Most of us, who like a tasty morsel, can in moments of anticipation of a good meal, imagine delicious dishes being prepared much like the Barmecide’s Feast in the Arabian Nights. However, there have been people who frequented places ~ like the venue of a wedding or a party ~ where good food was being prepared to inhale the aroma, and one dare say some joined in the meal uninvited, like Idrius Lambu, who spent the day scouting for such places and went there in the evening as a “guest”. Surely some such still survive.
There were many people too like the proverbial Mullahji, who, being a miser, would have niaz (grace) said in front of somebody’s marriage pandal, where the smell of pilau filled the air, or before a sweetmeat seller’s shop rather than spend money on food and sweets in fulfilment of a wish, when pestered by friends. Hence the expression, Dadaji ki dukan pai niaz dilwaenge.
Incidentally, there is a gali in Matia Mahal, near the Jama Masjid in Delhi, where resides a familly of cooks, whose forebears were around during the Mughal era. They are mostly old men, who take contracts for marriages and other festive occasions because the younger generation has taken to other professions. The family occupation does not pay as much now as it used to in days gone by.
Korma, rogan josh, tandoori murgh, biryani, kathi kabab, gola kabab, shammi kabab, chappli kabab, seekh kabab, tandoori kabab, pilaozarda, with kheer and shahi tukre are only some of the dishes, which tickled the Mughal palate. Not far from these shops was Mughal-e-Azam restaurant, where the best Nahari was sold in the evening.
These Indian delicacies have charmed many dignitaries and earned for the country the title of the “land of gourmets”. And this is as it should be, for we have had such connoisseurs of food as Jehangir, Shah Jehan, Jahandar Shah, Mohammad Shah Rangila, Wajid Ali Shah and, in our own times, the Nawab of Rampur, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Zakir Hussain and the late lamented Shafi Inamdar.
The proprietor was a bearded old man, Mohd Bhai, who was a cousin of the owner of Karim Hotel. Mohd Bhai stayed bare-breasted in summer and wore only a military jacket in winter. He named his shop Mughal-eAzam after seeing the famous film of that name that broke all records at cinema houses of Delhi. After Mohd Bhai’s death his shop closed down but people visiting nearby Haveli Sadr Sealur still talk of him as the Shahi (royal) Nahari seller of the Capital.