Mathur Nature: A Kayasth Cook’s Family Secrets

Kanak Mathur’s delivery service sends old Delhi cuisine to new Delhi homes. ♦

If anyone can lay claim to an authentic Delhi food culture, it is the Kayasth
community – the resident Hindu administrators for royal and colonial rulers in the capital and elsewhere. Much has been written about Kayasth cooking’s syncretic, Ganga-Jamuni nature; the kababs and sharaab that flowed as freely as the ragas amongst the courtly Kayasth community, complemented by a range of vegetarian paheli khana, made to look or taste like meat.

Yet today, Kayasth food—like most Indian cuisines—remains totally eclipsed by Delhi’s sea of Punjabi, Mughlai and Chinese red sauce restaurants. This is despite its many overlaps with so-called Mughlai food, and the fact that Kayasth influences are visible everywhere one you start looking.

Naram garam shammi kebab

Kanak Mathur’s new delivery service sends her family recipes from this tradition out into the world. Though Mathur occasionally cooked for friends’ parties, she decided to start branching out a few weeks ago. She had the encouragement of her family — her mother-in-law is Cordon Bleu-trained, and Priti Narain, author of The Essential Delhi Cookbook, is perched somewhere on the family tree. Mathur’s limited menu service intends to deliver the basics of the Kayasth kitchen to the rest of Delhi in 90 minutes. A longer menu of specialty meat dishes can be ordered with prior notice. 

Mi Vida Pasanda

Mathur ’s menu mostly skirts the large Kayasth repertoire of vegetarian dishes, but when the meat arrives, we discover that there’s enough variety to boggle the senses. Mathur concedes to send us an order of bharwan lauki, which, though appetizing, is left mostly untouched by the Bengali, Khasi, and Punjabi diners at our table, all of whom favour the ‘naram garam shami kebab’.

Like the shami, the mutton kofta is just firm enough to survive the journey, but soft enough to fall apart at the touch of the spoon. Rogan josh is a solid meat curry, easily mopped up with tawa rotis. A plate of magaz masala is not the most memorable rendition of brain we’ve ever had, but given its elusiveness on Delhi menus, the nuggets of gray matter melting into fresh green herbs are a welcome addition to the table. The magaz of chaar magaz murg, on the other hand, refers to the four seeds used in the subtle, fragrant, white gravy cloaking pinkish, perfectly-cooked chicken.

When living abroad, she had to pick up her local butcher’s knife to show him how to cut pasandas.

The most labour-intensive item — murgh bharwan pasanda— is a Punjabi-friendly chicken version of a dish traditionally made with mutton. The pasanda, a specially carved, thin cut of meat, is rolled around almonds and spices, tied with string, and simmered in gravy. When we speak to Mathur after the meal, she recalls her father teaching her to carve meat. Years later, when living abroad, she had to pick up her local butcher’s knife to show him how to cut pasandas; even in Delhi, there aren’t many who know how to do it.

Court Behind

The food is rich and well-spiced, heavy on cardamom and salt, and party-friendly. Perhaps next time we’ll try the yakhni pulao, a famously understated and hard to cook dish, as well as convince Mathur to try other vegetarian options like takey paise (coin-shaped gram dumplings in a gravy), or dishes incorporating mangori,or moong dal fritters. This time, there’s barely any room for the almost sticky gajar ka halwa Mathur popped in to our order, gratis—yet somehow we manage it, with the last few drops of whiskey.

Getting there: Call Kanak Mathur’s Kayasth Cuisine at 098188 87265, see her Facebook page here and website here. Delivery within 90 minutes is available within the radius of Vasant Vihar; advance notice required for orders further afield. Most advance order dishes must be ordered in 500 g portions at minimum, but try asking nicely and ahead of time and she may be able to accommodate you.

This story was originally published on Brown Paper Bag.

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