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
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!