Hosting a dinner party, though fun, can be a potentially stressful experience. Ensuring that the menu is suitable, the recipes fool-proof, and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun can prove to be a lot of balls to juggle at once. We can only imagine how a chef preparing a banquet for royalty must feel. In France, there is even an urban legend regaling how Francois Vatel, head chef to Louis XIV, once heard that the fish course of his meticulously planned banquet simply would not be ready to be served at the allocated time. Ashamed at his failure, Vatel felt he no longer wanted to live, committing suicide on the spot. And just to add insult to fatal injury, the fish dishes made it onto the tables on time after all. Suffice to say, cooking for royalty sounds like a highly strung exercise and certainly not one for the faint of heart. Delivering a banquet fit for royalty means that only the best will do.
The royal courts of the maharajas of India were renowned throughout the sub-continent for their talented chefs, experimental kitchens and opulent feasts. The mighty Mughals who ruled over Indian for many years were notorious for their lavish tastes. Decadent flavours with rich ingredients were favoured and no expense was spared when it came to a Mughal dinner. Additionally, the Nawabs of Lucknow have even been described as having the most creative and high quality kitchens that India has ever known.
The most important chefs in the maharaja’s kitchens were often sent overseas to train in the kitchens of masters in Europe where they would learn new techniques and experiment with local ingredients. On their return to India, they would be fully prepared to create new dishes with fusion food bringing together a variety of culinary traditions. Additionally, new recipes were guarded with care as each royal household vied to produce the cream of the culinary crop and build a reputation for having the best kitchens in the land.
Although modern advancements in the culinary industry have meant many of the old cooking techniques have faded away over the years, there are many royal recipes that have stood the test of time. An example of a popular dish that was highly favoured in the royal kitchens of the maharajas is badaljaam. This flavoursome dish consists of baked aubergine, spiced with coriander, chilli powder, asafoetida and a generous helping of garam masala. Cooked onions and tomatoes were also thrown into the mix and prior to serving, a creamy scoop of thick yoghurt was added to the top, giving the dish a luxurious finish that is still enjoyed in India to this day.
Many other recipes including the rich, creamy korma and the succulent, vegetarian malaikofta, are products of the kitchens of the maharajas. These old recipes have inspired much of North Indian cuisine as we know it.
To try another range of dishes inspired by the traditional and authentic recipes of India, pay a visit to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants and enjoy a feast fit for a maharaja.