Eat like a Maharaja

Published: Dec 02, 2012, 11:15 IST | Phorum Dalal |

In a Maharaja's palace, kitchens are synonymous with laboratories that conjure gourmet cuisine. Chefs who hold age-old secret recipes labour over them, that are then relished with fine cutlery on gorgeous long tables. Dining with the Maharajas � A Thousand Years of Culinary Tradition delves into the art form called royal cuisine that has pampered the royal families of India, finds Phorum Dalal

In 2010, writer Neha Prasada and photographer Ashima Narain were approached for a coffee table book on palaces, kings and their food traditions. In September that year, they started researching for the first chapter of the book. “We travelled to the various states of India and met the royal families, spoke to their staff, people who knew them and lingered around their premise while they had their meals, rested in the gardens or hosted lavish dinner parties,” says Prasada, who also dug into library books by ancient travellers and their vivid first-hand accounts.

Esra Jah and her daughter Shekyar Jah, against the backdrop of the famous 101-seat dining room at the Falaknuma Palace

Bapji is the head of the Rathore clan. He often invites his clansmen over for a traditional meal to discuss the affairs of the state. pics courtesy/ roli books

“We decided to feature 10 states, including Hyderabad, Awadh, Rajasthan, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir. These were selected on the basis of their popularity in hosting long tables and style of hospitality. We relished all the recipes that have been mentioned in this book,” says Prasada. However, it was not so easy to get the old cooks of Mahmudabad to divulge the family recipes. “I actually had to ask the family to put in a word and request the old family cooks to share them. And, in Rampur, they didn’t have any measurements! Whenever I asked them for the quantity of the ingredients, they would say zara sa (a little bit),” says Prasada, adding that the royal families no longer eat heavy meals on a daily basis. “Today, even they are health conscious,” she laughs.


This £ 30,000 dinner service in silver gilt was ordered from Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh in 1921, for the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, to Patiala

Made by Baccarat in 1877 and bought by the Baroda royal family, this decanter set has four engraved decanters fitted on the howdah atop the elephant and 12 tumblers supported by the harness

The royal families eagerly opened their doors to the writer-photographer duo and Priya Kapoor, editor of the book, Narain tells us over the phone. “Our first visit was to Patiala, and the warm hospitality of Raja Randhir Singh was overwhelming. In the beginning, they were quite conscious about having us around, taking notes and pictures while they went about with their daily chores. But, soon they were used to it.”


while in Patiala, Narain was surprised at how little the royal family ate. “The food is so heavy that you can eat only little of it. The erstwhile Raja’s wife Rani Vinita Singh, told me that when they wanted to go on a diet, they had to call for food from outside. No ghar ka khana for them,” Narain recalls. She adds that during this project, she realised that royal families are not all about pomp and show. “I wanted to show the human side of royalty. A lot has been already written on the food traditions of the royals but this one is a behind the scenes look,” says Narain, who was in awe of the Mahmudabad quila in the state of Awadh.


The tribal roots of the Tripura royals are evident in the use of animal skins and horns that adorn their palaces

“It is a living fortress and you actually have people living within the confines of the gates. They even have a zenana, where women were seen giggling, laughing and sharing jokes,” says Narain, who was bowled over by Raja Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan’s dusty libraries filled with books on poetry, current affairs and history. “The Raja’s son Ali Khan Mahmudabad took us around the palace, giving us minute details of the architecture and history. We were never bored during this project, as something or the other was happening all the time,” concludes Narain. 

Deep-fried lotus stem chips
6 lotus stems (kamal kakri), washed, dried, sliced
1 cup refined flour (maida)
½ tsp salt
½ tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp black cumin seeds (shah jeera)
Refined oil for deep frying

ØMix all the ingredients except the lotus stems and oil for frying. Keep aside
ØHeat the oil in a wok (kadhai); coat the lotus stem chips in the above mixture and deep fry till golden bown
ØRemove and drain the excess oil on absorbent kitchen towels. Serve hot

Matar Latpatta
Tomato-flavoured green peas

250 g green peas
2 tbsp ghee
1 finely chopped onion
3 g red chilli powder
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1.2 tsp coriander powder
18 g ginger paste
25 g garlic paste
Salt to taste
2 red tomatoes, grated
ØHeat the ghee in a pan; add the onion and sauté till brown. Add little water, along with the red chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, ginger paste, garlic paste, and salt; stir fry
ØAdd the tomatoes and fry till the oil rises to the surface
ØAdd the peas
ØAdd 2-3 tbsp hot water and cook on low heat till the peas are done
ØRemove and serve

Tomato-flavoured green peas (centre)

Aakha Raan
Slow cooked leg of lamb

2 legs of baby lamb
1 cup ghee
15 g garam masala
15 g cumin seeds
15 g coriander seeds
6 whole red chillies
2 cups of sliced onions
20 g ginger paste
50 g garlic paste
6 tbsp rum
100 g carrots
50 g yoghurt
Salt to taste

Aakha RaanSlow cooked leg of lamb

ØHeat the ghee in a wok and add the whole garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and whole red chillies; sauté for a few seconds. Add the onions and cook till light brown
ØNow add the ginger and garlic pastes; sauté for a few more minutes
ØAdd the legs of lamb and sear for sometime. Add the lamb stock, rum, and carrots; slow cook the lamb leg for an hour
ØAdd the yoghurt and cook for 30 minutes more
ØAdjust the seasoning. Serve garnished with green coriander  

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