Thanks to India’s embracing of Hinduism (four out of every five Indians are Hindu), vegetarianism has long been a mainstay of the country’s cuisine. Yet the dish that visitors are most likely to spy on the menu is a carnivore’s delight. In its simplest form, keema is minced meat (usually mutton or goat) flavoured with a rack’s worth of spices, but its execution, history and appeal crosses countless borders. The dish’s origins are thought to hail from Persia – the ancient Turkish word for minced meat is kiyma.
Yet it achieved its fame on the sub-continent, spreading across India and neighbouring Pakistan. And while keema is commonly made with potatoes and peas, many regions have conjured up their own specialities.
Try it in a biryani against the stately architecture of Hyderabad, pair it with coconut in the tropical state of Kerala, or grab a dish ‘to go’ in Mumbai, with street stalls commonly dishing it up sandwiched in a bun (keema pav), and is widely stuffed in everything from samosas to naan bread. Keema is eaten round the clock in India.
“At breakfast it’s combined with egg and tomatoes, and it can even be used as a vol-au-vent filling,” suggests chef Cyrus Todiwala, author of Mr Todiwala’s Spice Box. What’s more, its appeal has spread internationally – keema shepherd’s pie anyone (right)7 The word was even inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015. But nothing beats a ladleful of the real thing, preferably served in a bustling sidestreet cafe in India, bathed in the scent of fresh spices.