Of Kebabs, Slaughterhouses And Crocodile Meat

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These are trying times. Even some friends are turning. They probably see their interest better protected by keeping their options open for adjustments, should excesses increase. And even if they show their residual spunk by digging their heels in favour of Lucknow’s iconic Tundey Kababi, how will it help matters.

Tundey has already made his compromise; he will now sell chicken and mutton kebab. All those anchors and headline writers reflecting wistfully on the passing away of the “galawati” as distinct from “Shaami”, may need to know a thing or two.

Shaami derives from Shaam, the old name for Syria. The kebab was developed during the Ottoman period. Mince and soaked lentil ground with spices is patted and shaped like a small-mac and dipped in egg white to hold. It is then fried. The best Shaami kebabs in Delhi are at the Gymkhana club.

The “galawati” is a short hand for kachche-keemey-ke-kebab. The mince is marinated for hours with a paste of raw papaya, mixed with spices and in small blobs is allowed to fry in a flat “lagan” or vessel on a very slow fire. The juicy softness comes from the marination. The best “galawati” in Delhi is a difficult to reach Chef Khemraj Sharma.

Sharma is not the only Brahmin in the business. Paris’s iconic La Closerie des Lilas boasted, until last year, a Satish Mishra for his classic Tartar steaks, which is mostly raw minced beef, (yes, cow) richly spiced.

Tartar steak, derived from Tartaristan of Caucasus is different from the uncooked beef steaks in, say, Belgrade. These steaks replicate the 200 or 500 mile steaks made famous by the Mongol hordes in the 13thcentury. This needs explanation. To start a fire to cook food was dangerous for Gengiz Khan and Halaku’s cavalries. The smoke would give them away.

To avoid detection they developed a system of placing hunks of lightly marinated beef between the lining on a horseback and the saddle. By the time the horse had trotted, cantered and galloped for a 100 miles or even less the intense heat generated by sheer friction had cooked the meat.

In Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka, the Melanesian strongman, who ousted the socialist government of Timothi Bavandra which had a large number Indian descendents of 19th century indentured labourers, acquainted me with the macabre dietary habits of his ancestors.

When the first Christian missionary entered his village to convert his grandfather, the village head, he was promptly slaughtered.

A traditional Fijian way of roasting a full animal (in this case a human being), was to dig a large pit in the ground call the “Lovo”. It was lined with read hot coal, the body was placed on this fiery bed. Palm leaves were placed on the carcass which was then piled with mud. It was allowed to steam until the time to feast.

The second priest met the same fate. But the Church would not give up. By the time the third priest appeared, the old man had softened. A whole generation of Rabuka’s vintage are today the stoutest pillars of the Christian church.

There are a chain of expensive restaurants stretching from Nairobi to part of South Africa called the Carnivore, known for esoteric meats like Giraffe, wilder beast, Zebra, crocodile and, on rare occasions, a lion, dying of natural causes. I have a video footage of Dara Singh, the original Hanuman of Bollywood, burping outside Carnivore – well, almost.

In the Asia Pacific region – China, Vietnam, Korea dairy produce, one of the reasons for our attachment to cow, is at a discount. These societies obtain their protein directly, from anything that moves including snake, lizards, insects, dogs.

Those currently monitoring our dietary habits may be averse to noticing some of bizarre exotic cuisines – like rats and rodents as regular fare for Musahirs in Bihar.

Every urban settlement has a “bustee”, or a settlement for Dalits, with rows of scavenger piglets playing in the gutter. Pasis, the community which owns these animals – together they are supposed to keep the neighbourhood clean – is required to devour them on ceremonial occasions, every morsel chased by large quantities of home made hooch.

Since unlicensed butcher shops have been abruptly closed in UP so that unclean meat may not find its way to your table, I am sure the government in its benign wisdom will find ways to disinfect rats and gutter pigs.

Everyone knows that the present step is not to protect the cow, because beef is not in the bargain. The question of slaughtering cows does not arise. That is illegal. The petrified meat seller will never take that risk. The burgeoning population of the holy cow foraging on our garbage dumps is ample testimony that the cow is safe from the butcher’s knife.

As far as I know Buffalo and mutton are legal. Why then is the government insistent on shutting down these businesses? I am told they are cleaning up the trade. Will illegal cart vendors, selling sweets, gur and other fare that attract swarms of flies also attract the attention of “Swachch Bharat” brigands?

So what if the garbage dumps outside hospitals and schools have not been cleaned. A beginning has been made with the slaughterhouse.

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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