Suviving Khansamas keep alive Muharram spirit in Lucknow

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By Kamna Mathur

Lucknow, Jan.19 : Successors of royal chefs of the olden times in Lucknow have kept alive the tradition of cooking exclusive four-course elaborate meals on the occasion of Muharram.

In the past, the Nawabs of Lucknow used to have family cooks known as Shahi Khansamas or Nawabi Bawarchis (or, the royal family chefs). These cooks would prepare the foods for distribution in the neighbourhood, irrespective of faith, class and caste.

Today, though the era of Nawabs doesn't exist anymore, these descendants of Shahi Khansamas (chefs) are keeping the old tradition alive. But today the meal that used to be prepared in ghee (clarified butter) is prepared in refined oil.

"Items like fried potatoes and Dal used to be distributed among all regardless of religion. Then they used to participate in the activities of the mosque. The food used to be distributed and people used to come here during Muharram to taste our delicacies," said Yawar Hussein, one of the Khansamas (chefs).

During Muharram, these Khansamas remain busy throughout the night preparing food. It is said that during Muharram, these Shahi Khansamas distribute the meal for 13 days.

"It is because of Muharram, the food is prepared which is distributed among all. People are fond of this kind of food and enjoy the food to the fullest," said Nawabu, Chief Shahi Khansama (chef).

Around 200 kilograms of wheat and 100 kg of vegetables are used for this public feast by Shahi Khansamas.

"Earlier, Pulao (flavoured rice with additional ingredients) used to be prepared and two Chapatis and Kulfi were distributed to all. Later, for four days, Pulao would be distributed followed by chapatis and Salan (gravy) for another four days. These days, however, Dal, chapatis, Salan and four days Dal, and for four days Salan are distributed," said Nawab Zafar Mir Abdulah, a trustee member of the Husainabad Trust in Lucknow.

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