In celebration of winter’s perfect dish, the mutton nihari!
A quintessentially Delhi dish, Nahari was originally meant to be eaten on an empty stomach in the morning in cold weather. Get out of bed and tuck in
It’s early morning in Old Delhi: the city is still in a deep slumber, as if exhausted by the night. There’s a sweet coolness in the late October air, and the serenity of the morning is occasionally disturbed by the shouts of pigeon-fliers from the rooftops, calling their birds home.
As winter progresses on the morning and evening breezes, colds and coughs become common. Back in the day, the water of the Yamuna surrounded Shahjahanabad (present day Old Delhi) — the city built by the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan. At the Emperor’s palace, which was built emulating the Quranic paradise, canals ran aplenty. A canal also ran through the main market of the city, Chandni Chowk. Water bodies in the form of hauz were in abundance, and most havelis had a fountain in their courtyards.
Now there are only a handful of shops that serve nahari in the mornings. “Nahari is traditionally cooked overnight with large cuts of buff [meat from the lower part of the leg]. Over the years, the way this dish is prepared and its ingredients have changed. Now, every restaurant has started serving nahari during the evenings due to its popularity. And they are compromising on ingredients; they are using tomato pulp which is not a part of the nahari recipe. Cooking techniques have also changed: now they prepare nahari in a matter of three to four hours,” says food critic Osama Jalali.
Dehlvi partly agrees with this theory of the lost nahari recipe,and says that today every house of Old Delhi has its own distinct style of preparing the dish. “From the 18th century onwards, many spices were added to nahari. The Central Asian style cooking used very little spice, but with time the nahari got spicier and spicier,” she says.