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Robbing Lucknow of its signature culinary identity

The lovers, nay connoisseurs, of Lucknow's famed Tunde kabab (skewered meat) are sad that those melt-in-the mouth gilauti and Kakori kababs aren't available any longer, thanks to one fanatic Yogi's whims and vagaries, who's now at the helm of UP politics, nay Indian politics. A visit to Lucknow is incomplete without a ritualistic visit to Tunde kabaab in the old city.  

kabab-tundey-lucknow

Tunde Kabab is so named because it was a specialty of an one-armed chef, Haji Murad Ali. The uniqueness of this kabab is the masala which is a zealously guarded family secret and prepared by women in the family. It is said to incorporate 160 spices including sandalwood. Kakori kabab is considered blessed since it was originally made in the place by the same name in the dargah of Hazrat Shah Abi Ahder Sahib with divine blessings.

There's an interesting story behind the origin of the Tunde Kabab. The story goes as follows: There was once a Nawab (royal family member) who really loved to have kababs, but as age caught up with him, he lost his teeth and was unable to enjoy the kababs. He apparently set up a contest that whoever created the softest and most succulent kababs would enjoy royal patronage henceforth. 

The secret recipe was created by Haji Murad Ali, who apparently had only one hand. In India, a person with a leg disability is called Langdey, while a person with a hand disability is called Tunde, hence the name Tunde Kabab. Legend has it that Haji Murad Ali once told a nawab that if he had two hands, he would not have been such an amazing cook.

Since 1897, it's been warming the palates of gourmets with its kababs made of minced beef, mutton and a variety of meats. Till 1970, the meat of partridges, fowls and other game birds was also available, including the meat of now endangered Godawan (the great Indian Bustard). One could taste 'dahi mein pake Godawan ke chhalle' (thin slices of Godawan meat cooked in yoghurt/curd). The quintessential kababs at Tunde's are made of minced meat. Though no one still knows the secret recipe and the exotic trick to soften the meat, one reporter of an Urdu daily from Allahabad somehow got hold of the elusive formula and he began to blackmail the owner of the famous eatery. Grapevine has it that Tunde's owner struck a secret deal with the reporter that he could come anytime once in a day and have kababs to his heart's content free of cost but he wouldn't spill the beans! The ancestors of Tunde were cooks in Jahangir's kitchen. Of all Mughals, Jahangir was the biggest meat eater and he encouraged his cooks to create exotic meat-recipes and would give 1000 gold coins for a new meat dish, especially for kababs. One cook Mehrab Hussain mixed unripe papaya and unripe banana with meat and pounded it into qeema (Not 'Kheema', Qeem in Hebrew means 'to pound'; it travelled down to Arabic and Persian from earlier Semitic and semantic roots).

Unripe banana and unripe papaya soften the meat but one must use them in a very little quantity. They're called 'Valdeef-mazin' in Persian (veg catalysts in meat). The last Mughal emperor Bahdaurshah Zafar was yet another food lover. In fact, he was more of a chef and poet than the emperor of India!

He first introduced vinegar (Sirka or Acetic acid) to soften meat for kabaab delicacies. Yet, it's still a mystery as to what Tunde actually concocted to soften the meat so much as to make it melt in mouth like Maghi paan. The legendary British chef Sir Gordon Ramsay tried to mix almond with meat and pounded it into qeema. The mixture was indeed soft but not as soft as it's made at Tunde's!

One will be amused to know that even vegetarians have their share of kababs at Tunde's and yours truly tried beetroot kabab with garlic chutney and mustard sauce with shallots dipped in vinegar at Tunde in 1998. It tasted celestial! Alas, they don't make it any longer.

Lastly, Tunde kababs are equally famous in Pakistan and Pakistanis find Tunde's kababs to be far better than their own mouth-watering chapli kababs (made of minced beef/veal).

Will the same delicious aroma waft through the air of Lucknow once again?

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