The city of Rampur, home to Mirza Ghalib, was a free kingdom tucked behind the lush boundaries of Lucknow. Legend has it that after losing Bareilly, Nawab Faizullah Khan established Rampur (erstwhile Mustafabad) in 1774 under the British protection as a Rohilla kingdom. Rampur became a safe haven for artists and patrons, and after 1858, the city saw many khansamas from the Mughal and other royal courts migrate to the city. With so many chefs in close quarters, a regional cuisine began to develop – meat-centric, less spice and grilled. Further, master chefs focused on their specialty – so only rice connoisseurs would prepare rice dishes and so forth. The Nawabs encouraged assimilation and creativity in the kitchen, which led to the creation of signature dishes such as the Meethe Chawal (a rice preparation where twice the quantity of sugarcane juice was used to create a sweet pilaf that had the texture of biryani). Then, there was the dal khichada, made of rice and lentil kernels carved out of almonds and pistachios. Innovative usage of ingredients was a forte of the chefs of Rampur. Bottle-gourd and papaya were used to tenderise meat for kebabs and curries, and the famous sweetmeat garnish that is used today was put to clever use in the Rampuri court, where instead of the parda (made of maida), which was present in the Mughal court, silver or gold varq were used to serve dishes.
The royal kitchens of India are famous for using ingredients like lotus seeds, banana flower, khus ki jhad (roots) and sandalwood to give their dishes a unique flavour. What distinguishes Rampuri cuisine from the other royal cuisines is the use of spice in the food, which is minimal yet effective. And unlike the hot spices of Old Delhi, Rampuri cuisine is characterised by the use of ginger, onions and a mix of javitri (mace) and jaiphal (nutmeg) and khus roots.
Another royal kitchen that is a treasure trove of dishes laced with exotic spices, rose petals and sandalwood powder is the Sailana cuisine. A small principality in Madhya Pradesh, many of its recipes do not include tomatoes, for the vegetable hadn’t yet been introduced to the region. Taking inspiration from a wide sweep of regional royal cuisines, the innovative culinary concepts and recipes were well guarded and overseen by the Maharaja himself.
Then, there’s the Mughal kitchen. The Imperial Kitchen is recorded in fascinating detail in the Ain-i-Akbari, written by courtier, Abul Fazl. It listed three types of menus that included Sufiyana (a meatless service consisting of rice, wheat, greens, dals; halwas and sherbets were included), rice-and-meat menu that combined rice/wheat and meat and meat cooked in ghee, along with other ingredients, featuring dishes such as kebabs, yakhni, musamman and dopiyazah.
In the Royal Kitchens series, ITC Maurya presents classic recipes from the descendants of the “Ustaads” with Sailana cuisine through May 21 and Rampuri cuisine from May 26-28. Alternately, you can indulge in the majesty and extravagance of the Mughal Empire, as ITC Kakatiya showcases this grandiose cuisine, perfected in the ancient heart of Agra, through May 28.