I was back around 7-30 am. My wife opened the door
Wife: walked extra today? Came in late?
Me: No, I didn’t take the morning walk today. Told you last night that I will be leaving early to be at Sufia.
Wife: but that was a joke I guess
Me: I told you while leaving at 4-30am today also
Wife: Oh!!! I thought I was imagining in my sleep basis what you told me last evening. Did you seriously go?
That’s the gap which happens even after living for a couple of decades together when one is a person who lives to eat and other eats to live.
Waking up at crazy early morning hours for breakfast must be weird as apparent above. Many would wonder that it is not quite a normal behaviour to get up at 4 am and board an Uber at 4-30 am just for some breakfast. And more so for the items not generally imagined as a breakfast in wildest dreams. Well…divine stuff needs those extra efforts. And I was on my way in the dark winter morning at 4-30 am towards Zakaria street. Even after entering Chitpur Road it was all silent and deserted and I was wondering if I am wee bit early in my worry not to miss it. Crossed Nakhoda Masjid and as the cab crossed the lane on right….well here I am. Ought to be the place bustling with activity and people. Is there a queue? Yes for those who are in groups of 3 or 4, but I was alone. Placed myself comfortably in a chair. No – One doesn’t need to order for it. It is given. At such unearthly hours, if you are at “Sufia“, waiters know why you are there. You just need to mention whether poori or roti. I went for the roti. And I surely don’t recollect a better tandoori roti that I have had. White, perfectly baked, not a single corner burnt, crispy outer layer, moist inner layer. Wow!!! Here it comes with the star attraction accompanying it. Read about it, known about it but never heard about any acquaintance’s own experience. Squeeze the lemon over it. And then with your finger gently tear the roti, dip it into the gravy and tuck it onto your tongue. Purely divine. I looked at my watch. 5 am. Divinity at 5 am.
Nihari, the dish cooked overnight for around 8 hours and served once it is ready the following day. I haven’t tasted beef as succulent as this…nowhere in places I have been to inside and outside country. And the gravy… well it can’t be described… it can only be felt and internalized.
While discussing with the owner of one of the most respected and oldest Mughlai eatery in Kolkata, I came to know that the origin of the dish is linked to the Mughal emperors in the late 18th century. The workers, who stayed in the site where they were constructing buildings needed to start their work early. So that they can focus on their work and not stay hungry, it was ordered that their food be ready early morning before they get to their work. The cooks used the portions of meat which weren’t attractive for other stately preparations and with limited spices, put it on fire the previous night so that it can slowly cook and by early morning will be ready. The taste of this dish soon attained fame, and from being merely a food for the workers in the morning, it soon entered Royal kitchen. The term Nihari owns its origin to Nihar Mu. The word Nihar in Urdu is derived from the Arabic word Nahar. Nahar means day and Nihar is associated with dawn. Mu is mouth or face and Nihar Mu was used to indicate empty stomach or when nothing has been consumed in the morning. So this meat with gravy was served Nihar Mu for the workers with Roti. This meat with broth got synonymous with Nihar Mu and slowly came to be known as Nihari, not sure if the last part of Roti led to Nihari ending with i.
Hence, most places serve it early morning, after cooking it overnight. While mutton and chicken variants are available, nihari is more popular with beef shanks since mutton or chicken tends to melt when cooked for 6-8 hours.
There will be some who will still crave for Nihari, yet struggle to wake up so early and reach the place before 6 am from distant southern or northern part of the city. Nafeel in Park Circus offers a slightly more convenient option for people from Southern part of the city. And the Nihari is generally available till abut 8-30 / 9 am. And I can tell you, it is extremely good. For those who find a tandoori roti to be too heavy with an already tough-to-digest Nihari, and Poori’s to be too oily, Nafeel has the options of hot tawa rotis as well.
Khiri is an item i love as Kebabs. The gravy here at Nafeel tempted me to try the Khiri as well. But ideally i should have taken it before the Nihari. For non-beef eaters, Nafeel offers a nice mutton paya, though that is served only in the evening.
And for them, who find even 8-30 am too early on a weekend morning, UP –Bihar Hotel in New Market Area is the option as they start around 7-30 and presumably the Nihari is available till late morning, though I have never risked going late.
There are some more eateries which make Beef Nihari but I have only tried ones in the above.
For those, who avoid beef as a meat, mutton paya is an option in many of these places and you can also refer to my other blog which will list down some of the cherished non-beef Mughlai breakfasts of the city.
Breakfast story and that too with beef remains incomplete without one of the most coveted destinations for beef-lovers of the city. Right – I am referring to Beeru’s Restaurant. Unless someone has told you about this place, you will comfortably give this place a miss, since the ambience is nothing to allure you. Located in Ripon Street, yet again try to be there by 8-30 am in case Beef Nihari is in your mind. There is also one more key attraction here which tends to get over early. Will come to that appropriately.
Tandoori roti, Tawa Roti, Paratha and of course Daal Poori are the options you have. I tried both the tawa roti and the Daal Poori. While Tawa roti is like any other place, I strongly suggest not to miss the Daal Poori here. Crispy and dry on the surface with absolutely no oil clinging to it, the soft inside with filling distinct in its taste, it can be had even without any accompaniment. But when paired with beef chaap, it is a combo very few combinations can beat. The meat was almost in a semi solid state, so well blended it was with hours of slow cooking and a gravy that was intricately weaving its magic through its presence amidst the pores in the meat. A beef dish I experienced where toothless people will also not have any problem having it. While two of us ordered just one plate of it, this is one dish where you will hate to share it with anyone. What was demoralizing was the unavailability of Beef Keema at Beeru’s. Didn’t know that during winter, they don’t make it in the morning since they make Nihari. Everything that happens, happens for good. Once winter is over, I will have a strong reason to be back here.
Coming all the way to Beeru’s early in the morning, it is a grave offence not to explore beyond one dish. The passing bowl of Ishtew for some other table made me order one for us. This one is light yellowish in color, dominated with the taste of poppy seeds & cashew nut paste, which is added after simmering the meat with the other ingredients for a long time. While the meat pieces could have been slightly softer, the gravy was a delight. Soft tawa rotis went perfectly well with it, with minimal interference to the shahi flavours of the Ishtew. Even if you are full, force yourelf to order the halwa and just one more Poori with it. The restrained sweetness and the smooth texture of the halwa will unfold in its glorious taste when it wraps itself up in the cozy folds of the hot poori in a cold winter morning and enters your mouth.
While you are delighted, guess you are too full now. Wash it all with their strong tea which will be as much memorable as each of the other items.