Kebabs through the ages



Kebabs have remained an international delicacy over centuries now! What is it about this dish that makes it such a global favourite? What is the origin story of our beloved kebabs and the evolution of their “super”-taste? Read on to find out.

Kebabs as we know it have their roots in Turkey. This is if we go by the usage of the term “kebab”, which originated from the term “Shish – kebab”. “Shish” in Turkish means sword and “keba” means meat; more particularly, lamb or mutton. This particular dish came into being when the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire took to putting small pieces of meat on their swords and over a large fire after sundown in their battle-camps. This barbecued piece of meat was called the shish (sword) kebab (meat).

Now due to the vastness of the Ottoman Empire (cue “The Magnificient Century”, the soap opera), the shish kebabs travelled far and wide. This gave rise to indigenous variants of kebabs across many countries. When it came to India, for the first time, in the 14th century with the Mughals, it was a humble preparation of lightly seasoned meat, cooked over a fire. But India being the hub of spices, it could not retain its humble status for long. Very soon, it evolved into a distinctively regal culinary delicacy, perfected by the royal cooks for the Mughal Emperors.

India did already have its own version of the kebab called the “Maas ka Soola” which was cooked with game meat such as venison and wild boar. But all of these indigenous recipes have evolved significantly under the Mughal rule and the finesse of their royal “bawarchis”.

Till about the 19th century, all kebabs were cooked over horizontally placed skewers and not vertical ones. It was in the 19th century that Turkey gave rise to the doner kebab, traditionally served with bread.

Historically, the marinating process of the kebab varies from the place to place but commonly revolves around a slather of lime juice, yoghurt, onion juice, oil, cinnamon, tomato juice and other ground spices.

Although, the origin of kebab was most probably just cut up pieces of a hunk of freshly killed animal meat cooked over a wood fire with a dash of salt, and maybe some chilli powder added to it. The subtle addition of the myriad flavours, nuanced textures, and a wide taste range was an art form that evolved over a long period of time and is still continuously innovated and experimented upon.

In the 21st century, kebabs have become a high end delicacy served in top-notch restaurants and eateries. Some of the most interesting modern kebabs and their origin are:

1. Tunde and Galawati Kebab - This tender, succulent melt-in-the mouth patty shaped kebab from Lucknow got its unsuspecting name from its creator, Haji Murad Ali. He only had one hand and was locally called Tunday, as is common in colloquial Hindi for people with any arm handicap. Haji Murad, is said to have used 160 spices in his special kebab and had secured the patronage of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who expressed his wish to eat a kebab that was soft and easy on his toothless mouth. While the local name of the maker was given to the kebab, this soft and tender preparation with certain slight variations is also known as the Galawati kebab because of its sheer tenderness. Unlike most kebabs that are roasted on open flame, these are deep fried in clarified butter.

Galawati means 'soft', a kebab that melts in the mouth, and that was the specific purpose. It is believed that it was Haji Murad, who made the first Galawati Kebab, and gave the court this creamy, rich, mouth-watering delicacy is also accredited with inventing the Moti Polau. Instead of beef, he used the finest portions of lamb, which was finely minced and to it a meat tenderiser (unripe papaya) was added, along with a divine mix of over 160 exotic spices to build the rich, distinct flavour. The minced meat was then given the shape of patties and fried in clarified butter for a delectable finish. Has the talks of Galawati kebabs got you craving for some? You can order in from Oudh 1590, for a safe, hygienic and fast home delivery.

2. Kakori Kebab – The place Kakori is famed not just for the well-known Kakori Conspiracy of 1925, but also the delectable kebabs that are the name-sake of this small town in Uttar Pradesh. Kakori Kabab is one of the most famous dishes of Awadhi cuisine and is known for its moist, soft texture, fragrant flavour and rich aroma. Just like Seekh Kebabs, they too are roasted on skewers and served with Indian breads (usually, naan). In fact, they have evolved as a softer, more tender version of Seekh kebabs which were already in peak popularity in Awadh.

Legend goes, a local lord of Lucknow, in the Kakori district, Nawab Syed Haider Kazmi, arranged a dinner party for some of his British colleagues during the mango season. The Nawab served the very best of Awadhi cuisine for his British friends, including the immensely popular Seekh kebabs. His lavish hospitality took a severe setback when a certain British official made a hurtful remark about the hard, chewy texture of the Seekh Kebabs.

This offended the Nawab greatly, and he asked his Rakabdars and Khansamas to immediately design a tender version of Seekh kebabs. The royal cooks then spent several days and nights in the palace kitchen to curate a more refined variant of the Seekh kebabs and then after about ten days of rigourous experimentation and wild inventions, they finalised the recipe of what are now popularly known as the Kakori Kebabs.

These kebabs has a very refined, soft and smooth texture. The usage of 'Maliabali' mangoes to tenderise the meat and a blend of eclectic spices, was the secret behind the softness of these kebabs and their distinct flavour. It was after this that the Kakori Kebabs rose to fame. Crossing the boundary-lines of Kakori, these kebabs became popular in the entire region of Awadh, and popularised the art of using raw fruits (such as raw mango and papaya) as meat tenderizers in kebab recipes. Kakori kebabs are a great option for a family dinner or lunch.

3. Shami Kebab - A very popular kebab in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Shami kebab is made with meat, chickpeas and egg. Eaten as a snack, and a starter or an appetizer, the kebab dates back to the Mughal era when Syrian cooks invented it in the emperor's kitchen. Bilad-al Shaam was the historical name of Syria, the kebab derives its name from there.

These three make the most popular list of modern kebabs with the richest of history and also taste. If this journey of kebab through the ages ignites the hunger-fire of the inner Nawab in you, order in your favourite kebabs from the authentic Awadhi delicacies served at Oudh 1590.