Royal tastes of India

Kshipra Bhat
Thursday, 3 October 2019

Home chefs across the country are helping towards preserving the royal culinary heritage

The royals have always fascinated us. Their weddings, travels, clothing and cuisines inspire us, as we too want a slice of the royal life! The Indian royal cuisine has  been made accessible by legendary chefs who have painstakingly researched and hunted for the recipes. Now, home chefs too are helping preserve the legacy of the royal kitchens. They are bringing regal delicacies from the ancient kitchens of Maharajahs to the modern tables of bourgeois through various food festivals. If you are intrigued, here are a few glimpses that will tantalise your tastebuds. 

While Angaya Podi — a popular appetiser from Chola cuisine prepared with a combination of spices and herbs, and Mossuru Bhutti — which is a rice dumpling served with spicy green chutney, were showcased at a South Indian royal food festival, Awadhi royal food heritage saw dishes like Pasanda Kebab — boneless, pounded, papaya marinated meat flavoured with masala, and roasted gram flour, Murghmussallam — a creamy chicken gravy dish garnished with silver leaf, nuts, and raisins, Pateli Ke Kebab, famously known as Galawat Kebab, on top of Roghni Tikkiyan paratha-like flatbread, and Muzafir — a dry form of the sweet Quiwami Sewiyan. For food lovers, this was indeed a memorable affair. Gosht Beliram — a meat delicacy was another impressive royal Punjabi dish curated by a celebrity home chef at another one-of-a-kind initiative.

Ananya Banerjee, author of two cookbooks and Food Food TV Channel: Celebrity Chef of the Year 2018 (Female) Award winner, says, “An integral part of the Indian food tradition, royal cuisines are on the edge of a precipice. Having been created, and celebrated among the various royal families across India, these cuisines often reflected the needs, traditions and changes of historical times. Each royal cuisine has a rich story behind it and introducing it to a larger audience not only preserves the culinary treasures but also educates the audience of its history and may suggest suitable ingredients or cooking methods.”

In a recent initiative named Rajaoupacharam, Dakshin restaurant at ITC Hotel joined hands with chef Sridevi Balasubramanian, popularly known as Shri Bala (formerly a company secretary, and now a food researcher, and restaurant-quality cook), to showcase the royal cuisines of South Indian kingdoms of Chola, Kakatiya, Vijayanagara and Sethupathi spanning between 10th and 17th centuries.  

The food festival featured ancient dishes like Kootan Soru — a one-pot rice meal encased in lotus leaf with vegetables and spices, Iddalige, Eral Varai — prawns tossed in black pepper masala, and Kothina Kari — a preparation of minced mutton with spiced urad crumble. While desserts like Paruthipal Pongal — cottonseed milk Pongal with palm jaggery and Akki Hesarubele Payasam were artfully presented by the chef. Bala firmly believes in understanding the science behind the food our forefathers consumed. 

To curate an authentic experience, Bala delves into history which reveals many new facets of the bygone era. Take for an example chilies, which were introduced to India by the Portuguese. Until then, the royal cooks depended on black pepper to infuse pungency into the dishes. With the help of documented history of ingredients, and cooking methods the cook-turned-guest-chef is able to explore the hidden traditions of the rich culinary heritage.

Home chef and restaurateur Manzilat Fatima, who is the great granddaughter of Wajid Ali Shah, Nawab of Awadh, and Begum Hazrat Mahal, Queen of Awadh and freedom fighter of India’s First War of Independence, is a preserver of Awadhi royal cuisine. She is instrumental in taking forward the legacy of Nawabi cuisine even outside of her home country. Recently, she presented remnants of Awadhi cuisine in collaboration with an Indian restaurant — Kurry Accent in Dhaka. 

Being an inheritor of the recipes of the royal family of Awadh in Kolkata, she never compromises on quality. She selects highest quality ingredients reflecting the time when Nawabs spent lavishly on food and regarded culinary creativity as a fine art. She cooks dishes passed down through generations, and strongly maintains pukka cooking methods. “I make a conscious effort to not recreate what I have learnt from Amma, because innovation of the authentic is not my forte! If my food, and the royal Awadhi cuisine stand out from the rest, it means it needs to remain that way,” adds Manzilat Fatima, talking about the significance of authentic cooking methods.

For a unique royal experience, chefs are not only meticulous about ingredients, cooking methods and flavours but are also introducing fascinating stories behind each dish. “Beliram was the head chef in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s kitchen. As the Maharaja always sought variety and encouraged culinary innovation, Beliram created a meat dish. The Maharaja was so happy that he named the dish after its creator and called the creation — Gosht Beliram,” narrates award winning home chef and entrepreneur, Sherry Malhotra. Last month, she curated magic at Spice Terrace, JW Marriott, Bengaluru.

Although quite a few delicacies have been lost, royal food continue to hold their charm with a penchant for high quality ingredients, local produce, adaptive cooking methods, and culinary innovation. As more foodies in India and abroad seek rich dining experiences, home chefs with their impeccable knowledge about traditional recipes and key ingredients are concocting experiences, which help you travel back in time.

RELISH BENGALI DELICACIES
Sen5es, Marriott Suites Pune, Koregaon Park, October 4-12, 6.30 pm onwards
To add to your Durga Puja celebrations, Marriott Suites Pune is organising a Bengali Food Festival at Sen5es. The festival is designed to keep up with the festive fervour in the city. The food festival will feature a rotational menu over nine days. The lavish spread of delicacies includes a wide variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, live counters and desserts. On the menu will be some of the classic dishes such as Vegetable Chop, Gondhoraj Manghser Chop, Jhal Muri, Macher Patisapta, Kolkata Egg Roll, Fulkopi Tomato Posto, Dhone Pata Bata Kanchalonka Murgi, Macher Tel Jhol, Basanti Pulao, Kolkata Mutton Biryani, to name a few.

FESTIVE INDULGENCE
Daily Treats, The Westin Pune, Koregaon Park, October 6 and 13, 12.30-3.30 pm
Keeping in mind Navratri and Durga Puja, Daily Treats at The Westin Pune has organised a special festive brunch. So get ready to indulge in Sabudana Khichdi, Chholia Paneer Rasedaar, Paneer Kundan Kaliyan, Chawal Ka Dhokla, Makhana Kheer, Phirni, Coconut Barfi and other sinful desserts. It doesn’t stop there! They have a special menu for Durga Puja too, so you can savour dishes like Kichudi, Ilish Bhapa — a dish prepared in mustard sauce,  Kosha Mangsho — a spicy mutton dish, Kashmiri Dum Aloo and a lot more. Is a Bengali meal complete without the all-time favourite Mishti Doi or Rasgulla? Naah! They have all the festive delicacies that you could ask for. 

FLAVOURS OF NAVRATRI
Kitsch, The O Hotel, Koregaon Park, October 4-8, 7-11.30 pm
The Kitsch restaurant at The O Hotel is serving specially curated thalis and savouries to make sure you have one of the best feasts during Navratri. At Kitsch, you have a wide selection of authentic fasting food — Vrat ka Kkhana, including a host of interesting dishes  such as Jeera Chaas, Sabudana Papad, Samak Ke Chawal, Paneer Makhana Makhani, Sitaphal Ki Subzi, Aloo Gobi, Kuttu Ki Puri, Doodhi Halwa and much  more.

INDULGE IN A FESTIVE SPREAD
Savya Rasa, ongoing till October 7, 12 noon-3 pm and 7-11 pm
Pune’s finest and authentic South Indian restaurant, Savya Rasa, is celebrating Navratri with a specially curated thali. Indulge in some Indian vegetarian food this festive season. The Navratri thali has an extensive spread of dishes such as Paal Paniyaram, Aviyal, Pacha Payiru Adai, to name a few and South Indian speciality sweet treats such as Sarkarai Pongal and Paanagram.

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