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Why rarra is unique

Marryam H Reshii | July 25, 2005

Just as you can't reinvent the wheel, you can't have one dish that is so unique that it has no parallel anywhere else in the world. Think about pasta, and you have a parallel with noodles.

Likewise, barbecue, cakes, curries -- you name it, there's a similar concept in another cuisine, somewhere on the planet.

However, the lone exception has got to be rarra meat, that north Indian favourite. I've always disliked it intensely. Composed of prime cuts of lamb, usually chops, the gravy is thickened with lamb mince.

The mince seemed to be a case of gilding the lily. Was it being added, I wondered, to hide inferior cuts of meat? And the mince seldom thickened the gravy, which was watery anyway, with bits of mince floating in it.

After having encountered three versions of rarra meat in three different restaurants, in more or less in as many days, I've now become a chastened convert.

And, with the enthusiasm of a convert, I've set about researching the origins of the dish.

Nowhere else in the whole wide world, as far as I can tell, are mince and chunks of meat paired together. So how did this dish come about? Says Manjit Gill, corporate chef, ITC Welcomgroup, "I'm inclined to think the dish is not more than 70 years old."

According to him, dhabas took to cooking lamb like that to give diners their money's worth. It is a common enough practice in north India that customers request restaurants for an extra ladle-full of gravy.

"Just gravy would have gone against the grain of dhaba owners who are, after all, known for their hospitality. Adding mince to the gravy would have satisfied the customers, yet wouldn't have eaten into the owner's profits."

There's another theory by restaurateur Suddha Kukreja. "A couple of generations ago, joint families were the norm. It is possible that chunk meat was put in for those who wanted a piece, and mince was added for those who didn't relish the thought of tackling the fibrous texture of meat pieces. After all, meat eating in Punjab has come via the tradition of hunting."

Kukreja goes on to speculate that, when an animal was hunted, the carcass was divided. There must have been a lot of waste of good lean meat, because the carving was being done by householders rather than by professional butchers.

"It's possible that this waste was coarsely chopped and added to the chunks to make it go further," he says

Rajdeep Kapoor, executive sous chef, Eros InterContinental, New Delhi looks at it in a completely different way. He is inclined to think the couple of marrow bones butchers would invariably throw in with an order of mince is what got the present dish started.

Finally, Marut Sikka, food impresario-turned-restaurateur, claims rarra meat involves the cooking together on a tawa (griddle) of chunk meat, spices and mince.

"No shortcuts please," he pleads, referring to the abhorrent practice some restaurants have of pre-preparing everything separately, and combining them when a guest orders the dish.

It's probably why I've spent years scorning rarra meat: I had only encountered the watered-down version.

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