Carrying forward the tales on mutton this week are insights on the varieties of Sunday curry at both ends of my families. Nature of the curry has changed with seasons and reasons; each person acclaimed as a cook in the family has created their own recipe based on their taste and sensibility. From the homely jhol by mother-in-law, an aromatic kosha by baba, a rich spicy gravy by mashi to a soulful Sunday jhol by M – mutton has evolved in my lifespan as no other food. Let me guide you through a tour of this motley of the enigmatic mutton.
The homely jhol by mother-in-law – Relatively easy to cook than its richer versions, this jhol has often been underestimated. With its unpretentious appearance, the jhol has successfully eluded people about its character. It might look a tad bland, but it is not. At my in-laws’ place, this jhol by mothership is served in a little pressure cooker, the one in which it is cooked. We have tried to replicate the same measures of meat and condiments in the exact cooker, but it didn’t turn out the way mother-in-law makes it taste. Like home. Like a refute from meat dunked in puddles of oil at restaurants. If you look at her silhouette against the slightly dark kitchen, pored over the pressure cooker with left hand rested on her waist to balance, a steel khunti (spatula) in her right hand – you will realise that the jhol isn’t a result of careless work. It is the ultimate level of comfort on a sultry summer afternoon, served with wedges of lemon and extra green chillies on the side.
To elucidate the aroma of mutton curry wafting from the kitchen, especially on a Sunday afternoon is nearly impossible. It’s easier to cook the mutton than even give a try to illustrate the labyrinth of emotions it evokes in me, and most people of my race. It’s a phenomenon evolved over a hundred years and a tradition well worth preserving. Before drifting (and delving) into the history of Sunday mutton curry, let me add a cheeky disclaimer that ‘mutton’ refers to goat meat for every instance I write about it. Being raised in Bengal, I had no notion that red meat in general (lamb, goat, pork, beef) is referred to as ‘mutton’. For me, goat cannot be replaced with any other animal for ‘mutton.’
Image Courtesy: Neha Banerjee
From lores narrated in both of my families over years and reading old Bangla stories, I’ve formed a hypothesis on the origin of Sunday mutton. In the early 20th century, educated folk from rural Bengal migrated to Calcutta (the only city then) in search of clerical occupation. They stayed mostly in rental accommodations, hostels and as paying guests for five working days. Come Friday afternoon and they’d venture for the ancestral home in different districts of Bengal. When they’d arrive home, mostly late at night, their jholas would carry fruits, candies, sweets for the children, an occasional piece of jewellery or saree for the wife and daughter, and – on frequent weekends – mutton for the entire family. Children would rejoice; I have a sneaking suspicion that they’d root more for the meat than frugal candies, like me. The wife would blush and begin preparations for the mutton curry the night itself or the next afternoon. Of course in monsoons, the mutton is replaced with Ilish, but that doesn’t take away its glory in the other seasons.
Haleem. It means Patience. And rightly so. Food that takes longer than eight hours to cook must be great in taste. That’s what I had thought when I first heard of Haleem in Hyderabad. Being a foodie and a Calcuttan, I should have heard of it earlier, but I hadn’t because middle class folks like us residing in Calcutta and suburbs didn’t indulge into niche Ramadan delicacies. Secondly, Haleem is way more popular and available in Hyderabad than our bhaat-maachh loving Calcutta. I have tried Haleem and gradually have become a kind of connoisseur for the wholesome dish. If you still haven’t tasted this divine food, here are a few reasons why you should.
Irani Haleem at Sarvi Restaurants, Hyderabad
1. History – Did you know Haleem dated back to 10th century when it was called Harisah in the Arabian lands? According to historians, the recipe for Harisah has been found dated 10th century and it was a popular dish among the Arabs. It was introduced to the Hyderabadi Nizam’s soldiers by the Arabs and later got modified into Haleem.
2. Heritage – Harisah or Harees was sold throughout the year as a snack in the bazaars, in some faraway land like a fairy tale. Today it is reduced to being available just in the month of Ramadan in India and Pakistan. The rarity of the dish has made it more popular and exotic, with people like me waiting all the year just for a taste of Haleem in the holy month of Ramadan. While Hyderabad has conserved and enriched the authenticity of Haleem, other cities have created their own runny versions, a few very weird at that too.