In the court of Avadh, fashion, poetry, calligraphy, architecture, music, and dance scaled monumental heights. And in its cuisine, there was a coming together of the most delicate visual, artistic, spiritual, and gastronomic delights.
There is not a city in India today without at least one restaurant offering Avadhi delicacies. But most of these can hardly hold a candle to the tastes that were so relished in what was once India’s most glittering court. Take the biryani, a delicacy widely perceived to have originated in Avadh (also Awadh, or Oudh). Yet it is a dish that was never cooked in the province to start with! Biryani came to Avadh through the royal brides of Delhi and Hyderabad, and their retinue of cooks. But the parboiled rice with meat pieces was at once declared by the nawabs to be too coarse for their delicate palates. Thus, efforts were made to improve it. This resulted in the yakhni pulao, in which the rice was cooked in rich meat stock with no bones or whole spices.
The book, Dastarkhwane-Awadh—The cuisine of Awadh, written by Sangeeta Bhatnagar and Raj Kumar Saxena, contains recipes from erstwhile royal and elite kitchens of Avadh, tried and perfected by the authors. Bhatnagar, a food consultant, says that while there is a revival of interest in Avadh’s cuisine, many misconceptions remain. One of the most glaring of these is that it is synonymous with Mughlai food.
She offers an easy primer on the standout difference—Mughlai food uses overpowering spices, and often, an excessive use of kasoori methi or fenugreek. The finished product often swims in oil. In Avadhi food, everything is ground to a fine paste. Even curries are sieved through muslin. “It is a smooth symphony of flavours,” says Bhatnagar. So smooth that the true flavours of an Avadhi kitchen will not even smell of ghee, in which the dishes are cooked. This is achieved by what is known as ghee durust karna—a tempering of the cooking medium with the addition of kewra water (distilled extract of the screwpine flower) and cardamom.
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