Time To Unravel The Unique Kebabs Chronicles

World Kebab Day is here and while we cannot wait to fill our plates with juicy, succulent kebabs, we are also thrilled at the buzz online for the day. World Kebab Day is celebrated every second Friday of July, and by itself, the day is not acknowledged by any international body. It started as a celebration of kebabs, somewhere around 2019. And honestly, wasn’t it long due? Kebabs are undoubtedly one of the oldest snacks known to mankind. It is said that the first kind of kebabs were made by nomads, hunters and warriors who were always out in the wild. They would skewer the meat they had hunted around rods and swords and grill it on open fire.

It was not until 1200 AD that India saw its first kebab. Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta wrote in his chronicles how many different kinds of kebabs would be served in Royal feasts. Then, of course, while speaking of kebabs, one cannot rule out the influence of Mughals in popularising the same. Awadh, Agra, and Delhi, became synonymous with the meaty kebabs during the Mughal rule. It was not uncommon to have kebabs for breakfast, lunch or dinner. By the time of Mughals, kebabs also became a sort of a delicacy; they were richer, softer, more aromatic. A tradition that continued even after the decline of Mughals. Khansamas or royal cooks were renowned to be over-possessive about their recipes, they would hardly reveal all the contents.

But were kebabs always a ‘Muslim’ fixture? Did they feature in the royal fare of other kingdoms too is a common question. The closest possible ‘kebab-like’ snack one would associate with Rajputana cuisine is Maas Ka Soola. Since the Rajputs took great pride in their hunting bouts, the game meat would be chopped, skewered and grilled. They were made mostly of wild boar or deer. Maas ka Soola, traditionally was never supposed to be marinated in a rich or aromatic mixture of nuts, cream spices, however, nowadays, you have many modern renditions of the recipe that may comprise one, too many ingredients.  

Kebabs have evolved and transformed in many innumerable ways in all these years. Here are some unique kebabs, kebab traditions and chronicles that will definitely make you slurp.  

Not All Kebabs Came Via ‘The Mughal Kitchens’  

The Mughals arrived in India only in the 14th century, but kebabs had made their way to the Indian tables two centuries prior to that. Therefore, you can now stop associating all kebabs with Mughals. In fact, you will find ‘kebabs’ with local spins, across the world. Turkey has its kebaps, Japan its Yakitori, Indonesia its Satay. If anything, you may want to consider the role of Mongolian army and invaders in popularising the very idea of kebabs in the regions they went to.  

Similarly, there are many kebabs, like Kolkata’s Chelo Kebabs for instance, were born in The Peter Cat restaurant. Chelo kebabs as most of you may know hail from Iran, but Peter Cat’s Chelo kebabs were simply borne out of the owner’s love for rice and kebabs. These Chelo kebabs are meaty, chewy, perfectly grilled and slender looking. They are served with rice, eggs, butter and cream, making for one wholesome treat.  

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Melt-In-Your Mouth Kebabs Versus The Chewy Kebabs

There’s popular legend associated with origin of Galouti Kebabs. It is said that the kebabs were originally made for an old Nawab who had lost most of his teeth and was finding it hard to chew on his kebabs. His khansamahs, tried many tenderisers like papaya, raw mango to create softer kebabs, until one of the made the softest of them all- the galouti kebabs. The word ‘galouti’ or ‘galawati’ refers to something that ‘melts instantly’. These soft kebabs are usually served with chutney, onions and parathas. And beyond galwati too, there is a whole league of kebabs that are renowned for their softeness, like the Tunday kebab from Lucknow, originally made by a man with one hand (Tunde). To date, nobody has been able to recreate the same recipe, because the mixture of spices are a ‘family secret’. Some even say that about 106 spices are used in the making of Tunday kabab. Shami Kebab, thought not as soft as Galawati kebabs, are still counted as the ‘softer kebab’.

This brings us to the league of the ‘not-so-soft’ kebabs, like the seekh kebab or the Burrah kebab, the latter is marinated and roasted with bones intact. That’s right, forget about mincing meat, the meat is not even deboned for this kebab. They look a lot like spicy lamb chops, Burrah kebab is dry in texture, slathered in a smoky masala. 

Tandoor Or No Tandoor, Yummy Kebab Will Find Its Way  

You think of kebabs and you picture a giant tandoor and some skewers, but that is not how all kebabs are made in India. In fact, the cooks and chefs have found rather interesting ways to cook their kebabs over the years. Take the Hyderabadi Patthar ke kabab for instance. ‘Pathar’ means a slab of stone. Legend has it that once a Nizam of Hyderabad went for a hunt. After a tiring hunt, the Nawab felt like relishing kebabs. His khansamah were not prepared for such demand or were not carrying the essential tools and equipment to dole out fresh kebabs, however, they were quick-thinkers. They used a granite stone slab, on which they laid over the meat. They lit the fire underneath the slab and cooked their kebabs. The resultant dish came to be known as Patthar ke kebab or Pathhar ke Gosht, which later on went on to become a Deccan royal staple.  

And there are many more kebabs like Tunday, Shikampuri Kebab, Galauti Kababs that are pan-fried, and do not use tandoor to come together.  

The kebabs in the Indian subcontinent are not only well-worth the calories, but their stories are also worth your time and attention. One of the most interesting development has been that of Vegetarian kebabs or Mock meat kebabs, like paneer kebab, dahi kebab etc, which are broadening the fan base of kebabs in India. Here’s wishing you all a very happy world kebab day.