Down Memory Lane History & Culture

How Wajid Ali Shah lives on

Tunday Kababi belongs to exclusively to Mohammad Usman, grandson of Haji Murad Ali

Tunday Kababi belongs to exclusively to Mohammad Usman, grandson of Haji Murad Ali "Tunday"   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

Wajid Ali Shah may not be alive but his fondness for good food has ensured that foodies in Delhi and Lucknow can sill get to know the Nawabi way of eating kebab

The mouth-watering delicacies of the colourful 19th century Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah, whose kheer (milk pudding) was cooled in the moonbeams at night, no doubt made Lucknow the most romantic capital of that time. The culinary delights from the royal kitchen gave a glimpse of nawabi ways of living and dining at the Qaiser Bagh palace, which was ruthlessly destroyed by the British in 1857. The cuisine of those days was served at Edesia, Crowne Plaza in Okhla, in a fortnight-long festival that ended last week. Here one could taste the specialities like the “Chickan” and kebabs of the bylanes of Hazratganj, Chowk and Aminabad every evening.

An ode to the last Nawab of Awadh, Jashan-e-Lucknow was all about celebrating the city of Tehzeeb (culture) created by him at the Bawararchi kitchen khana, Pari khana (where queens used to live), Madhushala (the bar) and Meena Bazar (marketplace), which have passed into legend, with connoisseurs of food exclaiming, “Ama yaar, Tundey kebab nahi khaye to kya khaya (Oh friend, if you have not eaten the kebabs of Tundey Kebabi, what else have you eaten?).” Haji Murad Ali (nicknamed Tundey because of a maimed hand) was the kebab maker par excellence when Masita, whose kebabs were the favourite of Mirza Ghalib, and Ghummi held sway in Delhi.

Wajid Ali Shah’s habit of chewing tobacco paan had spoilt his teeth, like that of his forebear, Nawab Asad-ud-Daula. Since they found it difficult to chew kebabs they ordered Khansamas to prepare the softest ones without compromising the flavours. Contests were announced promising royal patronage to kebab makers who satisfied the nawabi taste. The Khansamas rose to the challenge and Galouti kebabs were the outcome. Murad Ali Tundey came out with his closely-guarded recipe, the women of the family making special masala (ingredients) for the kebabs with 160 different kinds of spices for the exotic cuisine.

It is said that Haji Murad Ali was working on perfecting the mixture of the shahi Gulawat kebabs when he fell off the roof of his shop and fractured his arm, which had to be eventually amputated. This, however, did not prevent him from pursuing his passion for cooking with one hand. He employed people who would pound meat into such a fine paste that it would instantly melt in the mouth. Made in batches of 20-30, the kebabs were cooked in ghee in “dum” (oven-baked) style. When these kebabs were presented to Wajid Ali Shah he instantly gave royal patronage to Tundey Kebabi.

The Nawab also stopped eating tobacco paan and took to savouring malaai paan as a softer alternative. The malaai paan made of cream, sugar and dry fruit, attracted the curiosity of the common people too and hundreds of them thronged mithai shops, especially the one of Ram Ashrey.

The Nawab’s idiosyncracies and wasteful expenditure on romantic pursuits (he had 359 wives) made the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie take over the Government on the charge of maladministration and refusal to introduce beneficiary reforms. He sent send the Nawab into exile in Calcutta’s Metiaburj locality, where his descendants still live.

Lucknow no doubt was left bereft of his presence but the culture he advocated continued to flourish with kebabs and other delicicaies making the city the cuisine capital of the country.

Tundey and his family, even without royal patronage, continued to thrive and the tradition they set is still followed by their descendants.

Wajid Ali Shah never came to Delhi but exerted such a hypnotic influence that many from the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar migrated to Lucknow-poets.

The writer is a veteran chronicler of Delhi

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 4:31:25 AM |

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