The crowded, winding streets of the old market quarter of Lucknow – once the capital city of the Indian princely state of Awadh and now the capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh – are not for the fainthearted. Hundreds of residents, tourists and the occasional food critic brave them regardless to get to an unpretentious street-side restaurant that has stood at the same spot for over a century. They are there to sample one of the oldest and most famous renditions of the galouti kebab, which was created for a king and is now loved by the masses. The establishment, Tunday Kababi, was founded in 1905 by Haji Murad Ali, a famous chef of his time who had won the patronage of the princely ruler of Awadh, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Murad Ali had lost an arm in an accident as a young man, but the misfortune only added to his legend, with his creation earning widespread renown under the name tunday ke kebab – “tunday” being the colloquial Urdu word for a one-handed man. Urdu is the official national language of Pakistan and an officially recognised one in Uttar Pradesh. The galouti kebab (galouti meaning “that which melts in your mouth”) is made of finely minced goat meat mixed with spices and herbs such as cardamom, peppercorn, poppy seeds, turmeric , fenugreek, vetiver and betel leaves. The spiced mince is shaped into round patties and shallow-fried in ghee (clarified butter), resulting in a thin, crisp exterior and a soft and silky interior. “My grandfather lost his left hand after he fell from the roof while flying a kite. But the injury didn’t stop him from working on the kebab. With one arm he could pound the meat into such a fine paste that it would melt in one’s mouth,” says 57-year-old Mohammad Usman, Haji Murad Ali’s grandson. “The uniqueness of our galouti kebabs is in the spice mix created by my great-grandfather. It is a closely guarded family secret and is prepared by the women of our family. The herbs have medicinal properties that aid digestion, reduce blood pressure and acidity,” explains 34-year-old, Mohammad Salman, the great-grandson of Haji Murad Ali, who runs Tunday Kababi alongside his father. “Galouti is much more than a kebab. It is an amalgamation of technique, thought and exotic ingredients, which come together to create this delectable kebab,” explains Varun Inamdar, one of India’s top celebrity chefs, a food stylist and author of 50 books. “The paste of raw papaya with its skin is used to tenderise the meat. Raw papaya has an enzyme called papain, which works incredibly well to break down meat.” Most people are familiar with the doner kebab, and the vertical rotisseries with the inverted cone of stacked meat used by quick-service kebab shops in preparing them have become a familiar sight worldwide. A kebab, derived from the Arabic word for roasted meat, generally evokes the image of cut-up or ground spiced meat slow roasted on a skewer over a fire. The kebab was brought to the Indian subcontinent by Persian invaders, for whom it was an ideal camp food. Soldiers would roast chunks of meat skewered on the tips of their swords – or sheesh, which is how the famous shish kebab got its name – over open fires. It was in the royal kitchens of the Mughal emperors and the princely states of Awadh and Hyderabad that they evolved from a rough and ready dish of chewy meat into the smooth, textured versions unique to the country. The galouti owes its origin to Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah (1748-1797), the ruler of Awadh and a man known for his love of food. “Asaf-ud-Daulah became so fat that he could no longer ride a horse. He managed to gain vast amounts of weight despite the fact that his ability to chew was compromised by the loss of his teeth,” writes food historian Lizzie Collingham in her book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors . The nawab (a title indicating a sovereign ruler), who eventually lost all his teeth, ordered his cooks to come up with a soft variation of the kebab, which led to the creation of the galouti. Lucknow and Hyderabad were at the forefront of culinary innovation and gastronomical sophistication. The royal kitchens took pride of place in the courts, as did their celebrity chefs. “As the Mughal empire began to break up during the 18th century, the nawabs of Oudh [or Awadh] set about establishing Lucknow as a centre for high culture to rival the old Mughal capital of Delhi,” writes Collingham. “Cooks flocked to Lucknow and were rewarded handsomely. In the 1770s, the nawab spent four times more on his cook room than on his poor house. The rulers of Lucknow displayed their wealth and luxury at their tables and encouraged their cooks to invent ever more artful dishes.” The Mughals liked minced beef, but in Lucknow the cooks preferred lamb and goat. They would grind the meat into a fine paste, add in various combinations of spices, and roll the mince into balls or lozenges, spear them on a skewer, and roast them over a fire, explains chef Palash Mitra of New Punjab Club , a one-Michelin-star Indian restaurant in Hong Kong. “A popular kebab, shaami kebab, made with ground beef or lamb and bound with chickpeas and eggs, gets its name from Bilad-al-Sham, the old name for Syria. It is said to have been introduced by Syrian cooks in the royal Mughal kitchens and is considered to be the ancestor of the galouti,” says Mitra. Another masterpiece credited to Lucknow is the Kakori. Also made of finely minced meat, this kebab was created in the late 1800s thanks to an affronted nawab from Kakori, a small principality at the time on the outskirts of Lucknow. “Legend has it that the local aristocrat, Nawab Syed Mohammad Haider Kazmi, threw a party for his British acquaintances and served the best Awadhi cuisine, including the popular seekh kebabs. One of the British officials made a disparaging remark about the coarse texture of the kebab, and that gave birth to the world’s softest seekh kebab,” says Inamdar. The nawab was stung by this criticism and, summoning his chefs the next day, he tasked them to create a more refined version of the seekh. After rigorous experimentation, the cooks succeeded in leaving a legacy that is still widely relished today. “The Kakori kebab is threaded onto a skewer, as the raw meat is so tender that it may fall off. Roasted in an open barbecue, it uses rich spices such as nutmeg and saffron. The preparation of the kebab is labour-intensive, with the meat being ground six times to produce the required softness, and is therefore usually cooked for special occasions,” Mitra explains. “The secret behind the softness and the distinct flavour of these kebabs was the use of the mangoes from Maliabad – a town close to Lucknow famous for its orchards – to tenderise the meat. This gave rise to the art of using raw fruits like raw papaya and mangoes as marinades for the meat,” Inamdar says. No discussion of kebabs can be complete without mention of Hyderabad’s famous shikampuri. Developed under the patronage of the city’s Mughal governors, the kebab is also made of minced goat meat. However, the chefs introduced local ingredients such as tamarind, sesame seeds and khus khus ( poppy seeds ) into the spice blend, enhancing the flavour. “Shikampuri means ‘belly-full’ and refers to the tangy, crunchy stuffing in the kebab made of thick yogurt, mint and onions. The kebabs are ball shaped and, while most kebabs are cooked over charcoal or shallow-fried, shikampuri kebabs are deep-fried,” says Inamdar. Vegetarian versions made of jackfruit and bananas are also popular. “The choice of meat and spices are the most important factors for a good shikampuri. We use meat from the goat’s thigh and our spices are home-made,” says 43-year-old Syed Shaji, owner of Bade Miyan, a popular kebab restaurant in Hyderabad started by his great-grandfather in 1935. Among other varieties of kebabs are the Kalmi, prepared by marinating chicken drumsticks in spiced yogurt and roasting them in a tandoor; and Bihari, thin-cut pieces of beef tenderised using raw papaya and a spice blend infused with mustard oil and slow-cooked on skewers. From the plains of Central Asia to the royal kitchens of the Mughals, the journey of kebabs is the outcome of a long history of innovation and the fusion of different food traditions. Their story represents the history, culture and the inventive journey of food in India.