Thursdays had been for pulao lunch. We — siblings and cousins — may nearly odor pulao as our rickshaw wheeled us slowly again from college.
Lunch could be invariably late, for a number of kilos of pulao needed to be ready in a big degh over wooden hearth within the previous kitchen. Zarina Bua, our cook dinner, could be muttering over the standard of meat or rice, able to blame the dearth of perfection on our previous retainer, Khalil Khan.
My grandmother believed that the spirits of our useless ancestors, significantly her husband’s, got here down on Thursdays and prayers needed to be recited over a pattern of steaming pulao dish earlier than we obtained to eat. It all the time confused us kids — had been the spirits hungry? Did they only eat pulao? We by no means requested and stood with our Nani main the prayer, our palms raised heavenward, heads coated respectfully, stomachs rumbling.
The prayer over, the now ‘holy’ pulao was taken away and blended into the degh (to make all of it holy), and we lastly obtained to eat — although not earlier than a big portion was taken out for the maulvi of the neighbouring mosque and the beggars residing past our space of reference.
The Rampuris love their yakhni pulao — the pretentious Biryani will not do. (Photograph: Instagram//themodernpakistanicookhouse)
Pulao, an fragrant rice and meat dish, has an enormous presence in all conventional Muslim households. No feast, funeral or prayer assembly is full with out it. In Rampur, the timing of serving the pulao is essential. You might be supposed to attend for it on the desk whereas it’s on dum — simmering over low warmth in a sealed pot or cooker.
The literal translation of dum is life. The pulao turns into lifeless when the dum steam escapes.
This timing of the pulao is much more essential at Rampur funerals. Proper when the coffin is taken out of the home on the shoulders of grim-faced mourners, forsaking a gaggle of crying, wailing and sniffing girls, and the grief has subsided to a contained stage, a cart bearing deghs of pulao trundles over the brick-laid lane and morose-looking girls lay out the piping sizzling feast to consolation the mourners.
The right timing by no means ceases to amaze me — it’s essential that the pulao must be served earlier than all its steaming life, its dum, escapes.
The Rampuris love their yakhni pulao and switch up their noses on the richer and spicier model of the meat-rice dish referred to as the biryani, usually served in Lucknow and Hyderabad.
The biryani is rebuffed by the Rampuris as a soulless combination of qorma meat curry layered with boiled rice.
The procedures are completely completely different — the bottom for yakhni pulao is the boiled meat inventory and it’s nearer to the Persian model. Biryani, alternatively consists of layering spicy cooked meat curry with parboiled rice.
Meals historian Lizzie Collingham writes in ‘Curry: A Story of Cooks and Conquerors’, that the delicately flavoured Persian ‘pilaf’ met the wealthy, spicy Mughal dishes within the kitchens of Emperors Humayun and Akbar to create the biryani.
I am not a foodie or a recipe fanatic. Or, possibly, like for lots of issues in my life, I’m in denial. So, it was by sheer luck that I stumbled on a 150-year-old Persian manuscript on Rampuri delicacies on the grand Raza Library in Rampur, whereas researching for my novel.
A web page from the Persian manuscript Khwan-e-Nemat, relationship about 1870 AD. (Photograph courtesy: Writer)
The Raza Library, famend all around the world for its manuscript assortment, is housed within the erstwhile courtroom of the Nawab of Rampur and peopled with crusty librarians who guard the traditional manuscripts with self-righteous doggedness.
The gentleman in command of the manuscript part sits in a depressing room surrounded by enormous metal almirahs with their valuable stacks — a caricature of librarians along with his stiff, white, threatening beard, scrawny body and thick glasses.
He’s solely affable in the direction of students who come armed with the information of Persian, and I can simply handle fundamental Urdu. He had banned one of many analysis students from assessing the recipe manuscripts as a result of he discovered him too informal. The researcher chanced upon me pottering round, looking for clues to the vanishing tradition of Rampur, and handed me the names of the recipe manuscripts that held the important thing to pulaos, kababs and qormas.
Meals is a crucial a part of Rampuri tradition and I offered myself to the librarian asking for the manuscript. He checked out me with disdain over his rickety, steel-framed spectacles, requested me the Persian phrase for the artwork of cooking, and, discovering me wanting, summarily dismissed me.
However small cities have a deep respect for connections and family tree — very quickly, I discovered myself again within the inside sanctum of the library, going through a barely mellowed librarian.
Nawab Hamid Ali Khan, whose kitchens had 150 cooks — every specialising in a single dish. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons)
“Why did not you inform me that you simply had been the granddaughter of Jabbar Khan, the engineer?” he demanded, a bit miffed at being commanded by the Director to help me. Thus, the treasured manuscripts had been revealed to me, and I used to be allowed to secretly take footage on my iPad.
The manuscripts are skinny volumes intently handwritten in Persian relationship again to the 1870s, the reign of Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan (1865-87). It’s unclear if that they had been commissioned or collected, however they will need to have served as a report of the recipes for dishes cooked.
There was a separate rice kitchen on the Nawab Rampur’s ‘Khasbagh Palace’ — and the khansama cooks had been legendary in allotting probably the most beautiful and progressive rice dishes.
Nawab Hosh Yaar Jung Bilgrami, who was related to the durbar of Nawab Hamid Ali Khan from 1918 until 1928, writes in his account Mashahidaat that there have been 150 cooks within the kitchens, every specialising in just one dish.
“Such cooks couldn’t be discovered with the Mughal emperors or in Iran, Turkey and Iraq.” He writes of no less than 200 dishes cooked at a banquet, together with English and middle-eastern fare.
Pulao Shahjahani was probably a dish imported from Delhi to Rampur kitchens. We all know that a lot of cooks from Delhi and Lucknow, identical to different artists, sought employment at Rampur after the Revolt of 1857 and the next fall of dynasties.
Most Rampuri houses immediately cook dinner the fundamental yakhni pulao — so, the grand repertoire of 50-odd types within the manuscript was very intriguing.
It ranged from the grand Pulao Shahjahani, the candy pulaos — Mutanjan Pulao, Pulao Sheer Shakkar (milk and sugar) — to the standard anannas (Pineapple) pulao, imli (Tamrind) pulao and so forth. Most of those varieties are exceptional, and a few part of meals reminiscence.
Mutanjan is vibrant — however solely one of many many shades of the Rampuri pulao. (Youtube Screengrab)
Intrigued, I made a decision to study fundamental Persian, employed a tutor and began translating these extinct gastronomic delights.
My tutor, Mr Isbah Khan from the library, a youthful and kinder model of the manuscript librarian, helped me with the interpretation and was extraordinarily affected person with my failed makes an attempt at studying Persian grammar. He launched me to an previous khansama who cooked Rampuri fare to make sense of the recipes.
The unique cooks of the courtroom have all perished, their kids taking on completely different professions. We had been confused and confounded at many ranges. The elements had been measured in daam, tola, masha, ratti and ser — historic measures with inexact trendy equivalents; they had been preceded by dots, dashes and slashes, symbols which held no that means even for the previous timers.
At one level of time, I discovered myself measuring out 550gm of cinnamon for 1 kg pulao! It was absurd.
The Raza Library that homes this, and plenty of different, treasures. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons)
However measurements had been the least of my worries. The process outlined within the recipe was temporary, cryptic, making presumptions about our information of cooking. The terminology, utilization of phrases had modified over time.
‘When it turns into thick, add meat and a few correct masala and maintain watching……’
‘Mood the meat with yakhni water. Boil rice in water after placing meat. Evaporate half the shorba. Separate yakhni into two components.’
What was yakhni and what was shorba? May it’s used interchangeably? What was the ‘correct masala’?
There was a lot altering of deghs and procedures inside procedures. In Pulao Shahjahani, one ended up with 4 vessels to be washed up afterwards. No surprise that with time, we abbreviated the entire intricate process right into a two-step affair and changed the degh with the trusty stress cooker.
I used to be on the verge of giving up on the enterprise once I chanced upon two recipe books in Urdu, relationship 1873 and 1879, which had the elusive Pulao Shahjahani with the process extra clearly defined. It was like coming upon the Rosetta stone!
The yakhni had meat boiled with spices and if you take away the meat, the left over water was referred to as shorba! I may lastly decode this fascinating recipe.
I attempted out the recipe with the previous khansama — it turned out to be as elegant and opulent as its title.
The recipe ends with the considerably philosophical line:
‘Dar kami-o-peshi ikhtiyaar-e- hast‘ (‘The surplus and paucity of every little thing is in our arms.)