In praise of the humble buffalo

For the past few days, I have been feeling a little sorry for the poor buffalo. I keep reading reports on how cow meat is banned in Delhi (and elsewhere), but how buffalo meat is happily allowed. Is the buffalo being treated like second-class cattle because of its colour? That’s a pity because the buffalo, despite its modest looks, does yeoman service for humankind — it gives milk, and its meat is eaten in various forms.

I must doff my cap to buffaloes who have given me immense joy over the years. Some of the best dishes that you get in Delhi are cooked with buffalo meat. You’ll find it in Muslim cuisine, in Tibetan food, North-Eastern and Kerala cuisine and in continental fare across Delhi.

You get it on the streets of Old Delhi, in the bylanes of Jamia, at the Tibetan dhabas in North Delhi and in some of the top restaurants and hotels too. And it’s not just delicious; it’s easy on the pocket as well.

For many of us who grew up in Delhi in the 1970s, eating beef or buff was never an issue. I used to accompany a friend to Nizamuddin, where he would buy some of the choicest cuts of the meat to carry home. His Parsi mother would boil, slice and season them, and then make sandwiches, which we eagerly devoured.

Our quest for good food took us to Old Delhi, and we discovered Kallu of Chhatta Lal Mian, whose nihari — slow-cooked shanks — was the best we ever had. Then there was Haji Noor near Ajmeri Gate, whose buff meat biryani was simply superb. What’s good to know is that both Kallu and Haji Noor are still feeding us.

Even now, some of the best buffalo meat preparations can be found in Old Delhi. Food aficionados will know about Ustad Moinuddin, who stood on the side of a street near Lal Kuan and grilled succulent seekh kebabs . He has a small eatery now, where his family sells biryani, but the Ustad still grills meat on the roadside.

In Matia Mahal and Ballimaran, you get the gola kebab , also known as sutli kebab , so called because it’s so soft that it has to be held together with a thread. You unravel the thread, and pop the soft and crumbly kebab into your mouth before it falls apart. If you like samosas , you could have some buff meat keema samosas at Kallan Sweets in Matia Mahal. And if you want Kashmiri kebabs , don’t miss Bulbuli Khana.

But these days, parts of South Delhi too are turning into street food hubs. To my mind, one of the best buffalo meat preparations is to be found at Talib’s, a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Zakir Nagar at Jamia. His buff tikkas are so soft that they actually do melt in the mouth.

If you’d like to try out other kinds of cuisine, you could stop for a Tibetan meal at Tib Dhabs. You get buffalo meat fry and momos there, and if you are lucky, you may get some shapta . And, of course, you’ll find interesting buffalo meat dishes in many Kerala and North-Eastern restaurants, as well as those offering oriental, American and European cuisine. Very recently, I ate a dish called shaking tenderloin, wok-fried with onion, peppers, fresh coriander and black bean sauce.

I was reading a bit about buffalo meat, and was surprised to know that it has 43 per cent less cholesterol than beef. And it is high in Omega 3, protein and iron. Those are good reasons, but to me what’s important is that it’s a way of life. And delicious to boot!

(The author is a food critic)

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 10:51:39 PM |

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