Food with a History

India’s culinary heritage is one of the richest in the world, undoubtedly. While some recipes and ingredents may have been lost forever, there are some that have been retrieved or kept alive. One such family, intent on preserving the lost recipes of India is that of Osama Jalali, his mother Nazish and his wife Nazia. Osama, a well known food critic based in New Delhi, grew up in Old Delhi, with parents who loved to entertain and hosted regular feasts where he saw his mother cook large quantities of food. His father was a doctor who treated the khansamas – cooks who hailed from families that once worked for Nawabs and worked at restaurants in the area. Since he would treat them any time that they showed up at his clinic, out of gratitude they would repay him with food. Besides the delectable dishes, Nazish Jalali, an expert cook herself would ask these notoriously secretive khansamas for the recipes. They would willingly share them with her.

Osama’s mother hails from Rampur, a princely estate in Uttar Pradesh known for its cuisine. As Osama grew up, his interest in cooking increased and today, he is an accomplished chef himself, and along with his wife has embarked on a quest to unearth, dying recipes, long forgotten secret mixes and methods for some unusual yet tasty dishes that were made in the past century and earlier.

So, at the food festival called Daawat-e-Purani-Dilli, the feast of Old Delhi, being hosted at Kanak, the Indian fine dining restaurant of the Trident Hotel, what you get to taste is dishes which have a long history behind them. Some of these recipes are centuries old and have not been tweaked or contemporised in keeping with the modern trends.

 I tasted only the vegetarian food that day but from my fellow bloggers’ comments, the non-vegetarian dishes were outstanding. For starters I had the Kachche Kele ke Shammi – little fried patties of raw banana – the recipe for which came from the palace of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. This was followed by the Mewa Kebab – a delicately spiced blend of khoya, dry fruits and yoghurt – a throwback to the era of Emperor Babur, one of the first Mughal kings.

For the mains I sampled Arbi ka Salan, a colocasia curry made in mustard oil which gave the taste an unexpected twist, cooked with browned onion and spices. This dish comes from the palace of Nawab Raza Ali Khan of Rampur. He was a secular man and ensured there were enough vegetarian dishes for his Hindu guests who did not eat meat. There was also a Chane ki Dal ka Bharta – chana dal cooked with spices and ghee; and Karele ki Chidiya – bitter gourd stuffed with spices and a tangy masala and fried. Each one of them was a masterpiece and thoroughly enjoyable with rotis.

Dessert was Alu ka Zarda – grated potato cooked with milk, saffron and sugar. You couldn’t tell it was potato in the dessert. Well, if that was hard to believe, Chef Osama had also made a Gosht ka Halwa, a dessert made with meat!

The festival is on till the end of the month and for dinner only. It is for all those, who like me, wonder about the origins of a dish well made.





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