Sharing food with friends and film stars has always been her family tradition. Little wonder that Sadia Dehlvi, noted journalist and author, has brought the same hospitality and famed dishes to The Delhi Tablespread food festival that she is curating at Sheraton New Delhi Hotel in Saket . This is an acknowledgement of her family’s rich contribution in enriching dishes which have become famous even beyond the Walled City of Delhi.
On her cooking ability, Sadia modestly says, it is a blessing from the Almighty. “This is one of the reasons why I wrote my book ‘Jasmine & Jinns’ as I want to share my recipes. Food is as much about memories as it is about spices, love, compassion. The Prophet said the best food is the one which is shared. Go to dargahs, gurudwaras where so many people are fed. Food sustains our bodies as well as our soul. My friends told me why I have shared all my recipes in the book. If God has given me a skill, why should not I share it with everyone?”
She insists that I first taste nihari and haleem which are meant to keep body warm during winter. Nihari is made in a degh that is sealed in a clay enclosure. The meat shanks were big and the simmering gravy was rich enough to keep my belly full for the entire day. “In morning, labourers would eat nihari and go for work. In my childhood, we never served nihari to guests as it was poor man’s food. But we ate it every Sunday.”
Describing her recipes as simple, she says it has ginger, onion, dhaniya. “It is simple and healthy as it is non spicy. We also put seasonal vegetables in our dishes. In winter, we make alu matar ka salan and arbi ghosh. We eat lot of fresh vegetables with meat so that it balances cholesterol level.”
Food was the topic of discussion among big film stars when they landed at her residence in Delhi. “We had open house culture. Celebrities from the world of literature and films would come and taste dishes like mutton qorma and mutton biryani. Raj Kapoor and Nargis were very close to our family. Abba would call them as we had a magazine Shama which covered cinema and literature. Everyone came to seek blessings of my grandfather.”
Sadiya also talks about the correlation between cuisine and her passion for Sufism. “For the last ten years, my work has been around Sufism because I think it is important to highlight its tradition. It is a nice door to understand and initiate dialogue with Islam. I have been lecturing and writing on narratives which highlight pluralistic aspects of Islam. We have to keep Ganga Jamuna tehzeeb intact.”
As I start eating mirchi ka keema, my curiosity gets the better of me and I inquire about the origin of Dehlvi cuisine.
“During Mughal rule, Humayun brought lot of cooks from Persia. What we call today Dehlvi cuisine begins when the city of Shahjahanabad was being built. There were kayastha, Muslims and Jains who worked there. So we had composite culture with distinct vegetarian and non vegetarian food. Spices came later on from Goa on the advise of hakims as they purge toxins from the body,” sums up Sadiya.
(The festival is on till this Saturday at Delhi Pavilion, Sheraton New Delhi Hotel.)