Friday, November 02, 2007

I learn an old cooking technique

The walls of Mushtaq Bhai's kitchens are caked with soot, from years of cooking. Every time I go there, I get new lessons in cuisine.

This time was no different. I watched in fascination, as the mutton was first cooked with fried onions and masala, with a little water.

And then the cook showed me the crucial next step - Death by Onion! First, a thick layer of sliced onions was spread over the meat. Next, finely chopped green chillies were added. Then the handi was covered and the meat left to simmer in its juice for 30 minutes.

This of course, is the famous do-piyaza (literally, two-onion) technique, where onion is introduced into the dish at two stages.

The first stage is right at the beginning, when the meat is braised with onions, garlic, ginger and garam masala. Some yoghurt is added, to give the dish a little piquancy. When the meat is three-fourth cooked, then the second stage begins. The quantity of onion in the second stage is important - it is nearly twice as much as the meat.
I like this idea. The essence of the chilli and onion seeps into the mutton.

The do-piyaza was a favourite in the Mughal courts - Akbar's scribe Abul Fazl records that it was served as part of the royal repast, although Akbar himself preferred a simple diet of khichri-kadi (rice and yoghurt).

Akbar's son Jahangir, in the Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri, writes about a do-piyaza that he ate on a hunt:
"One day on the hunt, I shot a female nilgai, and two fully formed young ones were found inside. As I had heard that the flesh of the nilgai fawns is delicate and delicious, I ordered the royal cooks to prepare a do-piyaza."

And how did the do-piyaza taste?

"It was not without flavour", was Jahangir's royal pronouncement.


CanisLupus said...

Always thought "do pyaza" meant with 2 onions, which could have been a way of describing minimalist moghlai cooking (an oxymoron). Cant believe Jehangir, of the story, made his cohorts carry a whole load of onions when he went hunting. Did he throw them at the animals? ;)

sambar42 said...

Akbar liked thayir saadam? This is awesome. Do you have a reference somewhere?

Deepa said...

Come, come. Khichdi is a far cry from plain rice. Akbar was fond of a rich Gujarati khichdi. Yoghurt, by the way, is used to break Ramzan fasts. I also read that yoghurt, along with pomegranates, grapes and figs, was among the Prophet Mohammed's favourite foods. The Palestinians have a dish similar to khichdi. It is called demjeddera, and is made of rice and lentils, usually served with plain yoghurt.

Deepa said...

Canis, do you know the story behind the do-piyaza?

There was apparently a clever man in Akbar's court, the inventor of this dish. He was a fat man, a poet and a good cook, and fond of entertaining. His house used to have a steady stream of visitors...and to make the food stretch, he'd clap his hands as a clue to the cooks to add more onions to the dish. The resultant dish ended up being quite flavorsome, and he came to be called Mullah Dopiyaza.

There's a painting of Mullah Dopiyaza in the San Diego Museum of Art.

I'm sure you've heard of Mullah Nasruddin? Mullah Dopyaza was another such clever guy.

CanisLupus said...

I like these legends about food. They are informative, open to interpretation, and can meander through history, art and other arcane topics. From Do-pyaza to SD art museum(thanks for that reference, DK). Everything in that painting is out of proportion, suggesting caricature, maybe? The man on the horse is too big for the horse, and why is there another man pulling the horse with something that looks like a large onion ?

And so we continue, with DO-PYAZ and a curious intellect, wondering what will turn up next.

Deepa said...

According to the museum "the image plays with meanings drawn from Sufi art and poetry, where a bone-thin horse is used to portray the inevitable decay of the body, and a rider takes the part of the soul."

The horse is deliberately shown as emaciated. In addition, look carefully, you'll see a barking dog on the left. The bird and the dog are heckling the procession. Whatever this is, it has some deeper meaning, even if I can't quite figure this out. I've got to read up on Sufism for this one :)

- Deepa

Prakash said...

In contrast to Islam which views dogs as foul, unclean and vicious, the sufis hold the dog in special esteem for their poverty and wretchedness. In sufi tradition, a dog is often a projection of the value of humility & loyalty and emphasize the value of training that tames wildness and makes even the “dog” useful to society.

Maybe in the painting it portrays Mullah Dipiaza (who is sitting on the horse) as a egoistic and proud individual, moving away from the qualities of an ideal Sufi.

Tinaa said...

Hi Deepa,

i was aware of the meaning of do-pyaazaa.. had read it in the cookery book by camila punjabi.... she illustrates the history of foods very well in it...

Am keen on having food at Mushtaq miyaans place. where will i find him?


Deepa said...

Go to Bhendi Bazaar near JJ Hospital, and ask for Alamgir Restaurant. Everyone knows it.