The Delhi conversation continued …

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In my last column on Delhi I put forward a point of view. I believe that we give a lot of credit to the Mughalia aspect of Delhi cuisine which is great, but it takes away majorly from the other beautiful influences on Delhi food that need mention as well. Let’s talk about those today.

The first influences were minimal, coming by the way of early Afghan invaders who usually never stayed. Arab raiders had established their presence in Sindh by the eighth century. However, it was only in 1200 AD that the first Sultan, of the slave dynasty set up rule in Delhi. Amir Khusrau and Ibn Battuta have chronicled the Sultanate epoch to allow some insight into the era. It’s amazing how the era that saw the arrival of nuts into Indian cooking, the first cooked Palav and Kebabs in Royal fare, the arrival of the Samosa, Falooda, Jalebi and Harissa (the precursor of today’s Haleem ) has been lost in translation due to the lack of proper documentation.

Another aspect that hasn’t found enough mention is the Sufi impact on cuisine; Amir Khusrau mentions that the meals at the sufi congregations were bold and vast enough to compete with royal Dastarkhwaans. Also the aspect of communal eating can be credited to the Sufi influence. This was followed by the Mughalia Influences that came by way of officers posted in Delhi more than the emperors themselves and the barrack food that still lives in the lanes of Shahjahanabad.

The Mughalia influences have indeed contributed to our country’s cuisine as I discussed in my last article on Delhi cuisine. However what needs to be understood is that the real food of Dilli is an amalgamation of Sultanate, Sufi, Mughal, Kayasth, Lahore, Punjab and Anglo Indian influences and more needs to be spoken about, or the real soul of Delhi will fade into oblivion.

As a dear friend and food historian Pushpesh Pant puts it, and I quote “While there is much greater awareness and better appreciation of foreign, regional and sub-regional cooking, somewhere in the process the precious gastronomic heritage of Delhi is being lost. More effort is spent on writing florid menus than on preparing a Qorma, Salan or Kaliya. It is rare to come across a halfway decent Shami or Seekh unless you are invited home. Some classics like Nargisi kofta or pasande are available only in shehar Purani Dilli. Takke-paise ki subzee is all but extinct. Bengali (chhena) sweets have pushed to the margin, the chewy sohan halwa. Phalsa sherbet is akin to an endangered species of flora and fauna. Paneer is ubiquitous and has alas banished all seasonal vegetables to eternal exile.” Thus conclude my thoughts on Dilli ka khana…….