of grandeur and royalty, the remnants of its magnificence are still seen in the astounding monuments dotting the city’s skyline. But Mughlai food being a very important part of the city’s royalty seems to have got influenced over time and one can’t really find the authentic taste and aroma that once emanated from the Royal kitchens of Shahjahanabad. Not only the taste of some popular dishes like qorma and biryani has got influenced by traces of other places (Moradabadi biryani being one such delicacy that has fused in the so-called Mughlai platter of Delhi), some of the dishes that were once served to the Royalty are now probably lost…or so I thought. This was the lament that I was living with until Fate made me acquainted with Mohammed Noor who traces his roots to the Royal chefs of Shah Jahan.

Nestled on the bustling road in front of Gate No. 1 of the grand Jama Masjid, Noor’s kitchen is a meek one room with a tandoor in one corner and 2-3 ‘chulhas’ with copper ‘degs’ sending out wafts of aroma into the air that tingle the tastebuds. The soot covered walls of the kitchen withholding so many secrets of lost Mughal recipes too.

_DSC5276Noor stands out from the rest of the Mughlai cuisine chefs as he’s got the knack and art of preparing Mughlai food in his genes, for his forefathers served the Mughals seven generations ago and passed on this culinary magic to their progeny of which Noor is a flickering lamp in the city of glittery lights and glamour. Noor is the man behind the lost recipes of Mughlai kitchens. But in his own words, “ Mujhe English bolna nahi aati (I don’t know how to speak English language), and hence he feels that some big names who hog the limelight and organise food festivals in snazzy hotels exploit his talent and don’t give him much credit.

Noor considers Haji Kallan as his Ustaad. His ancestors used to work under Haji Kallan while serving the Royals and even today Noor is associated with Haji’s family as a part time cook.

Name any dish of the Mughlai cuisine and Noor knows it on fingertips. Ever heard of ‘gosht ka halwa’? Yes, I couldn’t believe that mutton could be served as a dessert as well, but Noor is adept in preparing all these unique dishes.

Kaancha Kofta, Mutanjan-Utanjan, Tumba Biryani, Mutton Barra, murgh musallam- bakra musallam and the list is endless. But it’s a travesty that people like Noor whose fingers possess the magic of preparing exquisite Mughlai foods, have to strive hard to make their presence felt. “Bade bade hotel mein ladke khaana pakaate hain par unke paas hunar nahi hai, sirf degree hai…mere paas hunar hai par degree nahi hai, isi liye main maat khaata hun (All these big hotels employ young boys who don’t have talent but they have degrees….I’ve got talent but don’t have a degree and that’s where I lag behind.)

Noor plans to pass on all the secrets of these lost recipes of Mughlai cuisine to one of his sons, but only time will tell if he will get his due in a world where degree sans true talent and refined English language overshadows real worth.

Anubhav Sapra is an avid foodie! He is a Founder but proudly calls himself a Foodie-in-chief at Delhi Food Walks. He is also a street-food and Indian regional cuisine connoisseur and loves to write about street-food.
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Karim’s

A ROYAL AFFAIR

By Prakriti Bhat

karimsWalking through the serpentine lanes of Old Delhi, one comes across the hustle and bustle of life with people setting up their shops and getting ready for the day. Butchers, hardware shops, stationary stores, etc open their shutters to the world keeping up their promises of quality products at wholesale prices. Cars, rickshaws, autos, scooters, e-rickshaws, all try to squeeze their way through the narrow streets. The shouts of shopkeepers, the jingling of rickshaw bells, the chatter of people; they all have a music of their own and add to the charm of Old Delhi. But a trip to the walled city is simply incomplete without a visit to the famous Karim’s. Known worldwide for its Mughlai food and amiable service, Karim’s boasts of a rich cultural and culinary history.

Rewind to the Mughal era. The Mughal emperors would constantly go out on wars to secure their position in the sultanate. Since years, the royal cook would prepare meals under the aegis of the Mughal queens and kings but with the onset of British rule, the Mughal Empire came to an end. When the last emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled, the royal cook (whose descendants are now running Karim’s) had to leave the durbar and look elsewhere for a job. In 1911, at the time of coronation of King George V, Haji Karimuddin moved to Delhi with an idea to open a small dhaba to cater to the guests coming from all over the world. He set up a little stall outside the towering Jama Masjid and his menu only consisted of a humble combination of aloo ghosht and daal served with roti. In 1913, Haji Karimuddin set up the Karim’s Hotel in Gali Kababian, right opposite to Jama Masjid and today it is a prominent eatery in the capital city.

Bringing royal food to the common man’s plate at a nominal rate has been the main objective of Karim’s. The family continues to conjure up delectable dishes, each with a closely guarded secret. It is a 5 minute rickshaw ride from the Chawri Bazaar Metro Station. The rickshaw drops you right in front of Jama Masjid from where you have to enter one of the many alleyways. Meandering through the narrow lane, a whole new world opens up in the form of Karim’s. It’s hard to imagine how such a big place can exist at the end of such a constricted gali. They have 3-4 sections to serve the heavy crowd that starts pouring in from morning itself. The staff is dedicated and affable and the service is quite efficient. Going against the popular notion of Old Delhi being an unhygienic place, the restaurant also scores high on hygiene.

1395857_546954232055129_791945401_nI went to this place with some NRI relatives who had heard a lot about its culinary delights and rich history. The place works at its own rhythm as the cook stirs the steel pots at a steady pace over burning coal and not fire. We ordered Chicken Burra, Mutton Burrah, Chicken Biryani, Mutton Biryani, Mutton Kebabs, Sheermal and Mutton Korma. The Chicken and Mutton Burrah were well marinated and slightly charred on the surface. The Biryani was cooked in a typical Mughlai manner with less spice which worked well for my relatives. The meat was succulent. Mutton Korma was a dish of mutton served with a red curry which satiated our taste buds. This we ate with a flatbread called Sheermal which is a specialty here. The Mutton Kebabs were my favourites. Juicy and delicious, they took ‘yummy’ to another level altogether. Other popular dishes here are Badam Pasanda, Chicken Mughlai and an exclusive entrée called Tandoori Bakra which has to be ordered 24 hours in advance.

Zaeemuddin Ahmed is the restaurant’s director and a representative of the family to have worked here. Numerous generations have come and gone but the standard of their food remains unchanged. Karim’s may have opened numerous branches all over Delhi like Gurgaon, Noida, Nizamuddin and Saket, placed in swanky malls and modern markets. But for the most genuine, best and truest experience one must visit its original branch near Jama Masjid, where the saga began. It has definitely put Old Delhi on the world map by offering a satisfying meal to people from all across the globe. People can experience the richness of Mughal Durbar by digging into their food. At the end of Gali Kababian awaits a magical world of gastronomic delights.

Location- 16, Gali Kababian, Jama Masjid

Cost for two- 850 (approx)

Contact no. – 01123264981

Anubhav Sapra is an avid foodie! He is a Founder but proudly calls himself a Foodie-in-chief at Delhi Food Walks. He is also a street-food and Indian regional cuisine connoisseur and loves to write about street-food.