70 years after independence, Delhi’s taste-buds want more from Pakistan’s kitchen

Pakistani biryani at Deez Cafe

Midhat Fatimah and Rajat Mishra

The surge in the number of desk-workers foraging new exotic food outlets has boosted the restaurant business in Delhi, Connaught Place being the hub. However, interestingly, menus of many restaurants have Pakistani dishes. A few restaurants serving North Indian and Mughlai cuisine have added Pakistani food items.

Deez Filmy Café and Bar in Connaught Place specialises in Handi Biryani (Biryani cooked in an earthen pot) and serves North Indian and fast food with a punch of Bollywood in its setting. Food is served in a hall with walls adorned with posters of famous dialogues from Bollywood movies while contemporary Punjabi and Western music plays in the background. The menu offers a range of items including Pakistani food items like Sindhi Biryani and a gravy dish called Pakistani Chicken Masala which has a paneer variant too.

Started by Daleep Singh in 1987, Deez has 12 outlets throughout Delhi. The owner and son of Daleep Singh, Thakur Bhuvan Singh says that they introduced Sindhi Biryani four years ago, when one of their chefs visited Pakistan and brought the recipe for Sindhi Biryani. Deez is now serving a vegetarian variant of Sindhi Biryani too for which the recipe is largely the same. Bhuvan adds, “Sindhi Biryani has really picked up well, it is one of the hot-selling Biryanis in our menu. People are really keen to try something which is coming from across the border. We have a select clientele which repeatedly orders for Pakistani food.”

Pakistani dishes use Khada Masala (whole uncrushed spices) for their rich flavours and at Deez, Sindhi Biryani’s stock is mainly prepared using potatoes, green chillies and Aloo Bukhara powder (plum powder). The response for Pakistani food items has been good and Bhuvan intends to add more items to the menu.

Coriander Leaf, situated at Gurgaon which is a part of the National Capital Region also serves Pakistani dishes along with its regular Mughlai and North Indian cuisine. ‘Balti Murgh’ is one of the most popular dishes of the restaurant. Ahmed, a chef at Coriander Leaf says, ‘’Pakistani dishes use more of the mutton stock. The Haleem prepared in India is more granular with meat chops while Pakistani Haleem is more like a paste with shredded meat.’’ The recipe for Balti Murgh uses brown gravy with curd and boiled cashew nuts. Other popular Pakistani food items include Miloni Tarkari and Bhuna Gosht Rawalpindi. Balti Murgh saw its origin overseas in Birmingham in the late 70s  where it was introduced by a Pakistani restaurateur. Today, it has become a quintessential Pakistani food item.

The growing acceptance of flavours from across the border has brought Pakistani palate to Indian households. Shan Foods Company is a Pakistani producer of readymade spice mixes which are used in Pakistani cuisines. The company’s spice mixes for various dishes are readily available in Indian markets.

Vinod Saini, chef at Delhi’s 5-star hotel Leela Palace who has worked for four years in Canada at Canada Inn tells that the Indian and Pakistani diaspora living abroad does not differentiate between Pakistani and Indian food outlets. Drawing a parallel between Indian and Pakistani food Saini adds, “Even though Indian and Pakistani cuisines are largely similar, the small differences in the recipes are only helping the clientele for Pakistani cuisine in India grow. The differences in the cuisines mostly come from spices and both the nations have the same spices, it’s only the geographical origin which lends fine distinction in the taste of these spices.”

A sweet delight from Pakistan

The serpentine lanes of Old Delhi have something for everyone. Be it a shopaholic or the glutton inside or a history zealot, Old Delhi is the ultimate stop to appease everyone. Jostling the way through the jaywalkers, one can easily bump into history and food simultaneously.

Now located beside Fatehpuri Masjid in Fatehpuri chowk of Old Delhi, Chainaram saw its origin in Lahore in a place called Anarkali Bazaar in 1901. The Sindhi shop has lived through more than 100 years now and is still a favourite when it comes to Karachi Halwa. Chainaram is 117 years old now and is known as pioneers of Karachi Halwa in Delhi. The owner of the shop tells that they have now experimented with the classic Karachi Halwa and have it in three to four varieties too. The popularity of the shop for its sweets is stupendous and can be measured by the duration of time people wait for their orders which sometimes ranges from 20-25 minutes. All the preparations are done in desi ghee. Chainaram is famous for its Karachi Halwa, but prepares other sweet items as well.

The political upheaval of 1947 caused millions of people to leave their homes but there were some who, when migrated to India, started out with confectionery and have now gained an unshakable foothold in their forties.

Just across the street in Fatehpur Chowk, one can find Meghraj and Sons who also specialise in Karachi Halwa.Vansh Arora, 25, is from the sixth generation of the founders of Meghraj and tells about his forefather Nikunj Shah who started the shop in Lahore but shifted to Delhi before the partition in 1940. Vansh calls Karachi Halwa as Indian chewing gum because of its chewy nature. Karachi Halwa owes its chewy nature to cornflour and ghee. It is popular among Punjabis. Meghraj is also popular for its Soan Halwa.

On the question of where do they see the future of their business, Vansh says, “I am 25 and have completed my education in marketing and want to continue the more than 100 years old legacy.”

Khanchand Ramnani, who came to India after partition along with his two sons, opened up Karachi bakery on a modest note in 1953 in Mazamjai market of Hyderabad (India). Karachi Bakery is famous for its fruit biscuits and has now specialised in all sorts of confectionery. Today, Karachi bakery is spread in many parts of the country having five outlets in Delhi airport and a brand new outlet coming up in Delhi’s famous market Lajpat Nagar. Karachi Bakery’s legacy is not just confined to India. They export to   Australia, America and  Europe.

The outlets of Karachi Bakery are designed to meet international standards. Karachi Bakery has a world to offer to anyone with a sweet tooth. The third generation of Ramnani is taking the legacy forward. However, the recipe and the packaging of the biscuits remain unchanged.

Delhi’s authentic food in Karachi

Hadiqa Siddiqi  and Ahmed Saeed

Located in the heart of Karachi, Burns Road, a street named after a colonial era British-spy-doctor, James Burns, might not bear any semblance to the British Raj now — but it certainly is host to the oldest food joints that claim to offer the authentic Delhi taste in Pakistan’s busy port town. The crowded two-way street dotted with memorabilia from the Raj era, offers everything a food lover yearns for. During the day, the bustling food paradise is all about honking horns and screech of traffic. Burns Road has its own character. The constantly billowing smoke from Karachi’s ailing Bedford public buses, another reminder of the country’s colonial past, mingles with the smoke of Kebabs being grilled at none other than Waheed Kebab.

Burns road is where food unites Delhi and Karachi, where common recipes bring the people of two rival nations together. Almost every other shop claims to have the  ‘Delhi’ connection or a recipe that originated in Delhi — the seat of Mughal emperors, who ruled over much of modern-day India from the 16th century until the British Raj. Shortly after partition, Burns road became home to migrants who left India for the newly independent State of Pakistan.  They came with nothing but their heritage and a few cherished belongings. Many of these families invested whatever little fortune they had in setting up eateries uniquely known for Delhi cuisine.

“Delhi food is a memento of our elders so we preserved it with zeal and passion,”  claims Muhammad Zahoor, who was seven-years-old when his family migrated to Pakistan. Now 79, Zahoor,  also known as, ‘Taya’ Zahoor, sells the most authentic Biryani, a classic rice dish that is traditionally credited to the Mughal court, at Karachi’s food paradise.  

The aging Biryani expert claims that he spent his childhood in old Delhi’s Gali Qasim Jan, Ballimaran area — known for its famous resident, the 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. He still reminisces about his time spent at Jamia Masjid, Meerath hotel and Chandi Chowk.

Zahoor is one of the very few people alive who witnessed the  transformation of Burns Road into food street for Karachi in 1960’s and 70’s. Muhammad Usman, Zahoor’s father had a printing press in Delhi before partition but Zahoor chose his own path. He decided against his father’s wishes and tried his luck as a food vendor. At first, he worked at fresco bakery to learn the art of selling food. With some training at the bakery, he started his own venture. And nearly three decades on he is happily selling Delhi’s famous biryani in Karachi.

Unlike other food outlets on Burns Road, Zahoor does not have a dining area or servers. His makeshift restaurant is a set of benches, a few serving dishes, take away bags and a large calderon. Despite all this, he has a very loyal customer base all over Karachi.

Dahi Baray, another much-loved food item on the crowded food street, has its roots in Delhi. Muhammad Shamim who runs the famous Dahi Baray outlet at Burns Road, said that his grandfather acquired the recipe from a Hindu friend, who used to sell them in ‘Bara Hindu Rao’ area of Delhi.

Although Shamim’s shop official title is “Dil Bahar Dahi Baray” but it is famously referred as matke wale Dahi Baray because of a large Matka (pot) placed at the shop. Colored in red with a Pakistani flag painted on the back side of it, the matka has yogurt dipped Baray in it.

Following his father’s death, Shamim took over the business nearly three decades ago. “I’ve never changed the recipe of the Dahi Baray,” he claimed.  

“I am the trustee of the recipe.” “This has been with us for generations,” Shamim said while citing the reasons for keeping the recipe unchanged for decades.

Delhi is mostly known for its spicy food, but there were also some popular sweet dishes that are still in demand — even on this side of the border. In Karachi, Rabri (sweet, condensed-milk-based dish) is the most loved dessert. It is a near ritual for food lovers to have Rabri after being consumed by Burns Road’s spicy food.

Delhi Rabri House is one of the oldest and most popular dessert joints on the busy food street. It was started by Muhammad Ismail Dehlavi after the partition. Dehalvi had a milk shop in Kucha Rehman Wali area of Delhi prior to migration. He started making Rabri according to the recipe he learned from his friends in Delhi. It authentic Delhi taste catapulted the dish to a favourite household name for the food lovers of Karachi.

Now Dehlavi’s son, Muhammd Bilal runs the desert joint. “We only use milk and sugar to make it[Rabri], Bilal said while giving details about the ingredients and cooking process of the desert. “We are making it for generations now and never tried to improvise the recipe.” Like Zahoor, he too proudly claims that the recipe was never altered. “It is the  same recipe my father brought with him from Delhi.”

Another dish that dates back to 17th-18th century Delhi is Nihari. A stew based dish made by slow cooking meat, Nihari makes for one of the most loved traditional breakfasts of Old Delhi.

Malik Gul Ahmed who sells Nihari on the Burns road.  The 65-years-old vendor claims that he has been cooking and selling Nihari since he was in seventh grade. Many on the food street know him as the veteran vendor. But that’s not his only claim to fame. Members of Ahmed’s family served Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s court.

According to Ahmed, his ancestors lived in the Sahiwal area of Punjab when Shahjahan shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi. Shahjahan also offered them to migrate to newly made capital to cultivate the land to around Delhi in order to provide the food.

Ahmed claims that his family invented the dish. “Shahjahan appointed members of my family as the court’s official chef and conferred them with the title of Malik,”  he said.

Ahmed’s eatery is now a trusted name on Burns Road where customers converge for the authentic Delhi Nihari in the city. The restaurant has a dining hall that can serve 25 to 30 people. During meal hours, it is almost packed to the capacity.

“Being known for our family roots helped us turn our eatery into a brand in Karachi.” “This comes with a lot of responsibility,”he added.

Although every generation has its own eating habits and food culture, Ahmed believes that Nihari is and will remain popular through the ages. “I’m excited to pass on the baton to the 8th generation of the” Maliks” so that the taste of Delhi lives on in the heart of Karachi,” the veteran Nihari expert said.

 

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