1. What are some of the biggest challenges in Awadhi cuisine?
The major challenge with Awadhi cuisine is that there was never any proper documentation of it, since the time of the Nawabs. Traditional Awadhi recipes were passed down from generations of Khansamas by word of mouth. A lot of these recipes have been lost in time due to the decline of the Mughal Empire and during the intermediate period of the British rule. A popular perception of the cuisine is that it’s rich and spicy, but on the contrary, it’s flavourful without being too hot. To cater to the younger, more health conscious generation and those with specific dietary requirements, we have cut down on trans-fats in the recipes at Neel. Awadhi cuisine borrows from various parts of India, making it hard to source some of the ingredients, spices and masalas; which are homemade in those regions. It’s also predominantly a non-vegetarian cuisine, so introducing vegetarian dishes is a task! Here, we’ve equally divided the menu between vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
2. Over the ages, what are the most definitive culinary influences that contributed towards Awadhi cuisine?
When the Nawabs entered India from Persia and Iran, they split up and settled in different regions of India. Those that went North, were influenced by the Kashmiri style of cooking, the use of saffron and khada (whole) masalas; those that settled in the Awadh region developed the Dum style of cooking; those that moved further East introduced the use of coconut to the cuisine; and from there those who moved South to Hyderabad developed a taste for sour and spicy flavours. Hence, traditional Awadhi or Nawabi cuisine has been influenced by regional flavours from different parts of India where the Nawabs settled in.
3. How important is this cuisine in context of putting Indian food on the world culinary map?
Unfortunately, the international perception of Indian food is limited to spicy Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken. Awadhi cuisine, while delicately flavoured and well-suited to the international palate, brings with it a history and legacy of traditional cooking, which needs to be highlighted in order to bring out the essence of the cuisine and its importance in Indian food. This is what we have tried to achieve here by retaining traditional aspects of the cuisine and presenting it in a contemporary style to suit Indian and international sensibilities.
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