“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
There is one emotion that runs in our country that I am proud of. For Indians, we value food and cheer more than anything else. We welcome our guests and organize a heartwarming feast without contemplating about riches and savings.
In almost every household, you can hear stories about culinary traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Down the memory lane, we know the priceless joy carried in our tiffin boxes or the free giveaway at a street food stall which are unselfish.
One of the palpable emotions in our country that cannot be weighed down is the sensory experience of food.
India with an overwhelming population tipping at over one billion is diverse in its food culture. Our 5000-year-old history has influenced the culinary scene with the incoming of a hoard of settlers.
Are you ready to stimulate your appetite with a dash of storytelling about how some of these famous dishes came into existence?
Indian Sufi saint Baba Budan visited Yemen while returning from his Hajj pilgrimage in the 17th century. He noticed a unique beverage made by the Yemeni people known as Qahwah which was prepared by grinding coffee beans after they have been roasted.
By then, coffee beans were said to be discovered by a Somali goatherd and he wanted to take back the beans to his country. But the Arabs holding a monopoly of the coffee beans wouldn’t allow due to which he could carry only roasted coffee.
Ultimately, this sleep jerking drink became a supplement for liquor in the mid-1940’s as the famous Indian Coffee houses popularized it.
The lip-smacking dish of Butter Chicken traces its history back to the pre-Independence era. Kundan Lal Gujral ran a restaurant called Moti Mahal in Peshawar which shifted to Old Delhi after Partition.
Legend has it that one night when the restaurant was about to close down, a VIP guest passed by and requested for a freshly cooked meal. Running out of stock, the chef came up with a recipe involving butter and chicken with liberal flavors of garam masala and tomato.
The VIP guest was the ruler of Mareelun and he surprisingly loved the dish very much.
Hyderabadi Haleem is said to have been derived from Harisa which was brought to the Malabar coast by the Arab traders. The much spicier porridge of meat, wheat, and pulses gained popularity during the conquest of Deccan by Aurangzeb.
When Aurangzeb was busy subduing the rulers of the Qutb Shah dynasty, this one day sailor and soldier food which was cooked continuously for eight hours on low flame was introduced from the barracks to the local eateries.
Our favorite street food Pav Bhaji came into existence during the civil war of America in the 1860’s when the demand for cotton was high. When the traders at Bombay Stock Exchange in Mumbai were busy with the hike in the new cotton rates, they returned home late at night.
They needed a light and wholesome meal as their wives couldn’t rustle up an elaborate dinner when everyone was fast asleep.
So, the street vendors collected the leftover bread and mushed remaining vegetables into an amalgamated mixture of pav (bread) and bhaji (vegetables).
Tunday ke Kebab
The soft and succulent Tunday ke Kebab cooked in shallow oil has an interesting story. One of the Nawabs who loved kababs lost his teeth and couldn’t relish the experience of having meat torn from the juicy bones as he grew old.
He decided to hold a contest and offer royal patronage to anyone who whips up a softer version of the erstwhile kababs. Haji Murad Ali created the secret recipe and he had only one hand.
“Tunday” referring to the dish created by the person suffering from hand disability became one of the food specialties of Lucknow.
The legendary dish of Biryani that comes with local variations has at least three interesting stories to back its origin. The most interesting story being Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of Shah Jahan asking the chef to prepare a balanced nutritious diet as she was shocked to see the soldiers undernourished and weak.
This gave rise to the combination of rice and meat cooked with aromatic spices rendering a nutty flavor.
Bati became famous during the rule of the founder of Mewar, Bappa Rawal when the Rajput soldiers broke chunks of dough and left them under the sand to bake in the Sun.
While returning from war, they would dig the baked Batis out and dip them with ghee or curd used as a means of survival during wars.
Bati was served with dal when the Gupta Empire settled in Mewar.
The neatly folded and tightly packed samosas were introduced to the country between 13th and the 14th century by the Middle East travelers.
As spice route travelers couldn’t carry heavy food, they preferred cooking small and crispy triangles stuffed with minced meat and vegetables over campfires.
Samosa traveled a long way from Central Asian “Samsa” before it was replaced by the vegetarian version among Indians.
Our culture and tradition may have changed a little but our love for these culinary recipes that have come a long way remains constant.
(Image Credits: Google Images)