The Unsettled Dispute of Nihari

Nihari or the modern day Nahari as we embrace it today traces its roots back to 18th century cental Asians who came to Indian region of Delhi and Lucknow and gave this master dish as an early morning breakfast strictly to be served after Fajr Namaz and to be winded up by 8 a.m. unlike today where this is considered to be a very prestigious savory for dinner time it was once a meal of everyday wage laborers sometimes this even worked as a mere kind exchange for whatever work they did for their ruler.

Nihari in itself has become more of a sub-cuisine rather than just a dish because you see so many varied varieties of it running from place to place. In Kanpur/Lucknow it is a thin gravy simmered on slow heat over night with lesser fat and high amount of bone marrow served with a very specific bread which is nowhere else to be found known as a Kulcha(a multi layered bread whipped in ghee and cooked in tandoor where the layers start to tear as you pierce thru the bread) , The Delhi version is less fatty more thick broth and can be accompanied with brain or bone marrow served with a big khamiri tandoori roti while the Hyderabad version has tongue added to it & Bombay calls it Nalli-Nahari.

A hard to perfect multi layered bread to be consumed only with Nihari
A hard to perfect multi layered bread to be consumed only with Nihari

 

Awadhi Nahari
Awadhi Nahari

Once a dish of commoners is now a dish of all exclusivity which can be found in lot of places across cities but there are really handful people in few cities that can perfect the art of slow over night cooking. A very good measure to check the quality of nihari is to always check your fingers once you are done digging into the dish, the more it’s cooked with shank bones the more sticky it becomes. Hence, the stickier it is the better it would be.

You can find good variation of this near Jama-masjid area in Delhi, Chowk in Lucknow and Nai-sadak in Kanpur still in complete authenticity where it might look like a place in shambles but it’s in fact a family run eatery struggling to survive against the modern day gastro pubs or a lot easier 5 minutes flipping burger joint in the vicinity.The Nihari at Mehndi from Nai sadak Kanpur needs a special mention as it has been my personal favorite for more than 2 decades where I have already seen 2 generations cooking this dish who strictly keep the art within their family now on the verge of closing down mainly because of low foot fall, cramped space and hard route to reach them with no publicity at all.

The timless nihari of Mehndi now run by his son after he passed away
The timless nihari of Mehndi now run by his son after he passed away

The prestigious dish has always been in disputes as to where it actually started as a lot of people claim it to be from Delhi and another big lot trying to prove it is rooted from Lucknow on the other hand it shares the respect of national dish with Biryani in Pakistan .In my personal take its more important that a dish survives the withering of time by staying as a common man’s food with sustained authenticity unaffected by where was it first cooked.

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6 comments

  1. I totally agree on the taste and quality. Still the authentic taste is with the family who are hardly able to cope up with the modern amenities and because of lesser number of footfalls the family faces lot many problems on the economic fronts. Dingy lanes and by lanes had always been the place of authority in cooking special dishes but because of the change in the marketing techniques and the lack ambiance such joints are depleting .

    Good description . Keep it up.

    Like

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