Deg Ka Khaana!
By Shoaib Hashmi


There has never been any question that it is the supreme form of the most wonderful cuisine in the world. Let me amend that. Of the only cuisine in the world worth it's salt. Out of shameless envy, other people tout their cooking, but among the wise it is known that the only cooking, and the only food is the food of the Sub-Continent, and all the rest is pottering about and mucking around!
The French lord it over the British about their food, but it is just Dijon Mustard with everything with a few 'Oooh La La's' thrown in; and they can cow the poor Brits because Dijon is in France and the English have nothing to offer besides fish'n chips which taste lousy with mustard anyway.
The Chinese are the only people who can digest bamboo shoots, and their Bombay Duck is actually a fish, which shows how much they know about food. The Italians twist pasta into every shape known to nature, and some besides, and then drown it in mashed tomato. Humphh! They try to get away by putting double zz's in the names, but it doesn't work. And between the two American continents, North and South, their total contribution to world food is the lowly taco!
The cuisine of the Sub-Continent on the other hand, is a vast and varied tapestry of heavenly aromas and divine tastes, and, as I say, the most divine form of it is food cooked in a 'Deg' There are the 'biryaanees' and the 'zardaas' and the 'pulaos' and the 'chulaos', and to go with the rice there is the scrumptious 'palak-gosht' with the palak finely 'ghoted' in the deg, and the great 'qormas' with white peeled almonds swimming around.
At least there used to be because a lot of it has been taken over by people who have forgotten culture and they serve the biryanee with six kinds of roast meat and chicken, all dry as dust; but no matter because there is always that wonderful part of culinary art, the 'aloo-bukharay ki chutney'!
Trouble is that in our enthusiasm for our own art, and our hospitality, we make the deg so big that it cannot be used for day-to-day cooking even in a large household. So the proper occasion for 'Deg Food' has always been weddings. With winter setting in, and my friend Qasim Jafrey reminding me that:
"Saqi biyaar baadah keh maah-e-siyaam raft,
Dardeh qadah keh mausam-e-namoos-o-naam raft".
(Bring on thy wares, Saaqi, for the month of fasting has been and gone; and pour us your deepest cup for it is time to throw honor and reputation to the winds!) With all this I was licking my chops and looking forward to our usual wedding frenzy -- and what happens!
The first one I went to was the 'Valima' of my own dear nephew, which was fine because by the 'Valima', most of the rites and the picture-takings are over, and a bit of banter is followed quickly by food. Invited at eight, by nine I was peckish, and the smell of cooking biryaanee was driving me up the wall, but we couldn't eat because some of the guests hadn't turned up. At eleven thirty my blood sugar level had fallen through my socks, and we still couldn't eat because the groom nor his new bride nor his old mother had turned up!
The groom's father, polite man, was there but you couldn't talk to him because he'd spent three hours on his mobile phone looking for his wife and offspring and new in-law. They were at a studio for the mandatory 'photo-session'. The bride had spent hours, and a few thousands at the 'Parlor' and had to have it down on digital video disk, and was darned if she was going to waste it on us even if my sugar level went through my soles!
A few years back we used to scoff at the people of Karachi who started this habit of coming late for weddings; they are mostly business people, and cannot be expected to shut up shop and turn away paying customers merely because your son's hormones are acting up. We Lahorees seem to have taken it up as fashion, and gone to town with it.
The last wedding I went to was of a friend's daughter who was marrying the boy who lives round the corner, so the 'Baraat' couldn't waste much time getting lost. The invite was for eight, and when I tried to get to the car at half-past, the wife threatened to break my legs if I started before nine-thirty.
Around ten we landed up, by mistake, at the groom's house, and there was no one there, and I thought aha, the baraat has left! It hadn't. A magnificent horse, all decked up for the groom to ride and go fetch his bride, was still tied to one of the poles planted for the fairy lights. We got to the bride's house and I told all, my guess was the baraat might be a teensy-weensy bit late.
Ten thirty, and ravenous I made excuses and drove by the groom's house again. A dozen guests had arrived and were sitting looking at their watches; and the groom's steed was munching the fresh green grass of November in the lawn. I came home and ordered a 'Pizza on Wheels'! I am sorry I said all those nasty things about Italian cuisine!


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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