The Culinary Gene : Mughlai cuisine
The culinary trail in India has been greatly influenced by an amalgamation of various cultures, some of which were brought to the region by invaders from other parts of the world.
Traditionally vegetarian and simplistic, Indian cuisine evolved with the influence of several religious and cultural traditions over centuries. The Mughal gastronomic tradition is one of the most marked influences on Indian cuisine.
Although the Muslim invasions can be traced back to the 8th century, the influence of the Mughals on traditional Indian cuisine started with the advent of Babur’s reign in the 16th century, which is when the Mughals established an empire that went on to rule the region with a continuous line of succession spanning two centuries.
From Central Asia the conquerors moved to Punjab and gradually expanded their empire to several parts of India. Akbar created provinces and empowered Hindus to be a part of his court. In deference to their religious sentiments he abolished the use of beef in his court.
Dining etiquette and culinary indulgence was an integral aspect of the Mughal court. The kitchen was given great importance and so were the cooks of the court. The emperor’s abundant coffers ensured the usage of high quality ingredients.
Fowl, chicken, exotic fruits and rich dry nuts were used liberally. There is a saying that that the chickens were fed saffron and rosewater and massaged with musk oil and sandalwood so that the preparations resulted in succulent meat with a beautiful aroma.
Although beef and pork were not allowed in the courts of Akbar, wild boar was a delicacy. Ingredients like sandalwood powder, rosewater, paste of almonds, terragon, marjoram, parsley and bayleaf were used to flavour food. The use of rich ingredients and varied spices in different forms and the variety of meat used defined the famous Mughlai cuisine.
The predominant influence of Persian culinary tradition combined with Mongolian and Turkish additions became the style of Mughlai cooking unique to this region.
Akbar’s Prime Minister, Abul Fazl, had a passion for gourmet cooking and took extra interest in sourcing ingredients that would find favour with the Emperor. The best of fruits, rice, and fowl were procured. Duck and waterfowl came from Kashmir.
Kebabs trace their origin to Persia and were an important element of Akbar’s culinary indulgence. Kebab essentially means “without water.” The Mughlai style of cooking extended its influence across Rajasthan, Kashmir, Delhi, Lucknow, Murshidabad, and Hyderabad. Thereafter, the cuisine evolved in a unique regional style based on the tastes of the rulers and the available ingredients.
Chef Sanjay Tyagi started his culinary journey in the hotel school in Jaipur, Rajasthan. He learnt the ropes at Taj Hotels under Chef Francois Shwob. The urge to learn more, brought him to Hyatt Delhi, where he trained under the expertise of Chef Marcus Schneider. In 1995, Hyatt joined hands with Jiggs Kalra to open the legendary ‘Dilli Ka Aangan’. Hyatt International made Sanjay the Brand Ambassador of ‘Traditional Indian Cuisine’. He travelled across the globe to showcase the Indian Cuisine at its best, to the world’s top locations. Many years later,when Leela Palace decided to open ‘Jamavar’ in their sprawling Palace hotel, they chose Chef Tyagi to head the team.In 2004, Asheesh Deewan, an old associate chef from Hyatt International, invited Sanjay to join his team in running a chain of restaurants. Asheesh inspired Chef Tyagi to be an entrepreneur and now Sanjay Tyagi has two successful restaurants in Bangalore—Tattv and Umerkot.
Images by Sanjay Ramchandran