City Obituary – Shabrati Nihari, Shop, Haveli Azam Khan
Death of a landmark.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Bloggers have blogged about it. Instagrammers have instagrammed about it. Heritage-minded walking tours too would stop by for quick feasts and photo opportunities.
And now it is gone.
Hazi Shabrati Nihari Shop is history. The iconic eatery near Old Delhi’s Haveli Azam Khan was famous for its signature meat stew — it would be cooked overnight and served fresh in the early morning.
It has been replaced by a grocery that opened last Friday. The shop stays within the family, but the business has changed.
It all happened because of…. you guess it—coronavirus pandemic!
“We remained shut during the long lockdown,” says Mohammad Shuaib Ilyas, the grandson of Hazi Shabrati, the late founder who set up the eatery in 1957. In his late 30s, the gentleman says that he realized the following truth during the traumatic lockdown: “The only shops that thrive in situations of emergency are the ones dealing with any of these four things: medicines, vegetables, dairy products and grocery.”
The eatery couldn’t survive the new conditions, Mr Ilyas says. “All our cooks left for their villages in UP and Bihar as soon as the roads reopened. There was no way we could have restarted the nihari cooking.”
Replace the eatery by a grocery was the wisest thing to do, he feels, while handing over a cake of Lifebuy soap to a masked customer.
This afternoon, the grocery is still looking new, as crisp as newly starched clothes that will take some time to adapt to the wearer’s figure. The floor is neatly arranged with rows of sacks containing different varieties of rice. The walls are lined with metal racks, the kind public libraries use for stacking books. The shelves are packed with jams and ketchups, soaps and detergents, lentils and spice boxes.
Truly, the world here has changed so swiftly. Just a few months back this was a busy kitchen with a huge brass cauldron, or degh, filled with piping hot nihari.
The degh would be half-buried into an earthen stove that was as old as the shop. A lungi-wearing cook perched on the counter would patiently ladle the nihari out of the cauldron to pour it into takeaway plastic packets for customers.
It is said that in the old days, a nihari degh would never be made to leave the fire, and that the stew would be cooked slowly, continuously, with fresh stock being added daily. No such romance existed in Hazi Shabrati Nihari shop, at least during its final years. The degh would be washed twice daily, just before cooking nihari afresh, and a typical degh would be replaced by a new one in a month.
But until the pandemic hit our city, while the shop would routinely roll down its shutters every evening and the cooks would duly go to bed, the nihari would keep simmering in the degh, on a low fire. That all-night slow-cook tradition was rigorously followed. And, every morning by 8, the locals would gather around to make their claim upon the dish. They still come, but now they ask for Amul buttter and Kissan jam — factory-made items available in all the ordinary places.
Founder Hazi Shabrati died 23 years before his shop underwent such a drastic change. His wife, Sakina Begum, died late last year. Both lie buried in Dilli Gate graveyard. Grandson Mr Ilyas now poses with folded arms against the shop’s backdoor painted in Urdu saying Hazi Shabrati Nihari Shop.
Once upon a Shabrati