Heavy pockets of Muslim-dominated areas like Chamanganj, Nai Sadak, Talaq Mahal, Beconganj, Colonelganj and Patkapur in Kanpur are presently brimming with festive vibes! People from other communities also throng these places frequently every year to savour the Ramzan delicacies, particularly nihari-kulcha and biryani of course!
Nihari is not just a dish. It is an emotion which has our childhood memories and nostalgia of the bygone winters puckered up and served on a plate. It is a slow-cooked gravy dish which has fatty chunks of marinated mutton or beef, served with crispy fried onions, julienned ginger and nimbu, topped with freshly chopped coriander!
This steaming hot plate of meaty delicacy is then complemented with girda roti or kulcha and is a popular wintry meal. Nihari-kulcha was initially just meant to be eaten on an empty stomach during early hours of winter dawn or for sehri but people started consuming it rapidly during iftaar too!
Historians claim that Nihari dates back to 17th century and was moulded in puraani Dilli while some claim that it a product of the finest Awadhi khansamas after which it was brought to Delhi! It is said that the original recipe of nihari used to be so heavily laden with spices that in the Mughal era, the army would gorge on the stew for its energy-boosting properties and wade through the wintry mornings of Delhi. This dish was also devoured as a cure for cold and fever because of the heat of the spices used in it.
Unlike Lucknow or other cities, nihari-kulcha is available in Kanpur ONLY during Ramzan- crazy right? I mean, without our often weekend morning binge on nihari and parathas, we would’ve lost a reason to live here!
Another available option which is a hot favourite amidst masses is bread kaleji which has a crispy fried layer on top yet the meat under the brown film is oh-so tender. 'Kadhai salan' is also a kind of mutton preparation which is relished by the locals here, by dipping warm sheermal parathas in its gravy and then biting into a slice of pickled onion.
*We’re experiencing intense bouts of foodgasms as we are writing this piece*
According to NDTV Food, in Delhi it is a practice to add a few kilos from each day's leftover Nihari to the next day's pot. This re-used portion of nihari is called taar and is known to add refined flavour to the freshly cooked pot. There are still some outlets in old Delhi that still boast of an unbroken 'taar', which can be traced back over a century!