It’s 4am on a winter Sunday morning. The mobile alarm clock rang continuously, till I gathered consciousness and realized that I need to hurry up. In a breezy flow of things, make myself ready, take the car keys and off I went while rest of the family still asleep. Kolkata hasn’t still woken up. Few buses here and there, but since it’s Sunday dawn, not many people are on the streets. I drive my car through Esplanade, onto Rabindra Sarani and dissecting the tramlines, reach close to Nakhoda Masjid and park my car in one of the bylanes. Now it’s time to walk. The more I walk into Zakaria Street, the famed food heaven of our city, the gathering of crowd keeps on increasing. While rest of the city sleeps, this part of the town is wide awake.
Few shops pass by and slowly the mystic flavors hit me amidst the foggy streets – Nihari (or Nahari). I reach Sufia, arguably and may be the most hyped joint, serving Nihari in the dawn and there is a buzz in front of the shop. I reach, make my place and order for Mutton Nihari and Tandoori Roti (and not dal puri!). The old man took my order and quickly returned with the plate and I literally jumped on to it. Amidst the over-excitement of having Nihari for the first time, something chokes my throat and then I start coughing and it goes on and on.
It’s 9am in a winter Sunday morning. I am coughing sharply but no – I am not in Zakaria Street but still in my bed. Another dream of an unrequited love for Nihari.
Welcome to my world where each winter, I make a promise to visit Sufia and enjoy the piping hot Nihari and yet, each time I fail. I disappoint myself.
This year, due to still on-going pandemic, the dream was not to be fulfilled. Then I chanced upon the Youtube video of Chef Ranveer Brar where he speaks about the origin and evolution of Nihari.
FROM WHERE IT CAME…
Nihari/Nahari comes from the word 'Nahar' meaning early morning - so Nihari is the food that people had early in the morning to keep them energized through the day upto lunch or even later. This was predominantly a "Dastarkhwan e Aam" i.e. food for the common working class people, which slowly made its way into the palaces of the Nawabs and became "Dastarkhwaan e Khaas". But true Nihari tastes come from an amalgamation of spices with meat cooked in "sarson ka tel" (and not ghee) and slow-cooked to perfection.
So I made up my mind. The unrequited love will finally find it’s destiny and I will cook this myself. But the occasion had to be grand and what more could be the reason than meeting my bestest buddies after exactly 441 days, stuck due to the pandemic and the lockdown.
So on a Saturday afternoon, the kitchen was surrendered to me. Equipped with the variety of spices, I first ground them into fine powder. Then I marinated the meat with this special powder and let it rest for an hour. Then in a pot of “sarson ka tel”, I fried the mutton and then put water and let it cooked it slow for the next 3 hours. The thick full bodied gelatinous liquid is the star and some “atta” mixed with water and little of “kewra water”, brings in that thickness and not the runny part. When the mutton is almost falling off the bone, then it’s time.
But of course, my inspiration was my favorite Bong Eats channel with their minutely detailed recipe. Check out their Youtube channel.
I had never tasted Nihari before, so there was no reference point for me. But the feedback that I received from my buddies was that my maiden attempt was a good Mutton Stew! 😀
Needless to say, practise will make this perfect but I was happy the way it turned out to be.
But the next round will have to wait. For another winter.
Recollecting an anecdote from one of my friend’s Facebook post, on a humid June afternoon, a gentleman from Delhi walks into Zakaria Street and asks for a plate of Nihari. The old gentleman who came to take the order, heard this and then nodding his head, replied – “Beta, na waqt raha, na hi mausam…“
So love, I will come back…