Food Talk
Sufi symphony
Pushpesh Pant

THE Sufi masters themselves were indifferent to the pleasures of this material world but they did take care to adequately nourish their disciples and guests. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is believed to have treated the visitors to lavish hospitality. This was no ostentation, but a demonstration of the munificence of the almighty who provides for the faithful whatever is required. The ascetic, who had renounced the world, never lacked anything to keep sated the endless stream of the devout. The Sultan’s dastarkhan paled in comparison. People gratefully sang out, Kis cheez ki kami hai Khwaza teri gali mein. Ghazals echo the same sentiment Kisee din idhar se guzar ke to dekho badi raunaqen hain fakiron ke dere.

The food associated with the Sufis is simple yet subtle akin to satvic in the Hindu ayurvedic tradition; flavourful and satisfying. In essence, the idea being to "uncomplicated" life, and proceed with the spiritual quest.

Gosht Sufiana


Mutton (chops and chunks culled from shoulder) 1 kg
Potatoes (medium, peeled, and
quartered) two
Spinach (cleaned, blanched
and shredded) 100g
Onions (medium sliced) three
Green ginger (scraped and cut
into strips) 2 inch
Garlic cloves (peeled and crushed) six
Tomato (medium chopped) one
Cloves 3-4
Cinnamon stick 1 inch
Peppercorns ˝ tsp
Oil 75 ml
Salt to taste


Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pan and put the peppercorns and cinnamon in it. When these begin to change colour, add the meat pieces and brown lightly over medium heat stirring frequently. Then add the potatoes and keep stir-frying till potatoes acquire a light golden hue. Then add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook uncovered for about two minutes. Sprinkle a tsp of water if necessary to prevent the garlic from sticking. Now put in the spinach and about a cup of hot water. Bring to boil, cover and then reduce heat, let simmer for about 20 minutes. Check to ensure that the meat is done to taste. Alternatively, you could cook the dish under pressure for 10 minutes and allow the cooker to cool before opening the lid. Sprinkle one tsp of coarsely ground freshly roasted coriander seeds on top before serving. (You are welcome to add a couple of green chillies or even a whole roasted red chilli to enliven the proceedings).

Over the centuries, the word Sufiyana has become synonymous with understated good taste — sophisticated in the real sense of the word. Years ago, we encountered sufiyana pulav and enjoyed it too but what recently took our breath away was gosht sufiyana.

The thin gravy — what little remains on the dish — glitters like burnished gold and the taste lingers on for a while teasing the palate to identify something familiar yet enticingly veiled for the moment. The gentleman who prepared it generously shared the recipe but was reluctant to authenticate its origins. His answers were tantalisingly vague. It just may have been handed down the generations from the days when Amir Khusro registered attendance at his Pir’s durbar or perish the thought, it could well be a fake being passed off as a hitherto "lost" culinary masterpiece. One must confess that no eatery in Basti Nizamuddin has it on its menu nor does it figure in that quaint collection subtitled "recipes from an urban village". What cannot be denied is that the dish is delightfully light — just right for the sultry monsoon, well balanced nutritionally and easy to prepare.