Rahim's Nihari, Lucknow
Hazar Nemat-e-Parwardigar hain paye,
Purani Dilli se chal kar hamare ghar aye,
Janab-e-Meer jo Dilli se Lucknow aye,
Pakad ke baith gaye wo bhi Raheem ke paye.
The above piece is just a small part of the poem by the Urdu poet, Saghar Khayyami. It is an ode to the Lucknowi paya, which is more commonly known as Nihari. In Lucknow, no conversation about Nihari is complete without mention of Rahim's, an iconic shop which is partially responsible for putting Nihari on India's culinary map.
In Chowk's crowded bylanes, in a tiny alley where you will usually find human traffic jams in the evenings, stands Haji Abdur Rahim's 125 year-old Nihari shop. There's no board at the shop, but ask around and you will be guided here. There's a tandoor for breads and a grill for kebabs on either side of the entrance. The eating area is in the basement, where you will get the real feel of the place. The place is famous for its Nihari and Kulcha (a bread with a soft and airy crumb and crispy layered crust similar to puff pastry), one of Lucknow's favourite breakfast combinations. The word nihar originated from the Arabic word nahar, which means morning. This is how the dish got its name. The tail and feet are slow cooked for six to eight hours overnight till the time of fajr (the morning namaaz). This fatty stew is eaten for breakfast.
It was in the kitchens of the nawabs that the Nihari was refined a bit by adding more spices for flavours and more meaty pieces. In her translation of Mirza Jafar Hussain's The Classic Cuisine Of Lucknow, Sufia Kidwai mentions that the Nihari available in the local markets was made with beef, which was shunned by the royalties and the middle class as poor man's food. So, in the homes of Lucknow, the leftover tail and feet were replaced by meaty pieces of goat or even chicken. In the book, she also writes about Nihari made with quail. Rahim's serves Nihari made with beef as well as goat meat. The broth has a subtle flavour from the whole spices, and the meat is usually tender.
Nihari was a breakfast typically eaten by the labourers and those who would indulge in extensive physical labour. This means it can be heavy, so make sure you burn those calories by taking a walk around the city while marvelling at its heritage structures.