|Nihari, like all desi foods, does not photograph well|
Welcome to Fat Tuesdays everybody! This is where, every(ish) Tuesday, I will write about a food I either love (Nihari) or loathe (Paya).
Nihari is a spicy thick beef stew usually paired with naan. It is delicious and wonderful and I love it. According to nihari's insightful wikipedia page it was developed in the late 1800s when the Nawab of Delhi would eat it for breakfast and then slip into a food coma until the afternoon. Later, after partition, Muslim cooks from Delhi migrated to Karachi and soon Nihari became "the national dish of Pakistan" because it's awesome.
Nihari is a complicated dish, it takes 6 hours to make (I think, I've never made it before so what do I know?) and can be served a variety of ways. Once when I was in Karachi my cousin asked me if I wanted to go get Nihari. Obviously I said yes and we went to a restaurant that was so popular that people would wait behind your chair while you ate so they could get a seat when you left. Once there, my cousin asked if I wanted "maghaz ki nihari" I didn't know what that was but he assured me that it would make the nihari thicker and spicier and everyone knows I likes mah nihari like I likes mah ladiez so that's what we did, we got maghaz ki nihari. A few minutes later we got a plate of wonderful smelling nihari and I was beside myself with joy. Then a 7 year old scooped a fully formed goat brain out of a metal pail he was carrying and dumped it onto this plate of pristine nihari. That's when I learned that "maghaz" is the urdu word for brain.
In addition to brains, which is apparently a thing people have with nihari, you usually are provided with a selection of condiments including; fresh cut ginger, sliced green peppers, chaat masala, fresh cilantro, and fresh cut lime. My life changed the day I decided to put some chaat masala in the nihari. I still remember I was probably around 8 or 9 and we were having lunch at Farzana Chachi's house and I hated nihari but then, through a stroke of genius, I decided to throw some chaat masala in there and to this day I take off of work on November 17th and celebrate national chaat masala appreciation day. Personally, I like my nihari simple. I usually only take two small pieces of meat and fill the plate (no bowl) with the salan (gravy). Then I sprinkle out a little chaat masala and that's pretty much it at that point. Lately I've been throwing some pieces of green peppers in there and maybe topping off with the cilantro but in all honesty it's just superfluous. Nobody's ever missed having cilantro with their nihari. The lime juice, that's a trap. Don't use lime juice, trust me. Everyone squeezes out half a lime into their nihari but that's just due to subliminal messages from Big Lime. Be a nihari purist and savor the natural flavors of the nihari.
There are pitfalls when it comes to eating nihari. First, there's that whole maghaz thing, which in all honesty was not that bad and you probably won't ever come across someone serving maghaz ki nihari. What you will come across though is paya. I hate paya with the ferocity of a thousand splendid suns. You will go to a dinner and the hosts will put out nihari on the table and build up your spirits to unknown heights only to crush them when you realize that instead of a thick luscious gravy with tender melt in your mouth pieces of meat, you're actually spooning water and bones into your plate. The mood swing that you will experience is so immense and rapid that you will be convinced you're bi-polar. It's a goddamn crime against humanity and I won't stand for it anymore! I HATE PAYA. If someone says that they're serving you nihari but all you get instead is a plate of water and cow hooves that is so bland that it somehow sucks happiness from your soul, you are eating paya and it is your right to throw that plate right back into their face and burn down their house. Then you can come over to my house and I'll make sure you get a good, real, plate of nihari and you'll live happily ever after with heart disease.
Even with the whole paya situation nihari is still the greatest food on the planet. It's kind of like a high risk high reward thing. On the one hand you might end up with paya and explode into a ball of rage kind of like I did in that paragraph up there. But, if you end up with nihari....man...I need to get some nihari.