There are many things that make Galouti Kebab such a fascinating dish. It’s royal pedigree, the close to (and fabled) 160 ingredients, the hard to master technique – it led to the famous Tundey legacy in Lucknow – and a history that only adds to the wonderment. After all, the birth of Galouti Kebab, according to popular timeless tales, was for an aging, toothless Nawab who wanted the meaty indulgence but without adding to his (mostly unmanageable) girth. The latter in fact, is told in zest, was more of the prime minister’s concern, who wanted the inept ruler to sit on the throne for long. Clearly, food politics at work.

The folk tale (now a legend) further narrates how a team of hakims, veds and khansamas worked tirelessly, round the clock, experimenting and perfecting what could be the perfect meat fest for the rich palate but without the need to chew. Anthropologist and old storytellers believe it was while perfecting this very recipe that Hazi Murad Ali, one of the meat specialists in the Nawab’s royal kitchen, fell, lost his arm and chanced upon the “secret” to making the perfect melt in your mouth affair. In other words, galouti: An unforgettable meaty treat and a must-have treat in any Awadhi cook’s menu. But was Galouti Kebab really created for one, single Nawab in Awadh? Or was it a gradual progression of the changing meat eating habits? If one has to go by the use of papaya as a tenderizing ingredient which arrived in Indian around 1550 AD and was discovered by cooks a few years later, then perhaps one could see

Galouti Kebab

Galouti as a 15th century innovation – with Awadh (present-day Lucknow) taking the credit. However, if older culinary ledgers serve any basis of analyzing the ancestry than neither the art of galawat (which gave birth to most porridges, haleems and even the famous gustaba) nor the art of tenderizing meat are anything but modern in the practice (or origin).Much like kebab, which according to Manasollasa (written by Chalukyan king Someshwara) existed in 1127 AD as Bhaditarka, tenderizing meat by using kachri, tamarind and brine was an ancient practice too, says Chef Deepankar Arora (Co-Owner, Tawak), goes back to the early years of Spice an Silk Route. In fact, soft, melt in your mouth kebabs find mention in the travelogues of Samarkand – one of the lavish trade post back in the time. A fact that is supported by Alwane Nemat, the Persian cook book that details the style of eating in the royal court – and the various influences and presents recipes that showcase how vegetable and fruits were used as early as 1818 AD to flavour the meat – and also make it more palatable. Kunduazizi, a meat made of a fowl, citrus fruit for marinade, crushed blackpepper for seasoning, and spit grilling as its method of cooking, is a kebab that predates the Mughal period by at least a few decades. Adds Chef Arora, “butchery in fact was the one segment of the royal kitchen that developed really fast, given the amount of meat consumption that happened both when the army was on move or at peace.” The study of meat, says Chef Altamash Iqbal (Chef de Cuisine, The Ritz- Carlton, Bengaluru), “was so advanced that there were dedicated cooking and prepping methods for each part of an animal – including few hybrid techniques that could turn any part of an animal into delicacy beyond belief. The finest example of such culinary ingenuity is the Galouti Kebab.” The making of Galouti Kebab, adds the chef, “in fact was the progression of the traditional technique of galawat. What made it interesting (and fable worthy) is that it was being done without cooking the meat and then tenderizing (a skill that is followed in making shammi kebab), which made it unique, skill wise and of course precision too. Says Chef Arora, “this meant that the piece of meat had to be made hot and the tissues to be broken by beating it consistently using a handheld mallet, till such time that the meat could practically be eaten raw.”

But sheer hammering the meat, says Chef Abhishek Gupta (Executive Sous Chef, The Leela Ambience), “wasn’t enough. The maker had to have a good understanding of how the protein and fat work as well. And that came only through years of handling the meat and knowing just by the look and feel of it as well.” What made the technique complex is that it was developed around a time when meat was no more fresh – which is in case of gustaba – but something that was often stored and used cold. This made selection of the tenderizer and the technique extremely crucial, says Chef Iqbal, “because when meat is cold, just manually breaking the connective isn’t possible without spoiling the meat quality. Hence the choice of ripe papaya as a softener.” Papaya, says Chef Gupta, “”contains an enzyme called papain, which works exceptionally well in breaking the connective tissue. That along with the skill of pounding the meat can result in a pate-like consistency of the meat which can melt in your mouth, even raw.”

It was the combination of the knowledge, the right proportion and time, the pounding cycle (which was perfect under Murad and done best by those with one arm called Tundey) and slow, charcoal grilling that, says Chef Arora, “catapulted the galouti kebab as a dish that could only be attempted by the best meat hands in the kitchen.” But those were not the only factor that made Galouti the royal favourite and one of the many foods that could practically save a king. It was also the ingredients. Unlike the Chengis Khan’s kebab that had salt and cumin in it, kebabs developed later on – at least from the time of Shah Jahan – were high on the wellness too. In fact, khansamas worked closely with veds and hakims who introduced herbs and ingredients that could change the character of a food to suit the current lifestyle of the royalty, and often made dishes these delicious pills of nourishment. Galouti was, says Chef Gupta, “a landmark in that regard too. Made with close to 50 odd herbs, each treated differently for maximum benefit, it was a dish that could heal and rejuvenate the Nawab aging body without him moving a muscle. This change in

composition of dishes also pointed out to the changing meat eating habits from rare and now well done (or in some cases even over done). ” But that in no way meant the Galouti was a discovery for Nawab Wajid Ali Shah or any of his successor.According to Chef Iqbal “galouti, in its first iteration, may have made its appearance in Shah Jahan’s court.” The story goes that into a few years of his exile, the emperor had started losing all his teeth and found

eating excruciatingly painful. That’s when Aurangzeb, who had allowed a frugal meal with channa dal being the only indulgence, allowed one more innovation to reach the golden cage. That one innovation, given the aging

emperor’s love for meat, was a closer cousin of galouti.”This tale finds credence when one looks at the austere meal of Aurangzeb, who loved his kebab soft, succulent and aromatic – three things that define a good galouti. However, what gives it that definite Awadh stamp, says Chef Arora, “is the use of the special spice mix that was developed in the kitchens of Nawabs in Lucknow – which later reached the royal Mughal kitchen, and used upto 40 hard to find herbs including chandan powder, dried rose petals, khas ki jad, kebabchini, saffron, chakra phool, paan ki jad etc, a few of which are still used in making galoutis today.” The thing about Galouti, says Chef Iqbal, “was that it wasn’t a dish but a culture of technique, thought and ingredients which proved to be the proverbial “magical caldron” that led to the creation of a thousand varieties of kebabs – each unique in its aroma and taste. And that is what was refined and finished in the kitchens of Awadh, which in many ways was the progressive lab of those influenced by the Ottomon Empire and others.” And one of the major reason, says the chefs, “that Awadh and Lucknow is credited to create the stunner called Galouti Kebab – a dish that won people for its sheer orchestra of prep work, great, exotic ingredient and an

outstanding thought.”

The Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore

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