So finally Korma, Kheer and Kismet – the product of years of joy (in Old Delhi) and heartbreak (at my desk) – is here. Although I still can’t quite believe it and do a double take every time I see it in a shop – my little book out there trying to make its way in the world.
The response to the book so far has been incredibly cheering, particularly in Old Delhi itself. As soon as I got back from my holiday in Scotland I went straight there to give copies to the vendors who feature in it.
First stop was Bade Mian’s shop in Lal Kuan.
The Siddique family’s kheer shop is a stone’s throw from the Chawri Bazaar metro and I always start any Old Delhi jaunt there – sitting at one of the tables at the back with a cup of chai and a tiny square metal plate of kheer. Jamaluddin is a wonderful character who is always ready with a colourful story – many of which I can’t understand because he seems to speak in Urdu rhyming couplets.
The Siddiques’ shop is not only home to the world’s best kheer but also the place I was first introduced to the notion of ‘kismet’. Over many happy hours while I was working on the book I listened while Jamaluddin Siddique patiently and often movingly explained his own fate as a street food vendor.
I also got to know the family well and some of the ups and downs of their incredible almost 150 year history are included in the book. On a sad note, though, Jamaluddin told me that his wife, who is a big part of the chapter on the kheer-wallahs, had died over the summer. Ironic, too, as the last time I saw her it was she who was fretting about her husband’s devotion to his ‘kismet’ and that he was working himself to death.
Jamaluddin, though, is determined that life, and the exhausting commitment to kheer-making, must go on.
I once asked him what made his family’s kheer so special and he told me there was no great secret, that it was simply ‘Due to the blessings of Allah!’
This was a version I made which is similar. Kheer is normally made with white sugar but I used jaggery to try and replicate Bade Mian’s fudgy flavour and colour. I’m not sure if my kheer had ‘the blessings of Allah’ but it was pretty good.
One litre milk (the creamier the better)
50 gms rice (I used broken Basmati) three to four tbsp jaggery
Ground seeds of two green cardamom
Wash the rice and soak in fresh water for about one hour, then drain. Bring the milk to a boil and add the rice and cardamom powder. Simmer over very low heat until the milk has thickened and the rice has almost completely disintegrated. Stir in jaggery to taste and leave on the heat until dissolved. Serve warm or cold.