Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi chats about the flavours that make his Awadhi feast special

Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi still cooks royal repasts

Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi still cooks royal repasts   | Photo Credit: M Periasamy


Meat of the matter: Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi is happy to chat about the ingredients, cuts of meat and the flavours that make his Awadhi feast special

Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi, who is in town to orchestrate the Awadhi Food Fest at That’s Y Food, comes from a long line of chefs. “They go back to the time of the nawabs of Lucknow. They were an integral part of the royal kitchen,” he claims. Quraishi is a community of butchers, he says, and that is the reason no one can cook meat quite like they do.

“Each Awadhi speciality requires a particular cut of meat. That makes all the difference and I come from a line of people who know the exact science and art of turning out the most delicious gosht,” he says. Shaeem takes pains to correct popular assumption that Awadhi is the same as Mughlai and that it means thick cashew-based gravies and cream in everything. Awadhi cuisine does use cashew but does not go over the top with it, he states firmly. “The cooks in the royal kitchens were Bhojpuri, Hyderabadi as well as Kashmiris... it was but natural that influenced the taste, texture and appearance of the food.”

The royal preoccupation with feasting led to many spectacular innovations, says Shaeem, as he describes the Muttanzan. “It is like meetha chawal (sweet rice) but has morsels of mutton. The particular cut used in this is the delicate and melt-in-the-mouth kareli.” Has he ever made it? “I have and it has been received well too, though people had to wrap their heads around the idea of meat in a dessert. It was popular with the Arabs who ate it in Dubai.” Sometimes he served it as the ‘dish of the day’ in his restaurants. “We fry the meat in desi ghee.Then we cook it in water in which garlic has been crushed and soaked. Garlic removes the ‘meaty’ smell from the mutton and tenderises it too. The meat is dum-cooked.”

Ittar for food flavouring

Ittar for food flavouring   | Photo Credit: M Periasamy

The perfume of food
  • Awadhi cooks use ittar in their dishes. Just like the perfumes, these are extracts from flowers, spices, roots and herbs that elevate the flavour of the food.
  • Shaeem carries around his precious burden of bottles of these ittar wherever he goes to cook. “These are specially made for food and there are only a few families who still make them for us,” he says.

Besides cooking, Shaeem’s current passion is poring over an old cookbook left behind by his grandfather. “I spend a lot of time doing that,” he smiles. He has cooked extensively in Dubai and in several big chains but his heart is set on popularising the less-known Awadhi cuisine. “The kind that is eaten at home. The kind my mom cooked,” he clarifies. “Our food at home is different and rarely available in restaurants.” He gives the example of meat cooked with beetroot, or a subzi that is almost entirely made of the peel of laukis! Or the usually scorned shalgam (turnip) or turai (ridge gourd) that makes a great marriage with mutton, he swears. They have a range of rotis, he says, special to Awadhi cuisine. “Some need a different set of utensils and contraptions to prepare.” The roti is important to soak up the gravy or to just wrap up the kebab in before eating.

It is all in the details, says Shaeem, who witnessed at close quarters how and what his father cooked for weddings and other big banquets. He carried those memories with him to later reproduce the delicious dishes he had watched his dad cook, and sometimes reinvented them. What was his first-ever serious duty in a commercial kitchen? “I was 13 and my father put me on the onions. I was taught the right way to fry them.”

The Awadhi Food Festival is on at That’s Y Food, TV Samy Road, till December 15 for lunch and dinner. Call 0422-4365117/18 for reservations.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:37:41 PM |

Next Story