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Delhi's Nawabi breakfast

At dawn, some day drive down to Bismillah Restaurant in the Walled City to lay your hands on boneless, sumptuous Nahari, the age-old dish, prepared in a timeless way, suggests FIROZ BAKHT AHMED...


GONE ARE the Nawabs and their regal ways. Their havelis might have been razed to the ground but the aroma of their dishes lingers in the air. All thanks to those who worked in the kitchens of these Nawabs and passed on the great culinary secrets from one generation to another.

While you pass through slow-moving, honking vehicles and rubbing shoulders in Chandni Chowk, there is a historic Ballimaran mohalla in which on the main road is Bismillah Restaurant famous across Delhi and even outside for its inimitable, juicy and aromatic Nahari, a non-vegetarian delicacy of mincemeat. Nahari is made from boneless mutton. Actually, in Persian `nahar' means morning and something that is consumed at the break of the day is `nahari'. Old Delhiites relish it at the time of breakfast. But notwithstanding the time calculations it can be taken even at the time of other meals for it is absolutely sumptuous and spicy.

Just a few yards away from Bismillah Restaurant, one is led to the simple eating joint through olfactory nerves trickled by the wafting aroma of the best culinary item of Old Delhi. And what a breakfast!

Mohammed Farid, one of the proprietors at Bismillah, relates that is a really sought after dish and even before the sun rises and there is light, it gets finished no matter how many deghs (cauldrons) we prepare. "We don't have the capacity for preparing more than three cauldrons. But we know that even if there are 10 cauldrons, they will be immediately sold. But that can tell on quality that we have been maintaining for umpteen generations," points out Farid. Those crazy for nahari at Bismillah are the Afghans, Iranians and some other foreigners.

When the recipe for preparing the nahari was enquired, Farid said, "It's a top family secret and we can't divulge it to anyone." Bismillah Restaurant in fact prepares many other special lunch and dinner items but the one for which it made a dent on the culinary map of Delhi, happens to be nahari. It has 36 condiments to give that inimitable taste .In fact I remember nahari to have been cooked in my childhood by my mother. It takes whole night rather 15-16 hours for proper cooking. In the beginning it is gristle and bone and not a shred of flesh. Topped with water that holds, still passive, molecules that will knock about the heat and explode in flavours. Finally, the broth heaves, heavy, somnolent, beneath, spreading pools of golden marrow. Sleep eluded us the night nahari was cooked. For helping mother at night in the kitchen for some time, next morning I was offered one old, tattered coin -- ek paisa -- with a hole in it or a piece of paan from her beautifully engraved paandan!

Mohammed Zaheer, another proprietor, believes that the unique taste in their nahari is to be credited to the prayers of their ancestors apart from the meticulous precision with which every procedure is taken care of for all the 15 hours that this dish is cooked. "We never leave the supervision to our labourers as the slightest of carelessness can be detrimental to the taste," tells Zaheer. According to him his forefathers had worked in the kitchens of Awadhi nawabs and later Moghuls. Interestingly enough, the place where Bismillah Hotel is today, was once granted to the family by the Moghul officers for a haveli. But they have their ancestral house in Chooriwalan, near Jama Masjid.

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