Courtly Cuisine: The Kayastha Tradition
Kayastha cuisine holds a vast, largely untapped richness of family tradition; tenaciously guarded Indian recipes that are passed down from generation to generation but are rarely documented. This compilation is a persona, culinary expression of what I learned from my mother, and she from hers. Various celebrations such as family feasts, weddings and holidays are occasions for the lady of the house to display her culinary talent. Meal times are undoubtedly dominant social occasions where Kayastha families sit together, chat, laugh, maybe have a drink, sing, make merry, and generate warmth and togetherness for all.
……Rummaging through brittle and yellowed notes and jottings, looking for old and unique recipes became a joyful pursuit. It was a fascinating experience to discover a host of exceptional recipes.
…..On this delightful food odyssey, my dilemma was selecting from a vast repertoire of rare recipes, from all regions of the country. Each preparation requiring laborious and careful processes — be it siri, in which parts of a goat’s head are cooked in exotic masalas, or the shabdeg in which different meats and vegetables are cooked overnight on an extremely slow charcoal fire. Another sophisticated delicacy is the daulat ki chaat, also called nimish, where the milk is left uncovered all night, during the winter sky, to infuse dew.
…….Traditionally, the North Indian Kayastha food is cooked in ghee. Nowadays, people prefer to cook in oil, for health reasons. The Kayasthas of Eastern India and South India cook in mustard oil or sunflower oil.
If legend is history and history is to be believed, the Kayasthas are as old as creation itself, being descendants of Chitragupta — son of Lord Brahma. It is believed that after the establishment of the four varnas(castes) — Brahimn, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra — the Creator directed Yamraj(God of Death) to record the deeds of living beings.
Looking to the daunting nature of this task, Yamraj pleaded that it would be difficult to single-handedly discharge this onerous assigment all by himself. Brahma then lapsed into deep meditation. On opening his eyes after 11000 years, he saw a resplendent youth, with a pen and ink in either hand and a sword hanging from his waist, standing before him. He named him Chitragupta— Chitra from ‘chitta’(mind) and ‘gupta’(secret).—Viresh Mathur