Mughal emperors and the royals have always evoked our hidden nostalgic feelings that we tend to cherish. Whenever we go through the pages of history imaginary illustrations start coming in front of our eyes. Mughal invaders, the power, Royal dynasty, Mughal’s family traditions, the valour, grace and charm, companions and foes, loyalty and betrayals in the Royal court, politics in the Mughal court, the game of power, everything have always attracted us over hundreds of years irrespective of time, place and boundaries. Mughals have always remained as the most impactful dynasties in the Delhi masnad and their impact is still strongly felt in our cultural heritage.
The most powerful dynasty of the medieval period bestowed us with a rich culinary legacy which is so innovative and fantastically delicious blend of flavours, spices, aromas, thus famously called Mughlai cuisine. Historical accounts revealed that the first Mughal emperor Babur did not like Indian food and he had a fetish for fruits that he used to have in his own land – Uzbekistan but he loved variety of fishes when he came to India. After him Humayun brought some Persian influences to the Mughal kitchen when his wife Hamida Banu introduced the use of saffron and dry fruits in royal dishes.
Royals were fond of beautifully decorated dishes and curries and gravies were often made richer with milk, cream and yoghurt. You will be surprised to know that most of the dishes were being garnished with edible flowers and foils of precious original metals like gold and silver. Mughals were health conscious and the chief cook used to consult the chief physician before preparing the menu. Each grain of rice for the biryani was coated with silver-flecked oil for better digestion.
Emperor Humayun was fond of books and extravagant food as well. Humayun was a great fan of sherbet and during his reign the royal cooks and chefs used to experiment with different kinds of beverages flavoured with fresh and dry fruits. To make the perfection in taste ice was brought from far off mountains.
King Akbar’s reign was the period when Muhghlai cuisine flourished with lots of new combinations of taste, colours, flavours and lavishness. Akbar was lucky enough to receive lots of cooks and chefs from different parts of country for his marital alliance with Hindu and non Hindu state. A very famous recipe during his time was Murgh Masallam. This is basically a whole chicken marinated with various spices and stuffed with spiced and crushed meat and eggs.
One more significant innovation was Navratan Korma with the royal flavour. This is a all time favuorite delicious vegetable curry prepared with cashew and cream sauce.
Akbar’s wife Jodha Bai was a great cook and she had introduced panchmel dal into the non vegetarian Mughal kitchen. It was most favourite item among the royals and later on Shah Jahan introduced his own Shahi Panchmel dal recipe.
After Akbar the Mughal kitchen was deeply influenced by Jahangir and his creative wife Nur Jahan. She used her ideas to prepare her legendary wines, rainbow coloured yoghurt and dishes prepared with rice powder and candied fruit peels.
During the reign of Shah Jahan the Mughal cuisine reached at a very different height. He was known as the most extravagant among all Mughal rulers but he was actually very innovative as far as both architectural structure and culinary concepts were concerned. In the 17th century during the reign of Shah Jahan a deadly flu swept through the capital. Then the Shahi Khansama or chef and Shahi Hakim or Physician joined hands to introduce a strong spice packed stew for the royal family members to stay healthy and fit. The history of most favourite biriyani has deep rooted connection with Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Once Mumtaz took a visit to the Army barrack and found that soldiers were in poor health . She asked the chef to prepare a healthy meal combined with rice and meat and her suggestion resulted in deliciously healthy biriyani. Shah Jahan even wrote his own recipe book Nuskhah-yi Shah Jahani which is a treasure for our culinary inheritance.