I’m quite fond of the eclectic mix of restaurants that form the Kasbah complex in New Delhi’s Greater Kailash, but it is usually Café de Paris that I head for. This time, however, I was warned by fellow foodies not to miss the biryani festival taking place at Zaffran, their North Indian restaurant. Presided over by Messrs Fareed Khan and Reyhan Khan, the festival consisted of a modest number of biryanis that changed every few days, a couple of qormas, stews and nihari.
The Khans, who hail from Churiwalan, a district near Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, revealed a slice of life to me that I had scarcely suspected, living as I do in New Delhi. First of all, there are around a hundred cooks all over Old Delhi, seven of whom live in Churiwalan alone. Kallan, Yasin, Ahmed, Hakim, Babushahi, Altaf, Yamin and others of their ilk cook on wood fires in the courtyards of their customers’ homes on special occasions. In that regard, they are very like the wazas of Kashmir, except that this bunch is hardly known outside their circle. Certainly, if I had missed the biryani festival at Zaffran, I would never have known about Old Delhi’s cooks.
Unlike their counterparts in Kashmir, Messrs Khan and Khan pride themselves on preparing a tiny menu. Not for them the 36 dishes of a Kashmiri wazwan. On the day of my visit, there were just two non-vegetarian biryanis: one featuring chicken and the other with lamb. It was the former that was more subtle, though the cooks themselves had nothing but scorn for farm-bred broilers that became over-cooked before you had time to extract a stock. The unusual flavour came from a tiny flower called har singar ke phool. I quailed at my ignorance: I’ve never set eyes on this flower before, nor have I seen such a tiny (2 millimeter long) orange, trumpet-shaped blossom in bloom or in a spice shop, but the management of the restaurant hadn’t either.
Messrs Khan and Khan are better at cooking than talking, so I couldn’t figure out where exactly this flower grew, but they said that “everybody” in Churiwalan knows about it and that it was available in Noori, the iconic spice store in Chitli Kabar from where I buy many of my spice mixes.
You don’t need to wait for a wedding or a trip on Hajj to hire one of these banquet caterers: even a relatively simple occasion like an iftar party can have a delightfully novel menu. I had never heard of Kachri Keema and Pithi Kachori before, but it is supposed to be a classic combination, kachri being a dried fruit with a tang not unlike aamchur. The other of their Ramzan preparations is Hari Mirchi Keema and Paratha.
It is a novel idea to have a caterer from Old Delhi showcasing his cuisine in a plush South Delhi restaurant. Common wisdom is that the best Muslim cuisine is in people’s homes: for a brief while, it had stepped out into the limelight.
Chicken Zaffrani Biryani – 4 people
> Ghee – 150 gm
> Curd – 200 gm
> Golden sela rice – 500 gm
> Chicken – 750gm
> Garlic Paste – 25gm
> Ginger – 25 gm
> Laung, Elaichi – 10 gm
> Ground Jaiphal, Jaivitri – 5gm
> Whole Dalchini – 5 gm
> Har Shingar Ke Phool half tsp. and sugar in kewra water
> Saffron one pinch in kewra water
> Fry the garlic in ghee, add 150gm of the curd. Add some
> water and let it cook. Add the chicken along with the laung
> and elaichi. Cook the chicken to 90% doneness. Remove some of the
> water from the chicken.
> On another degh boil the rice.
> Put some of the har shingar ke phool and saffron water on 50 gm of curd
> for colour and flavour and add the curd to the chicken.
> Put the boiled rice on the chicken. After a few minutes
> when the rice and chicken is almost cooked add the chicken
> water and remaining ghee.
> Put the biryani in a small deg or handi, garnish with the
> ginger and seal it with atta. Heat and serve