One genre that I have consciously avoided writing about on my blog is reviews. I have always written about things which have meant something to me or about memorable experiences that I have had or recipes that I have tried my hand at. Although this post is about a particular place I would still like to believe it has more to do with the experience of going to and eating at this place.
Sufia in Kolkata has existed for ages. To be frank, though I have visited Sufia numerous times in the last few years it has never occurred to me to dig up its past. 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 its history. Sure, Calcutta doesn’t get as cold as other parts of India but the temperatures are at their lowest around pre-dawn to dawn and sleeping under a warm and cozy blanket is a much more enjoyable proposition at that time as compared to waking up. A delicious bowl of Nihari is probably one of the two things in life that I would gladly wake up for before sunrise.
The word Nihari originated from 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 and according to some other sources 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.
A visit to Sufia needs to be planned at least a day in advance. An early dinner the night before and turning in well before your usual bedtime certainly helps. Getting a friend or another fellow early riser to accompany you to the restaurant would be a good idea. If you don’t manage to convince anyone to leave his or her bed at the crack of dawn to join you 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 surely going 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 under normal circumstances would be about a good twenty five minutes drive away. But before the sun has risen and the entire city is asleep it took us ten minutes to get there. We were greeted by the dawn call to prayer from the Nakhoda Masjid opposite which lay our destination.
As expected we were met with the familiar sight of the place bustling with people. Some were waiting outside in groups to collect their food in stainless steel containers to take it back home and some 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.
At that time of the day the only food available at Sufia is the Nihari and 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). Both of us went for the tandoori roti to accompany our Niharis. 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 a couple of chunks of really tender almost melt in the mouth meat. Upon inquiring on a previous occasion I was told that the meat is cooked on a slow fire since the previous evening, a process which ends just before the dawn call to prayer rendering the meat soft as marshmallows.
As a result of this Sufia’s cutlery collection which probably does not include forks but only 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 bite sized 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 had soaked in all the spicy flavours of the stew combines beautifully together 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.
From past experience I haven’t been a big fan of the daal puri with the Nihari as I feel the palate is overwhelmed with the rich oiliness of it all and gave the daal puri a skip, but to each his own, my brother went all out and devoured two. The usual way to end this meal is with an Irani cha, a sweet milky tea but neither my brother nor I are fans of milky tea so we didn’t bother ordering it. As we paid for the meal and stepped out on the street it felt as if for the last twenty odd minutes we had ceased to realise the world outside. 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.