Your highness, dinner is served
Dining halls that spell opulence, decadent elegance, well-guarded thousand-year-old recipes, mustachioed chefs and a pageantry that is reflective of India's princely states. Dining with the Maharajas is a stunning time piece on the life, food, and fanfare of some of these families by Neha Prasada with photographs by Ashima Narain. We invited Narain to pick her five favourite photo stories from this memorable journey
AWADHI REGALIA The Mahmudabad Qila is beautiful and charming partly because of it’s architecture, but largely because it is a ‘living palace’, which includes a zenana where women cook, sew, laugh and learn. Exploring it was unique.
GLASS ACT The preparations to set the table at the Falaknuma Palace for 101 people begun the evening before our shoot with Princess Ezra the next day.
We walked in and were all blown away by the sheer majesty and scale of it — it felt as though we were going to dine with Maharajas. Made entirely of Italian marble, it was built in Hyderabad in 1893.
A ROYAL FEAST It was a rare privilege to have three royals cook for you and that makes this image very special. They were all relaxed, and enjoying each other's company and the food. It was lovely to be privy to this side of the Patiala royals.
Baby Appams from Mysore These were just delicious. Priya (Kapoor, Publisher, Roli Books), Neha (Prasada, author) nor I had ever tried these before, so we had to really restrain ourselves from eating them, in order to save them for the shoot.
Dining with the Maharajas, A Thousand Years of Culinary Tradition, Neha Prasada & Ashima Narain, Roli Books, R4,000. Available at leading bookstores Ashima Narain, photographer
STATE OF CALM I love this image, because I loved this place — it had the magic of a bygone era. Here, Ali showed me where the horses are taken to exercise.
The fields, the horses, the mist, the quiet, as well as Ali’s (Mohammad Khan) personal style came together at that moment. These elements really translated what I was experiencing, and how different it was from Mumbai city life. Each year, he takes a break from his studies at Cambridge University, England, to spend the month of Muharram in Mahmudabad, along with the rest of his family.
From the Maharaja files
>> The dining table at the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad is the world’s longest, and is called the 101, as it seats those many diners.
>> In the Kashmir royal family, yellow food items are made on Basant Panchami, and sundh, an energy portion, is made out of ground dry fruits for the pregnant women in the family.
>> The Umaid Bhavan Palace has 347 rooms, making it one of the largest private residences of the world.
>> Once upon a time, Mahmudabad chefs would add gold coins in the baghar (tempering) of desi ghee and spices to temper the Raja saheb’s food.
>> The Mysore Maharaja, Srikantadatta Narasimharaajawadiyar (or Wadiyar, as he is known) is an avid collector of jewellery and art and has an enviable collection of 35,000 miniatures.
>> It was the weakness of the Patiala royals for fine spirits that led to the term ‘Patiala Peg’ being coined for drinks that were much stiffer than the accepted 60ml.
>> The lone shortcut that Rampur cooks take while cooking for royals is using gas burners for expediency, all other preparations are done by hand.