City Food – Haleem, Meena Bazaar
The one-dish meal.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
This is hearty food, different from the subtle confections of traditional Mughlai cuisine, like koftas and pulaos. Yellow and with paste-like consistency, haleem is a one-dish meal of wheat, lentils and meat. Cooked in sufi shrines and served in Muharram gatherings, the best haleem in Delhi is found in the home kitchens of Muslims. The second-best version is found in Gali Kababiyan, the lane behind Kareem’s restaurant in the Walled City’s Matia Mahal Bazaar. Mr Naeem sets up his stall there daily at noon. A ravenous crowd gathers around him immediately. Two and a half hours later, the man’s deg (giant bowl) gets empty. Mr Naeem inherited the business from his famous father, Bundu Haleem Walla.
Haleem’s recipe is deceptively simple: boneless meat, usually of burra (buffalo), is cooked with oil and spices; soaked wheat grains (or broken wheat used for breakfast porridge) are boiled in water; channa lentils are boiled and mashed, or pulverized in the food processor. All three are then mixed together and cooked some more. Haleem could be made in two hours, though unpractical purists insist on slow cooking it for ten hours. Onions, tomatoes, green chillies, coriander leaves and lemon juice are added before serving. At homes, mothers top the bowl with deep-fried onion rings.
A true haleem should be fibrous with a sticky texture. Because it has wheat, pulses and meat, the wholesome dish needs no accompaniment. The roadside sellers, if the customer demands, serve it with biryani.
The haleem sold in the stalls of Meena Bazaar lane, in front of Jama Masjid, have no sophisticated spices like mace and nutmeg, which are always used in the homemade variety. Priced at Rs 10 a plate, the stew is kept hot in a deg, which rests on a wood-fired stove. The hungry customers – usually labourers, rickshaw wallas, street children and pilgrims on their way to the area’s sufi shrines – stand around the cart, waiting to be served with a dish that would give them strength to last an entire day.
The haleem that The Delhi Walla ate was made by 23-year-old Muhammad Yusuf. His ladle was of wood and his spice box had a sticker printed with ayatul kursi, a verse from the Quran. Living in a two-room house in Turkman Gate, Mr Yusuf is from a family of haleem cooks. His father sells haleem in Turkman Gate and his two older brothers hawk the same near Red Fort and Kasabpura (near Idgah). Mr Yusuf’s haleem was redolent of wheat, had a strong flavour of burra meat and was hot with garam masala. I was energised.
Nearest Metro Station Chandni Chowk Note Mr Naeem’s stall is closed every Friday
A plate for you
Haleem around Jama Masjid
It’s in the deg
One more ladle
Meal for the hard-working
Coriander leaves, sliced tomatoes and dirty nails