Sceptics often label Bhopali food as buniyaadi (basic). It's true that the city's cuisine does not have the delicate finesse of Awadhi or Mughlai food, but Bhopal’s dishes make their presence felt with bold flavours. Their origin can be traced to both the city’s erstwhile Nawabs and its citizens.
Geographically, Bhopal’s spicy and rustic cuisine is laden with influences from the surrounding regions of Malwa, as well as distant places like Deccan and Lucknow. From the full-bodied namak wali chai (mildly salted water boiled in a samovar combined with hot milk, a splash of cream and sugar), tantalising dahi phulki (a watery and bucolic version of the more popular kadhi with light and fluffy pakodis), gosht ke pasande (flattened meat pieces cooked in a thick browned onion gravy), qaliyas and qormas, muzzafir (a sweet sevai halwa) and more, the city is a treasure trove of unexplored dishes.
During Ramzan, the city offers a variety of festive-special delicacies, and eateries remain open till a little before sehri, around 4 am. There's the popular seekh kebab and kulfi-falooda with milk, roohafza, rabdi, sabja (basil seeds) and falooda, served with crushed ice. It is also blended with lassi and khus, and some shops have their own secret recipe for khus. The best kulfi-falooda is available at Bhura Bhai’s Shop in Bhopal. Apart from these, here are the city's signature Ramzan foods:
Nukti is the sweet boondi and khare is the savoury sev. While the rest of India has boondi and sev separately, Bhopalis combine the two. The sweetness of one balances the savouriness of the other. During Ramzan, it is customary to break the day’s fast with dates, nukti-khaare and an assortment of fritters and fruits. Streets of old Bhopal line up with stalls selling nukti-khaare, piles of different kinds of pheni (discs of hair-thin ghee-fried sevai) and khatla (a giant kachori-type fried bread with a smattering of dry fruits and khoya).
Also read: Sharing an iftar thaal at Bhendi Bazaar
Mohabbat ka sharbat
This is a new entrant to Bhopal’s Ramzan repertoire, imported from the streets of Delhi’s Shahjahanabad. The summer months are a difficult time for those fasting, and throats run dry. The charmingly named mohabbat ka sharbat—or love potion, if you please—is godsend after a long thirsty day. Made with diluted milk, small pieces of juicy watermelon, and a generous dose of rooh-afzaThis chilled and sweet thirst-quencher is a must-have made. While fruit juices, especially mango, are hot sellers, the traditional and refreshing mohabbat ka sharbat has its own loyal fans.
The Bhopali version of the humble pattice is warqi samosa, and it’s filled with keema (minced meat). The layered savoury snack is deep-fried, not baked. Generally crescent-shaped (triangle-shaped variations are also available), the warqi samosa has a flaky, crispy exterior that gives way to a generous filling of spicy keema.
Simply put, this is the Bhopali version of the ubiquitous burger minus all the greens and veggies. A delicious and meaty (buff or lamb) patty is pan-fried and placed in the centre of a fresh, small round bun that has a tinge of sweetness to it. The bun kebab is served along with a mint and curd chutney and a slice of onion. These will leave you wanting more.
Fried chicken boti
Imagine chicken satay, but with a crunchy texture and tangy flavour. Served on tiny wooden skewers, usually, with three to four chunks of chicken, this deep-fried finger food is a must-have for iftar. Red hot in colour, each morsel is bursting with tangy flavours. Generously sprinkled with either chaat masala or doused with a twist of lime, it is the perfect pick-me-up when looking for a comparatively light snack. While at it, and if you are lucky enough to be an early bird, you can also try the deep-fried masala chicken liver, rarely found anywhere else.
Nalli nihari and kulcha
If the snacks haven’t left you completely satiated already, there’s nalli (lamb shanks) nihari paired with tandoori roti or kulcha which is also known as sheermal in Bhopal. It’s a slightly sweet, rectangular loaf of well-raised bread dressed in desiccated coconut or melon seeds. The dish is literally manna from heaven if cooked with love and enough time. Nahar in Urdu and Arabic means dawn or morning, and nalli nahari is served during sehri. It cooks through the night on slow simmering coal fire, and is served piping hot before daybreak. Alternately, it can be eaten in the evening too. Its robust flavours with a fair amount of fat make it a fortifying meal for those who fast.
Also read: Making a case for Sehri foods during Ramzan
Made with an assortment of pulses, broken wheat grains and lamb, this dish is like a non-vegetarian porridge. Garnished with chillies, fried onions, ginger juliennes, coriander and a twist of lemon, it is a full meal in itself. Prepared in massive aluminum or copper degs (pots), khichda, like the more famous haleem of Hyderabad, takes around eight-nine hours of slow cooking. Hearty and robust, it is the perfect soul food after a full day of fasting. One can relish it with a side of Bhopali kulcha, but most prefer having it as a one-pot meal.
Available at: Ibrahimpura and Qazi Camp in Old Bhopal
Prices range from ₹10 to ₹80