Culinary Chronicles of the Great Mughals

“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.”

“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.”

Mughal Emperor Jehangir said this when he visited Kashmir in the 17th century.

It was during the Mughal rule in India that a culinary revolution started. Mughals are credited with introducing spices, exotic fruits and nuts to the Indians. At this point of time various new techniques were introduced and meat became a feature in this new culinary era. The Persian cuisine was introduced in India during the early 1200 AD when the Mughals invaded the Indian soil. The royal kitchens had become a centre of development  where a unique fusion of Persian and Indian cuisine came into being. It was during this time that the Tandoor was invented and was called “Tanur”and the bread was called “Naan e Tanuri” . The famous Kebabs were also invented during this time, the royals chefs introduced the techniques of marinating meat with yoghurt, ghee(clarified butter) and spices. This was believed to be the golden period in the history of Indian cuisine.

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It was in the mid 1500 AD that “Game” was introduced to Indian Cuisine. When Humayun ascended the throne he abolished the consumption of beef as he wanted to respect the religious sentiments and as Muslims didn’t consume pork hence Goat, fowl, venison, rabbit and birds like quail and partridge  became a staple source of meat.

It was during the rule of Akbar the great that the Mughlai Cuisine reached its epitome. Akbar had 400 cooks in his royal kitchen, most of them being Hindus. Akbar married a Rajput princess and this is when the Hindu cooks started experimenting with Persian ingredients, giving birth to a cuisine that is relished even till today.Prime example of this fusion were dishes like Murgh Mussulam (whole chicken marinated and stuffed with mince meat and cooked on Dum), the dopiaza a spicy preparation was named in honour of a great philosopher in Akbar’s Court and the Navratan Korma was invented keeping in mind the nine jewels of Akbars court and not to forget the most famous “biryani” was evolved during this great culinary era.

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The wings of the Mughlai cuisine were spreading fast and they were reaching the royal kitchens of Lucknow, Rajasthan and Hyderabad. However the Rajputs took a different approach towards the cuisine as they were primarily a vegetarian population. Meat didn’t feature on their dinner table but Rajput royalty were keen hunters and this is where the Mughal techniques were used. Their chefs always carried sets of herbs and spices and after the Shikaar (hunting) the meat would be either marinated and roasted or cooked as a stew in  a pot with vegetables and spices. They introduced a technique of roasting meat wherein the ground was dug and burning embers were thrown in it, meat was usually marinated, sealed with banana leaves and rugs or river clay. This was then buried in the ground and covered with sand and cooked for hours. This technique is also know as spit roasting. The other method was roasting the meat over an open grill fired up by wood or charcoal. This method was used to roast birds like guinea fowl, partridge, quail, sand grouse and pheasant, these had a common term called “sooley” which means smoked kebab and apparently had 11 different methods of cooking. As the wild meat was quiet tough and took a lot of time to cook, another method of cooking called stewing was introduced. Meats like venison, rabbit and wild boar were cut up in dices and than cooked in a pot along with onions, ginger, garlic, spices and stewed for hours over wood fire to produce succulent and flavoursome curries. A few examples were the Junglee Maas (the meat bought from the hunt was simply cooked in pure ghee with only salt and red chillies), Laal Maas, Safed Maas, Maas ki kadhi, Handi Bootha and Murgh ka Shweta.

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Another interesting method of using game for consumption was pickling them, strangely this was quiet common during that time as there was no other way of preserving the meats. So meats like wild boar, venison and even game birds were being pickled. The meat was cooked a bit before being pickled which would either be frying or steaming and was then pickled along with mustard oil, vinegar and spices.

Indian culinary history is quiet vast in itself and a single piece of blog is not enough to cover the history of such a vast and varied country. However i promise to cover the whole subject and keep writing about the gastronomically wonderful country. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as i enjoy writing it.

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