I have always written about food that has meant something to me, about memorable experiences that I have had, or recipes that I have tried my hand at. True to that spirit, while this post is about a particular joint, it is not really a review. Eating Nihari at Sufia Kolkata, is an experience to be celebrated, more than a review, really!
Ditch the Blanket for the Heavenly Nihari
Sufia in Kolkata has existed for ages. One of the primary reasons why I never got around to investigating Sufia’s past is how busy it is at dawn. And visiting a place at dawn during the winters is possibly the second reason why I never bothered to find out more about it. Sure, Calcutta doesn’t get as cold as some other parts of India. But the temperatures are at their lowest at the time when Sufia warms up with its incredible breakfast offering. It is a bit painful to leave the warmth of the blanket for a breakfast run. Fortunately, a delicious bowl of Sufia’s Nihari proved to be more than worth the effort.
The word Nihari originated go f rom the Arabic word ‘Nahar’ which means ‘day’. It is a rich meat stew that is served at daybreak.
Many sources point out that the dish Nihari originated in the Nawabi kitchens of Delhi. Some others opine that it originated in the royal kitchens of the kingdom of Awadh. As far as I am concerned though, the mere mention of the word Nihari transports my mind back to Sufia, Kolkata.
Planning a Breakfast at Sufia
A visit to Sufia needs to be planned at least a day in advance. An early dinner, followed by an early night, helps. Getting a fellow early bird to accompany you to the restaurant would be a good idea. If you don’t manage to convince anyone to tag along at the crack of dawn then don’t fret too much, because an empty place beside or across you won’t remain so for very long. Once there, you’re sure to savour every moment of it.
On the second morning of 2018, my brother and I decided to satisfy our souls and appetites and pay a visit to Sufia. Sufia is situated about five and a half kilometres from my house which in peak traffic would be at least twenty-five minutes drive away. But, in the sleepy town before daybreak, it took us just ten minutes to get there. We were greeted by the azaan from the Nakhoda Masjid opposite which stood our destination.
As expected we were met with the familiar sight of the place bustling with people. Some were waiting to take away their breakfast in stainless steel containers, while others were just getting themselves seated. Without wasting any time, we quickly slipped into the restaurant and found ourselves a table. Although the place was done up and refurbished before Ramadan 2017, if you have any inhibitions with regards to cleanliness and hygiene then leave immediately, else prepare yourself for a memorable culinary journey.
The Legendary Nihari at Sufia Kolkata
At that time of the day, the only food available at Sufia is the Nihari. The only choice that you have to make is whether to devour it with tandoori roti (flatbread made in a typical tandoor oven) or with daal puri (deep-fried flatbread stuffed with crushed lentils). Now as far as I am aware the only kind of Nihari available at Sufia is the traditional beef Nihari. The waiter nodded his acknowledgement and within a couple of minutes, we found on our table two steaming bowls of Nihari. A rich and spicy stew with chunks of really tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat. I learnt that the meat is cooked on a slow fire since the previous evening, a process which ends just before the azaan, rendering the meat soft as marshmallows.
As a result of this, Sufia’s cutlery collection of just spoons, serve the purpose just fine. It cuts as easily through the meat as it would go through a bowl of pudding. The way I go about it, as do most other people, is by first squeezing a slice of lime into the Nihari to help cut the rich oiliness, then tear a small piece of the soft roti, dip it into the bowl of stew, take a tiny spoonful of meat and let the flavours unfold in the mouth. The roti which soaks in all the spicy flavours of the stew combines beautifully with the tenderness of the meat. Once swallowed, the palate is left with the subtle heat and tanginess making you want to go back to the bowl of Nihari.
Top off with Irani Chai
I haven’t been a big fan of the daal puri with the Nihari as I feel the palate is overwhelmed with the fat. The usual way to end this meal is with an Irani chai, a sweet milky tea. As we paid for the meal and stepped out on the street it felt as if for the last twenty odd minutes we were transported to another world. It was just after dawn and amidst the inconspicuous chirping of birds coupled with the conspicuous silence brought about by the absence of incessant honking, two satiated souls went back home with bellies full of Nihari.
Rishav (aka Rishi) is a health nut with a sweet tooth. He is a true connoisseur of edibles, without ever indulging in excesses. He runs a visually stunning blog, www.eatsiprepeat.com. Hop over for many more delectable posts!