Mughals, Nawabs and Nihari

For me Eid-ul-zuha (Bakhrid) was not just any celebration, it was a day that I got to go to my Nani’s place and enjoy an unlimited supply of meat—all day long. Eating vegetables is like a sin in a Muslim household on this festival.

My prime reason for visiting my hometown was largely based on seeing the preparation and enjoying the flavours that went into cooking this elaborate meal. We used to enjoy our separate plates of Nihari the morning after Bakhrid. In a traditional Muslim household, Nihari is cooked through the night for six to eight hours, and is ready to be served at sunrise. It is a process of cooking meat (shanks) slowly and laden with as many as fifty spices. My whole family used to sit around a dastarkhan and were served a plate of soupy meat shanks with khamiri roti and chopped chillies and coriander.

The method to the cook traditional Nihari is to seal the the lid of the shab daigh (a large rounded pot) with flour glue to maintain and retain maximum heat and steam for slow cooking. The meat is braised and then left to simmer in the aromatic and delightfully spicy essence of masalas. This entire process helps the meat to absorb the aromatic masalas and make the meat melt down in your mouth. This is like a magic in a pot.

There is a dispute in the origin story of Nihari, some says it was invented in 18th century Delhi during the last days of Mughal civilisation, while others say the magic was created in the royal kitchens of Awadh (now Lucknow). Nihari gained its popularity as a dish that kept the Mughals warm as temperatures dropped, and also had medicinal purpose to solve the sinus issues.

Nihari comes from the arabic word nahaar meaning day. Hence, it’s a delicacy best enjoyed in the mornings. Muslim Nawabs would eat Nihari after their sunrise prayers (Fajr), and they would then nap until the afternoon Muslim prayers (Zhuhr).

Because of the techniques and the usage of spices, this dish was served to the rich Muslim Nawabs of pre-partition India but soon they realised that once eaten they need to digest this heavy food which cannot be done if you just sleep till the evening. Hence they thought it’d be a perfect breakfast food for labourers busy in building hawelis or mahals. The high protein meat allowed for a progressively slow increase in blood sugar and therefore resulted in decreased cravings through the day.

After partition in 1947, a huge wave of immigrants from Delhi settled in Karachi. As many of these immigrants were already involved in the food industry, restaurants were quickly established in Karachi. I have heard that Botal gali has amazing small restaurants serving Nihari. However, for those of you in Delhi, if you want Nihari, head to Old Delhi and go Kallu Mian. His shop has been serving lip smacking Nihari since 1990.

Although this dish was traditionally eaten in the early morning, I don’t think there is any set rule—you can enjoy this delicacy at any time of the day.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Syed Aqib says:

    Seriously brother.. It has amazing flavor.. And same, it is cooked in bakrid at my home… Whole night on slow flame… Most especially when it is cooked on chulha.. Yummmm mitti ki khushbu.. Tastes good.. With khamiri roti.. And my family sits around dastarkhan.. And takes the lutf of nihari😍😊😊☺☺😋😋😋thanks for sharing #sadafbhai


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