MEHRU JAFFER | 25 MARCH, 2017
UP Panic Engulfs Historic Tundey Kababi: "I'm So Tired!"
LUCKNOW: Sixty seven year old Mohammad Usman is a troubled man. He is smiling less today because he is tense and worried about his future.
“Why did I shut shop? What kind of a question is that? I shut shop because I had nothing to cook, nothing to offer my customers,” snapped the head honcho of Lucknow's Tundey Kababi outlet who did not light the fire last Wednesday at his famous restaurant in the city's bustling Aminabad marketplace, because the kitchen shelves were empty.
However the next day the restaurant opened again on public demand but only to serve mutton and chicken kababs.
“If mutton and chicken meat is made unable to us then we will be forced to close the business again,” warns Mohammad Usman looking visibly upset.
Mohammad Usman is not usually rude. In fact he is a most charming host. The walls of this landmark restaurant are decorated with countless photographs of politicians and film stars who have enjoyed a meal here. For the ever smiling Mohammad Usman the customer has always been king.
Forever dressed in a snow white kurta exquisitely embroidered and a pair of matching snow white trousers, Mohammad Usman usually welcomes the hungry into his den with a polite adaab and he often joins the guests to talk to them at their table.
However last evening he told The Citizen that he is very tense. His business and his livelihood is at stake. He sat at the cash counter looking tired and his clothes were crumpled. The embroidered cap on his head did not look clean white either.
“Don't ask me anymore silly questions. I am tired. It irritates me to explain my problems to officials, to the media and to customers,” he said with a frown and after he was forced to shut shop for a day. There is no beef available to Mohammad Usman now to make the mouth watering beef kababs that sell like hot cakes throughout the waking hours of a city whose reputation as a gourmet's paradise is spread around the four corners of the globe.
Several slaughter houses have been declared illegal and shut down in recent days affecting the business of numerous restaurants and individuals.
“If there is some illegal activity any where the government has every right to take action. But we were given no notice. No grace period. No opportunity to register the business, to apply for a license, or to dig out the necessary, legal documents from files. My business was shut without warning and that is unfair,” said one who walked away rudely without giving his name.
For nearly a century, Tundey Kababi has been a favourite eatery of ordinary citizens and celebrities alike. Although there is a variety of meals in both rice and bread offered here, it is the tundey kabab made from buffalo beef and any number of secret spices, and served with a round flat bread layered in wheat flour and shallow fried on a gigantic hotplate that is the favourite takeaway of most.
Now that many a slaughter house has been closed in recent days without warning, it has caused panic and there is fear of arsonists looting and setting more meat shops on fire. The panic is spread to all the 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh, a state that exports around 67 percent of the total amount of beef from India.
The house of the Tundey Kababi is traced back to Haji Murad Ali, the chef with one hand. Murad Ali's father had cooked in the royal kitchen of Wajid Ali Shah the last ruler of Lucknow.
After the fall of the monarchy in 1857, Murad Ali memorised the family recipe and served the delectable delicacy from a little kiosk he opened in 1905 in the oldest part of the city in the crowded Akbari Gate area. After his death in 1967, the ancestors moved to a sit down restaurant in Aminabad to become known world wide as the Tundey Kababi.
Before the shortage of buffalo beef, the restaurant had prepared kababs from 60 kg of meat every day. These kababs were cheaper than those made from minced mutton and now chicken meat, and were almost a staple meal of all lower middle class and poor people.
Other popular meals prepared from buffalo meat include nahari that was affordable to low income citizens as well but without any compromise to the taste of the meal. These days Mohammad Usman is making kababs from chicken mince meat and because it is expensive he is cooking just 20 kg a day.
The threat of more businesses being affected by government action looms large upon entrepreneurs like Mohammad Usman and his sons but his customers are happy. Those who can afford it are finger licking, and caressing a belly satisfied even with chicken kabab, still special as it comes from the kitches of Tundey Kababi after all.