Indian kebab has its roots in Turkey

Succulent morsels of meat marinated with spices and skewer-grilled in hearths or ovens have tantalised the taste buds of food lovers for centuries.

“Kebab”, or the way the meat turns, is derived from Arabic word “cabob”, meaning to burn or char, says Monish Gujral, who manages the Moti Mahal chain of restaurants and has put together around 100 kebab recipes from across the world in a new book “On the Kebab Trail”, tracing the origin of the dish in Turkey and its journey to the Indian sub-continent.

Thirteenth century Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta records that kebabs were served in royal houses and even enjoyed by commoners for breakfast with naan.

In India, the history of the kebab is marked by rivalries between chefs over recipes, ingredients and whims of kings, who wanted their meat cooked in particular ways. Gujral says kebabs over the years have captured the imagination of the world and become a symbol of fine dining.

“People are making kebabs at home. They are easy to make because they involve two processes — marination and grilling — with both vegetable and meat alternatives,” he said.

With grilling meat becoming part of household cooking ritual, attention has returned to kebabs again, he said.

Gujral, a restaurateur, award-winning writer, cook and grandson of Kundan Lal Gujral, creator of the “tandoori chicken”, is just back from a kebab odyssey around the world to discover new delicacies.

“I decided to compile kebab recipes because there is no book about kebabs from around the world. Every country has its own version of the kebab — marinated meat with spices and ingredients specific to the country and its culinary habits,” he said.
The kebab was invented by a chance shortage of meat, he said.

“In ancient Turkey, invading armies were in short supply of kitchen hearth fuel. They skewered the meat in open fields. The soldiers pierced the meat with swords and charbroiled them in open fires. These kebabs were nomadic - basic grilled meat which later evolved into Turkish kebabs,”

The Turks brought the aromatic kebabs to India, Gujral said. He says the Indian palate is compatible with barra kebab (large chunks of marinated and cooked meat), chicken tikka kebab, tandoori chicken kebab and tandoori aloo.

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