By Talha Siddiqui

Menu cards at restaurants are intended to help patrons make informed decisions. Sometimes there are glaring mistakes, like listing Hummus in the main course section. Other times, they are less blatant in their disposition, like when listing kebabs under tikkas. These two commonalities are often misinterpreted, even disastrously interchanged.

Tikka vs Kebab 

If nomenclature is of any consequence, a tikka can be distinguished from a kebab in its very basic constitution. Tikka comes from the Persian word for pieces, while kebabs are always mince-meat. That established, let’s delve a little deeper into kebabs.


From swords, to skewers, to friendly-faced octogenarians smiling at you; from the reaches of the mountains, spanning across oceans; from bland to outrageously spicy – kebabs have found a place for themselves the world over. We will, for the sake of brevity and perspective, limit ourselves to kebabs commonly found in Delhi.

Kebabs trace their origin back to soldiers using their swords to cook meat over fire during wars. Thank god for their ingenuity! No one needs an introduction to kebabs. To restate the obvious, kebabs are almost always made of minced meat, either cooked over charcoal or shallow fried, but never deep-fried.  Not to say that they are necessarily a healthy food, but we believe they are a far tastier protein than any brightly packaged protein bar. A short lesson in the kinds of kebabs available can be a huge eye opener, even to the most frequent kebab consumer. Didn’t think there were enough kinds to merit an education?  Brace yourself for a delicious discussion.

Types and Preparations

Kebabs are best made out of buff/beef or mutton. India is a land of diversity, and we have taken the liberty of diversifying kebabs to include chicken and vegetables. The chicken kebab is a later development, owing to increasing health consciousness, while the vegetarian alternative stems from a large vegetarian population that wanted in on the kebab scene.

Off the SkewerThe most commonly found kebabs are Seekh kebabs. Spiced minced meat is moulded on skewers and then roasted evenly on charcoal. This preparation is common to both the Seekh and Kakori kebab, but there is a huge difference between the two.

Kakori kebabs are said to be the softest kebabs in the world! Legend has it that they were invented for a toothless Nawab near Kakori. The textural difference stems from the difference in preparation of mince for the two kebabs, in addition to the spices. If you can stand the sight of raw meat, you will notice that the mince for the Kakori is a very fine paste. Typically, mince for the Seekh kebab is left a little granulated, giving it the ‘bite,’ as compared to the ‘melt’ of the Kakori. On the spice plane, the addition of caramelised onions to the mince for the Kakori gives it that extra punch, while coriander or green chilli may be used to spice up the Seekh kebab.

From the Fry-Pan | The other type of kebab is the shallow fried kebab. Here, the Shami kebabs are the most popular specimens, and are made at home with varying recipes almost all over India. The other shallow fried kebab increasingly gathering national fame is the Tunda.

First, let’s focus on the home favourite, the Shami kebab. What makes the Shami kebab so commonplace? I think it is the relative ease of making it. At this point, I must dwell on a quintessential difference that separates the Shami from all the other kebabs – you can eat this kebab without finally cooking it! So technically, you are eating a raw kebab, yet you are not eating raw meat. Think about it…

The Shami is made out of minced meat that is “pressured” {cooked in a pressure cooker} with whole spices like garlic, cinnamon, black pepper, dried red chilies, a few pulses etc. This meat-spice mixture gets fused in a pressurised cauldron, gets whipped in a blender, and then gets made into small disks for frying. After stage one and two, it can be eaten like cookie dough and is just as tasty! The Shami is a common preparation for all meals, festive or otherwise, and can be deep-frozen to last a long time, to be fried at will. The Tunda {or Tundey} is best eaten right out of the pan, and is accompanied by parathas, or can be smeared over bread. Tundey was indigenous to Lucknow for a very long time, but now it has found a place in all parts of the country. Like the Kakori, they too are very soft in texture; softer than the Shami.

For the VegetarianIndia might be the only country that possesses this version of the kebab. The Hara Bhara kabab, the Haryali kebab, and the Vegetarian Seekh kabob, like creaking terminators, have somehow found their place in a meat-dominated society. Haryali kebabs and Hara Bhara kebabs are similarly prepared and appear green in colour, due to the excessive use of spinach. Haryali kebabs are, however, usually made on a coal bed, which is essentially what distinguishes them from the pan made Hara Bhara kebab. The Vegetarian Seekh kebab is known to exist, but without the fame of the above mentioned vegetarian kebabs. Beans, carrots and other ingredients are used to keep them as visibly close to Seekh kebabs as possible. Isn’t it ironic that the versatility of kebabs seems to be so well established in their vegetarian renditions?

The Essence of the Kebab 

I’d like to believe that kebabs are not only quick and versatile, but are also a great evening time meal to share with friends and family, especially if you are having them hot off the fire. Bottom line – be it the Seekh, Kakori or Tundey, all kebabs foster gluttony by making it impossible to pass by a grill or pan with trying a few. This sinful endeavour is furthered by the winds that carry their aroma to areas around the kitchen. As blood invites the hungry shark, this fragrance is known to attract foodies {even devotees, perhaps}  like myself and in doing so, makes us guilty of at least two of the seven cardinal sins – Lust and Gluttony.

Everyone has a favourite kebab place in Delhi, but having tried loads of places, I’m taking the liberty of listing a few of my favourites, and what you must try at each place.

Ghalib’s Nizamuddin – Seekh Kebabs

WhereShop 57, Ghalib Road, Near Lal Mahal, Nizamuddin; Contact: 9810786479

Tundey Kababi – Tundey Kebabs

Where: C 28, Amar Colony Market, Lajpat Nagar 4 {9953644440}; 489, 55/4, Corner Market, Malviya Nagar {9999720622}

Al-Kausar – Kakori Kebabs

Contact: 011 66891815

My, or any food loving Muslim’s home – The Shami Kebab



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