Known for their civility (adab) and culture (tehzeeb), no wonder Lucknowites use sugar-coated language and love the silver coating used for garnishing sweets or their paan. Do you want to know where that silver wrapping or coating comes from?
Passing through the narrow bylanes near Akbari Gate of the Chowk area of Lucknow, you will be able to hear the rhythm of a beating sound growing from the distance, a sound that seems to reverberate through the city, overlooking the changes that time has caused through decades. Lucknow city has changed over the years, but, the heart of a true Lakhnawi still beats for the things Nawabi.
The Nawabs of Lucknow were very fond of eating and they loved to explore new delectable dishes every day. The khansamas or bawarchis (cooks) were given full freedom to prepare and garnish dishes to gain attention and rewards from the Nawabs. The skilled bawarchis of the Nawabi era used chandi ka warq for garnishing special feast dishes such as pulao, kebabs, meat curries, and sweet dishes such as shahi tukda, kheer, samnak ka halwa, rasawal, phirni, or meetha paan (betel leaf).
The chandi ka warq continues to adorn the gourmet spread over the tables in the city of Nawabs to this day. Old areas of Lucknow such as Chowk, Aminabad, Nakhas and Kaisarbagh bear testimony to the warq-walas (craftsmen skilled in the art of warq-making)who have kept the craft of warq-making alive in the narrow lanes of Lucknow.
The word “warq” is actually taken from Arabic word “waraq” signifying leaf. The use of silver in Indian dishes dates back to the Ayurveda period. Silver is considered as a useful anti-bacterial agent and improves the shelf life of the products. It is acknowledged that warq enhances the overall taste and the visual appeal of the dishes. The popularity and prominence of chandi ke warq is evident in Lucknow, where skilled karigars (craftsmen) devote considerable amount of time and effort in making warq.
The Art of Warq-Making in Lucknow
The flimsy thin sheets of silver are obtained with the help of continuous hammering of a small piece of silver by expert craftsmen, who have actually mastered the skills of warq-making through ancestral legacy. These karigars put a piece of silver inside a small leather bag and keep hammering the bag until it becomes extremely delicate and thin. Constant hammering of silver involves accuracy and toil on the part of karigars. Many layers of the leather are stacked together and a silver sheet is placed between every two layers of leather. The accurate arrangement is later put in a durable leather book.
This book supported by a piece of granite is repetitively hammered with a hammer. After 7-8 hours of continuous hammering of the leather book, thin and delicate sheets of silver known as warq are obtained. The warq is said to be more delicate and light than the butterfly’s wings. The thin silver leaves do not have odor or taste but provide a creative touch to the form of garnishing of the non-veg, veg and sweet dishes.
The Popularity of Chandi Ka Warq – Today
Even today, restaurants, hotels, and caterers in Lucknow as well as many other places in India use chandi ka warq in their dishes and sweets. Almost all the sweet shops in the city tend to use chandi ka warq on kaju katli, gulab jamun, gajar ka halwa, rabdi, barfi, and so on. During the celebrations of Eid and Bakra-eed in Lucknow, Muslim families apply chandi ke warq on traditional sweet delicacies such as sheer kurma, kimami sewai, shahi tukda, and kheer. During weddings, engagements and special occasions, caterers garnish the confectioneries with chandi ka warq.
These silver foils are also utilized to cover the idols in temples. Paanwallahs in the city also use warq to coat sweet paans. There are some shaukeen (people who are fond of something), who are very fond of eating Safed Paan (paan coated with chandi ka warq). There is common practice in Lucknow to have paan stalls in weddings and family events, where guests can explore different varieties of paans covered with warq.
This unique craftsmanship still preserves the legacy of the culture of Lucknow. The craft, considered to be irreplaceable, must be promoted all over the country to showcase its attractiveness and subtlety to the art of garnishing food items.