Friday, August 14, 2015

Lost recipes of India: recipes brought back from the Mughal era by Osama Jalali and his family, hosted at The Oberoi Gurgaon | my report

It is very heartening to see someone diligently digging into historical texts to find about foods and cooking methods of the past. It is very strange that we don't get much mention of food habits, cooking methods and recipes in history. History was always written for economic and political record keeping, food heritage was rarely recorded well. Only some royal khansamas wrote their own personal cookbooks but kept the diaries to themselves mostly.

That is the reason I love talking to Osama Jalali and his mother Nazish Jalali a lot, they keep sharing so much about food from the past and food from the lesser known cuisines. Osama is known for reviving Rampur and Shahjahanabad cuisine, her mother belongs to Rampur and was married into to an Old Delhi family, a family who cooks together and loves feeding others too.

The Oberoi Gurgaon has been doing great work regarding reviving recipes from the different regions of India under their flagship program called Rivayat and Chef Ravitej Nath who heads the team brought Osama Jalali this time to showcase lost recipes of the Mughal era. I am fortunate to have tasted this menu they curated together, it was an experience to cherish.

The extensive menu that we tasted was a learning experience, an education. Each recipe has been taken from the time of one or the other Mughal emperor and Osama and Chef Ravitej's team have tried to stay true to the recipes collected from different authentic sources. Chef Ravitej told us that some of the recipes did not sound complete, the spices felt too less or the spice combinations felt odd but they did not change the recipes as they wanted to showcase the original version.

Staying true to a recipe that doesn't seem perfect in today's scenario, is the best thing this team did and what a spectacular result it was.

None of the food tasted odd I would like to add, some were new flavours to discover, some were new techniques of cooking rediscovered and some of the recipes totally blew our mind by the surprise value they brought on the table. I am sharing the pictures here with short notes about what I felt about the food.

The first thing that floored me was the Paan infused water that was being served, Mufarra of course is a soothing drink for summers.

The starters came when we were actually hungry. I had skipped breakfast as I know these menus are very very exhaustive. This arbi ka patoda was perfectly rolled, I felt it had more besan than required, I like the eastern UP version of arbi ka patoda better.

This Yakhni kabab was a revelation, something that looked like shami kabab but was very delicate flavoured, the meat and chana daal a bit courser in texture. I loved everything about it. The fiber of the meat is not disturbed much as the boiled meat is ground on silbatta in this case, and that lends this yakhni kabab a character of its own.

Luleh kabab was a very delicate mince meat kabab paired with cucumber julienne and pomegranate. This kabab is wrapped in a paratha but we found the paratha a little heavy for the delicate kabab. I removed the paratha and ate the kabab but since the team has stayed true to the recipe we could see how this luleh kabab was a favourite of Humayun's Persian wife.

The Pateeli kabab was not my favourite, the delicate nuts and dry fruits are good in a kabab but all wrapped in chicken breast made the kabab a bit dry. Again this might have been some one's favourite we got to taste.

Osama mentioned how the cooking vessels in the Oberoi kitchen are very suitable for this old fashioned cooking and the taambe ki pateeli was just perfect for this and other dishes too.

I think in older times free range chicken would have tasted much more flavourful for this pateeli kabab. I appreciate not changing the recipes to suit today's tastes, it was an academic exercise as much as a culinary pleasure.

Another vegetarian kabab was Kabab e burghul, broken wheat and lentil kabab paired with mint chutney. This was made so well I finished the kabab. I was taking small bites from everything knowing there is a lot more food to be tasted.

Main course arrived in the form of various dishes of different shapes and hues. The table weighed down with so much food.

Parinde mein parinda looks spectacular and you know at once how much work has gone into it. It is a rendition of the bigger roast that was originally made with whole camel stuffed with smaller animals, one inside the other till the smallest cavity fills with a boiled egg. This was made with duck, chicken, quail and a boiled egg, all three birds had different marination and different cooking time of course.

It was done perfectly. Each bird had retained it's individuality and yet they all came together.

Murgh zameendoz was cooked whole, wrapped in a moist 'dum' of roomali rotis and then put inside an earthen pot covered with more fresh mud.

When served it looked like this.

And tasted just divine. Chicken cooked in it's own juices, the roomali roti sealing the flavours inside. Nutty and herb infused.

Amba kaliya was a winner all the way. It tasted sweet and sour and delicately meaty. This is one recipe I am going to try very soon, before the raw mangoes disappear this season. I am smitten by this recipe.

Kancha kabab is made with very smooth minced meat, a solid ball of ghee is stuffed inside each kofta that results into a hollow cavity inside each kofta the size of marbles (kancha). It must have been the clever handiwork of some innovative cook in the royal kitchens.

Jalalis have perfected their koftas so much I would be scared to replicate this one, but I want to try. I still remember the Saag kofta we had at Oberoi Delhi and been wanting to make that one too.

This piston ka keema (minced mutton cooked with Afghani pistachios and aromatic spices), belongs to Bahadur Shah Zafar's time, who was imprisoned at Red fort. The combined flavours of the nuts and minced meat together was really special with a little hint of sourness in it.

The Ishtoo is something I am familiar with. This stew is made with either chicken or mutton and the spices and method differs from region to region. This one was the we we make in UP, the recipe comes from the Jalali's kitchen.

The broken red chillies and loads of onion is the essential visual you see in this ishtoo but their is more depth flavours a few whole spices have been used during cooking. Loved this one too.

The Tandoor ki roti was very different from what is served in restaurants or even dhabas. It was made of whole wheat and had a little harder crust with a nutty taste, the crumb was firm yet soft and spongy to soak the salans and ishtoos well.

Arbi ka salan was so good and retained it's individuality in the sea of meats and game. Creamy yogurt based gravy with hint of kasoori methi and light sweetness of fried onions, the arbi (Colocasia tubers) melting in the mouth, this salan is to die for.

You just need some good roti with it.

Angoori kofte were also vegetarian, these were relished by Aurangzeb who was a vegetarian. I liked them as these were well made, but nothing too special for my taste, there were many very very good things on this menu and I am not too fond of koftas..

But then there was some more to taste and be charmed. This Mutanjan pulao is a layered rice dish with chicken pieces, aromas of laung-elaichi, hint of orange and loads of nuts and dried fruits like dates, raisins and figs.

It was quite sweet but well balanced flavours, very well cooked rice grains that had absorbed all the flavours well. I have never had such a delicious sweet pulao. This was a revelation for me as it was very different from Zarda.

Another stunning rice preparation was Motia pulao from the time of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. The pearls in the pulao are made with egg whites, poaching them them with a technique that might have been very dexterous in those times.

To make these pearl the egg whites are filled in cleaned chicken intestines and then tied up at small intervals to make it look like a string of pearls, then the whole thing is poached in hot water when the egg whites solidify. How ingenious.

After all this, we tasted the classics by Jalali family. The Nalli nihari and haleem both were as good as we had tasted at Surya and again at Oberoi Delhi.

Chef Ravitej informed us that the Nalli nihari and Haleem was included in the tasting menu because they thought the lost recipes menu might feel too bland to some and these few dishes would compensate the flavours for those. But honestly speaking, none of the yakhni kababs, Kancha kofta, Murgh zameendoz or the pulaos felt bland to us.

Everything was so flavourful, much more aromatic and delicate play of ingredients that modern day Mughlai (a result of many years of adaptation and hybridization) feels like a different cuisine altogether.

Among desserts this Falooda came with ice cream, fruit syrups and subza and vermicelli. I didn't have the heart and any stomach to taste this.

This one looked like Mung ka halwa and I was the least interested. See what happened later when I tasted it.

There was gulatthi and kheer, there were old fashioned kulfis of mango, custard apple and pistachios. Everything well made, but desserts rarely fail if made well and if 'real' ingredients are used.

The big surprise came when the halwa was served. I was not able to recognize what it was and no one on the table actually could guess.

It was Gosht ka halwa made so well it felt like Mung ka halwa (lacking mung flavour) but once we were told we could smell a hint of the meat in it.

Kudos to Osama Jalali to recreate this classic from the past. He told it was made until his grandparents generation in his family too.

Osama told he referred to many people and many books to find out the recipes. He told he has been discussing and referring to Professor Zameer Hasan Dehlvi, Ikhtedar Hasan (HOD, Islamic studies, Jamia university), Professor Pushpesh Pant, Salma Hussain etc. Abul Fazal's Ain e Akbari has been a good resource too.

Salma Hussain has done extensive work on Islamic cuisine of both Awadh (Lucknow) and Delhi (Shajahanabad), her books are testimony to her hard work, it is important to know the royal Mughal food was very different from the Mughlai food we know today, which is eaten through  out the country in it's various avatars.

In the last we were served Irani Chai. This tea was brewed in water and then mixed with much reduced milk.

The milk so rich that it keeps circulating in your mouth even if you gulp down. I couldn't finish this cup and I feel very bad about it. There is only so much one can eat and drink. It is very difficul to to justice for such an extensive meal.

Look at the menu which features most of the dishes but not all.

As I said, it was more of a learning experience rather than a culinary delight. There is a reason I regard the Rivayat by Oberoi highly.


  1. Great review Sangeeta. I forgot to write about the haleem etc, I was so taken by the arbi and the mango meat.

  2. I stumbled on your blog while reading about lost recipes. What a lovely article Sangeeta, I would have loved to be on that table too. Could you please share the names of the books for reading more about these recipes that Osama may have shared with you.

    1. Thanks Gauri. The books by Salma Hussain are great help if you want to replicate some of these recipes. The above text has included the list of books and people from where Osama Got the recipes and literature. Hope it helps.