At Gaggan Anand’s eponymous Bangkok restaurant, the chef serves a subtle take on Mumbai’s popular street food — keema pav. A minced lamb curry prepared with tomatoes and onions is stuffed in a salabao (or salapao), a Chinese-style deep fried bun. Closer home, at Masala Library in Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai, this meat preparation is given a twist by replacing green peas with spheres of its puree made using molecular gastronomy. In Delhi, Sodabottleopenerwala — a restaurant that styles itself on the Irani cafes of Mumbai — serves bacon keema macaroni, apart from a traditional Bohra keema pav, to nostalgic diners. At PDT (Please Don’t Tell), the South African Bunny Chow uses minced meat.
For long, keema was deemed unfit to be a part of menus at fine-dining establishments. Made of meat trimmings, it was considered too humble to match the high standards of a fancy eatery. However, this outlook towards the century old dish is slowly changing. Today, almost every new bar or restaurant opening in the city is giving keema a quirky touch. Take for instance Khar-based diner MeSoHappi, where keema is the key ingredient in three dishes — in one, it’s used as filling for a wrap, along with eggs and avocado; in a variation of the keema samosa, it is stuffed in a filo pastry; and then there’s keema sunny-side up dosa. According to MeSoHappi’s head chef Anirudha Patil, “Chefs forget the beauty of simple dishes in a bid to be exclusive.” Patil loves the fact that keema is easy to prepare, cooks faster and pairs well with herbs.
Popular with meat lovers across the country, keema has mostly been a street-style dish. In north India, keema matar is the perfect antidote to crisp winters. In Hyderabad, minced meat is mixed with chana dal, coconut and spices to make mutton keema muttilu, a popular fried snack. Many thus view keema as unhealthy for its high fat content and use of excess oil in the traditional preparation. Mukhtar Qureshi, head chef of Mumbai-based Neel, says that the way restaurants have prepared keema in the past has compounded its reputation. “Most restaurants choose to serve keema with lots of fat and with little body to the dish. This, in turn, leads to dissatisfied guests,” he says.
At Neel, the keema comes from raan and is very coarsely cut. Since keema contains a lot of fat, Qureshi offsets it with spices adding to the flavours, aroma and texture in the khade masala ka keema, a popular dish at the restaurant.
Delhi’s Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director of Massive Restaurants that owns Masala Library, sees keema’s entry in the fine-dining space as a eureka moment. “Restaurateurs are realising that keema is a great tasting dish and deserves a place on their menus,” says Kalra, who serves the preparation as a stuffing in kulchas at his Delhi-based Farzi Cafe and at Made in Punjab. Kalra says that food cannot be perceived as low- or high-end since it is the ultimate means of pleasure. “What matters is the way it is presented and keema is breaking out of the traditional mould,” he says.
On the other hand, Bandra’s Gostana offers a healthy alternative — its lamb burger uses a steamed patty instead of the deep-fried version with minimal spices, which is popular with patrons. Pankil Shah, owner of The Pantry, Kala Ghoda, which serves keema with potato mash and pita bread, says that it helps that keema is an all-day food item, a factor that contributes to its accessibility.