Monday, Sep 26, 2022

The Food Story: The tale of two kebabs

One created for an ‘insulted’ Nawab, another for the ‘toothless’ and yet between the two iconic dishes they have inspired over a dozen more varieties of kebabs

Majlishi Kebab Majlishi Kebab (Source: Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi)

One created for an ‘insulted’ Nawab, another for the ‘toothless’ and yet between the two iconic dishes they have inspired over a dozen more varieties of kebabs, and the world famous brand Tunde Ke Kebab.

What handycam is to Sony, Tunde ke Kebab or Tunde Kebabi is to the world of Kebabs and Lucknow. Such is the reputation of this 100 plus year-old establishment and its succulent kebabs that it is considered a food pilgrim today – acknowledged both by gourmands and others.

But what really makes Tunde Ke Kebab such a legend? Is it a form of a kebab? No. Does it represent royal ancestry? Not like the kakori and kundan qalia. In fact, the birth of brand Tunde Ke Kebab – which is incidentally named after the physical characteristic of the kebab maker, a one-armed chef, instead of the kebab itself –came in 1900s when the brand was established under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah, a few years before the Nawab was exiled to Kolkata (then Calcutta) where the Kolkata Biryani was born. Kebabs interestingly existed way before that.

So where does the legend of tunde and kebabs really begin? With the introduction of kebabs in India of course. According to Ibn Battuta, the famous Moroccan traveller, kebabs was served in the royal houses as early as 1200 AD, when not only the royal households but commoners too enjoyed a breakfast of kebab and naan.

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It is said that when Alexander the Great met King Porus, he was, to his surprise, offered meat mish-mashes that were similar to kebab of Greece. But the official entry of kebabs into India, and to Oudh region (now Uttar Pradesh), is credited to Sadat Ali Khan, the first Nawab of Oudh from Persia. Albeit then the kebabs were a mere shadow of what they eventually became by the end of the Khan dynasty. The kebabs, very much like the pilafs of those days, were elementary and took care of basic needs of food with very little spice. It is said that soldiers on the go would catch a prey in the evening, skin it, wash and then skew it on their swords and cook over high fire, the original barbeque style. Once charred, salt, cumin, chilli and pepper would be dusted on the meat and eaten off the sword. It was survival food at its best. But taste-wise, the kebabs were chewy. Marbling (the weave and waft of fat and muscles that makes a meat succulent) was an unknown concept then.

By the reign of Siraj Ud Doulah, and we are talking East India Company time, kebabs changed very little. Yes the meat was minced by the rakabdar (royal chef) and cooked on slow fire to give it that juicy taste, but for culinary world, it was still the incubation days of what later became the galawati or galauti kebab. The seekh and shammi kebabs did exist then.

The real work on kebab began in the time of Siraj heir apparent, Nawab Asad ud Daula, an emperor as reputed for his generous nature (leading to the proverb ‘jo khuda nahin dega wo Asad dega’), his architectural masterpieces (the pillar-less Bara Imambara and Roomi darwaza) as for his love for food and innovation. By the time Asad came to power, the British had taken over the complete reigns of the kingdom, leaving Asad to concentrate on what he considered to be his life’s two big ambitions: building architectural masterpieces and evolving Awadhi cuisine. Dishes like parind puri (a live bird inside a poori), patili kebab, moti palao and the arvi ka salan were invented during this period, which food historian often refer to as the “Renaissance of Cuisine.”


It is said that the Nawab was so fond of kebabs that he had specialised rakabdars to create a new dish every day. Even the vegetarian kebabs made of arbi, jackfruit and bottlegourd had to taste different. This obsession grew manifold during the building of the Bara Imambara, and after that. It is said that every night the Nawab would ask a few of his servants to break whatever was constructed. This childish act had two purposes: one, to keep workers busy during the great famine of 1783 so that they could earn a living and two, to keep his rakabdars busy creating newer versions of kebabs that were soft, juicy and would keep him puzzled to find that one special ingredient used.

imambara Bada imambara

Innovation became the key to survival for rakabdar as they devised newer ways of slow cooking, smoke flavouring and of course using exotic ingredients like sandalwood, juniper berries, rosebuds, rose, red gensing and pathar ke phool to outdo each other every time. Incidentally, the first successful iteration of the galwati kebab had all the above mention ingredients along with real pearl and gold and some guarded aphrodisiacs, which was suggested by the hakim (doctor) in an attempt to egg the Nawab to do some activity. Did it have the famed 160 spices? With no records available, there is no way of finding it out, but surviving khansamas believe it wasn’t the case. It was also the time when the choice of meat shifted from beef to lamb and goat. Marbling was a known science then. It was during the 14 years when Nawab Asad created architectural wonders that the first pièce de résistance, the galawti kebab, also known as galouti made its debut. Story goes that by then the Nawab, who was an infamous couch potato, had lost the use of his dentures and was looking for something pate style, which needed no chewing yet imparted the flavours of a fine kebab.

Some say that it was Haji Mohammad Fakr-e-Alam Saheb, the creator of the moti pilaf, who made the first galaouti kebab, which became the draft to work on for chefs thereafter. Meat suddenly became the play dough for chefs as each generation went on perfecting the shahi mixture, giving it a creamier, silkier texture.


Finally, it was Haji Murad Ali, one of the finest chefs of the time, who got the consistency right. It is said that Ali, who was working on perfecting the mixture of the shahi galawat, fell off the roof and broke his one arm. But the injury didn’t stop him from working on the kebab. After, what some say, was a year and half Ali discovered what his one arm could do – pound the meat dough into such fine paste that it would melt in your mouth, and would take on the clove dum really well.

He also introduced a certain amount of fat to make the kebab tastier. The famous ghee roast basting became popular with this kebab. It was presented at the Nawab’s Dastarkhwan the next day and when the Nawab asked who created it, he was told it was Tunde Ke Kebab. In other words, kebab made by the one-arm man. Ali who was made the head of the kebab segment then began employing one arm men to pound the flesh, and that’s how the concept of Tunde Ke Kebab finally cemented. What worked for Ali was the math of how two tundes could provide that necessary rhythmic pressure that on one hand would tenderize the meat and on the other release the flavours of spices into the meat. It’s a technique that was used to make varqs back then.

Ali’s son, however, was more enterprising than the father and eventually under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah set shop at the old Chowk of Lucknow in 1905 that became popular as Tunde Kebabi, a brand under which his generations have sold some of the best tasting kebabs including the one galawati inspired: the Kakori Kebab.

Legend has it that in late 1800s, when Lucknow was still not the capital of Awadh, a local aristocrat Nawab Syed Mohammad Haider Kazmi, threw a party during the mango season as was the tradition for his British friend. As luck would have it one British official made a snide remark about the coarse texture of the Seekh kebabs. Incensed by this insult, the Nawab summoned his rakabdars, hakims and attars the very next day and asked them to evolve a more refined variety of the seekh Kebab. Ten days of extensive research and experimentation resulted in the now famous `Kakori Kebabs’, the softest and finest version of seekh kebabs. The secret was the use of ‘Maliabali’ mangoes to tenderise the meat. The new version of the seekh kebab met with great applause and since then the Kakori became famous by word of mouth and even today, though cooked elsewhere, are known as ‘Kakori Kebabs’. Kakori introduced the art of using fruits like raw mango and papaya to tenderise meat. Of course, when it came to popularising, Kakori Kebab was the first to reach the masses and led to the birth of Baghu Ke Kebab and Majlishi Kebab, which was about the fine mince dough than the spices.

Today though the kebabs are made across the world and in myriad ways, they are at best interpretation of what the real deal would have been, largely because of the unwillingness of the royal chefs to part with the recipes. And yet, when it comes to texture and taste – some of it has lived on through ages, thanks to tunde ke kebab!

Galawati Kebab

Galawati Kebab (Source: Chef Mujbeer Rehman, Founder< Kichenett E Awadh) Galawati Kebab (Source: Chef Mujbeer Rehman, Founder< Kichenett E Awadh)


Mutton Mince 1kg
Ginger Paste 10gm
Garlic Paste 10gm
Raw Papaya Paste 75 gm
Yellow Chilli Powder 5 gm
Salt to taste
Mace Powder 3gm
Choti Eliachi Powder 4gm
Garam masala 5gm
Potli Masala 10gm
Coconut powder 5gm
Zeera powder 2-3gm
Brown onion paste 50gm
Ittar 2 drops
Keora water 1 tsp
Long  5-6 pc
Maida 20gm
Rosted Channa Dal Flour 100grm
Coal for dum
Ghee 150gm


Add ginger-garlic paste and papaya paste to the mince and knead it into a soft dough. To this, add brown onion paste, salt, yellow chili, mace, eliachi, gram masala, potli masala, coconut powder, zeera powder, mix thoroughly until become uniform paste. Now addthe koera water, ittar, maida and gram flour mix thoroughly. Make a well in the center of the mixture and put burning coal, pour ghee approx 2 tsp, throw in the clove, cover and allow it to rest for 5-7 minutes.

Open, remove the coal, and again finally mix for 2-3 times. Refrigerate it for an hour.


Heat a flat iron griddle, divide the mixture into 25-30 equal portions and give the shape of patty/tikki then shallow fry on the griddle. Add ghee before removing the kebabs to keep it moist.

Recipe And Picture Courtesy: Chef Mujbeer Rehman, Founder< Kichenett E Awadh

Bhagu Ke Kebab
One of the street innovation of kebabs, Bhagu ke kebab, named after its founder Bhaghu, was a breakfast staple in Lucknow till the end of the 90s. A low-fat version of galawati kebabs, it doesn’t use the dum technique and gets its flavour from the spices and papaya used.

Bhagu Kebab (Source: Chef Shaukat Ali Qureshi, Jyran, Sofitel Mumbai Bkc) Bhagu Ke Kebab (Source: Chef Shaukat Ali Qureshi, Jyran, Sofitel Mumbai Bkc)

Mutton Mince 100 gms
Red Chilli Powder 10 gms
Green Cardamom 2 gms
Saffron 2 gms
Kevda drop 2 gms
Roasted Channa Powder 15 gms
Raw Papaya 20 gms
Ginger Paste 15 gms
Garlic Paste 15 gms
Brown Onion (Minced) 25 gms
Green Coriander 20 gms
Salt 5 gms
Pure Ghee 20 gms

Mix in all the ingredients with the mutton mince. Pass the mixture once again through a mincer in order to attain a smooth consistency.
Once the required consistency is attained, take small portions and make round tikkis.
Cook individually on a copper griddle or pan for about 10 minutes or till golden brown on either side.
Remove and serve with green chutney and Indian garnishes. Goes best with sheermal.

Recipe And Picture Courtesy: Chef Shaukat Ali Qureshi, Jyran, Sofitel Mumbai Bkc

Majlishi Kebab (Also known as Ghutwa Kebab)

The Majlishi Kebab has long been considered a piece de resistance in the Awadhi dastarkhwan. Introduced by the Shia Nawabs of Awadh, it was originally prepared from beef mince in Lagan. The mince for the kebab comes from the raan ki machhli (tendon of the leg of mutton) much like the galawat kebab.

majlishi Majlishi Kebab (Source: Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi)


Lamb Mince 250 gm
Bread 1 slice
Onion paste 1 no
Onion chopped 1 large
Green chilies chopped 4 no
Garam masala 1 tsp, heaped
Crushed red pepper 1 tsp heaped
Salt 1 tsp
Ginger garlic paste 1 tbsp
Roasted & crushed coriander 1 tbsp
Nutmeg powder ¼ tsp
Mace powder ¼ tsp
Gram flour roasted 2 tbsp, heaped
Coriander leaves chopped 3 tbsp
Raw papaya paste 1 ½ tbsp
Lazzate tam/ Potli masala 1tbsp
Saffron 1 gm
Metha ittar 1 drop
A few drops of kewra water
Onion rings and green chillies for garnishing
Oil for frying

Marinate the mince with all the spices except the fresh chopped onion, saffron, meeta ittar, kewra, and the garnishing. Knead it till it attains a soft, gooey texture. Keep aside for half an hour. Now heat oil/ghee in a pan, to this marinated mince, add the chopped onions and mix well.
Divide the mince into patties and shallow fry on a griddle. Once a side of the meat turns golden brown, flip and press the kebab and cook. Before removing it from the griddle, drizzle with a mix of saffron, metha ittar and kewra.
Garnish with green chilies, adrak, chopped coriander leaves and onion rings. Serve hot.

Recipe And Picture Courtesy: Chef Mohammad Shaeem Quraishi

First published on: 25-09-2014 at 11:51:21 am
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