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What is Mughalai Cuisine?

Mughalai Cuisine was developed during Mughal empire fusing the existing Persian and Indian Cuisines

Mongol in Persia were called Mughal. In Hindustan (India), the Mughal were called Moghul.

Mughal empire started with Babar in 1526, but the Persian Cuisine was introduced to India over three centuries earlier.

The following events and periods are significant to understand the evolution of Mughalai Cuisine.

1. The Turkic and Afghan during Delhi Sultanate period introduce underground Tandoor to make Naan. Other items introduced are: Keema, Kebab, Dahi yogurt, Paneer Cheese

2. During Akbar period, the royal kitchen becomes a laboratory for Mughal culinary. It just absorbs the Delhi Sultanate Cuisine. Persian Cuisine is fused Indian Cuisine by Rajputs. Special 'Rice and Grain', 'Grains and meats', and meat dishes are created. Khichri, Haleem, Murgh Musallam

3. Jahangir and Shahjahan is the golden period in the evolution of Mughalai Cuisine. Portable Tandoor is developed. After 1498, Portuguese introduced new agriculture products to India: Tobacco, Maize (corn), Potatoes, Tomatoes, Papayas, Pineapples, Cashews, Chili peppers.

Finally, many of these products get integrated into Mughalai Cuisine.

4. After Aurangzeb, new centers of ruling powers emerge. These new centers take Mughalai Cuisine to new heights. The centers included: Hyderabad, Lucknow, Lahore, Kashmir and Rajasthan.

5. After Independence in 1947, the Mughalai Cuisines from Lahore and Peshawar would come and merge with the Mughalai Cuisine of Delhi.


The Delhi Sultanate (1206 - 1526)

The Mughalai Cuisine is rooted in Delhi Sultanate. Delhi Sultanate refers to several Turkic and Pashtun (Afghan) Muslim dynasties who ruled various parts of India from Delhi. In 1191, Mahmud  Ghori (Afghan) invaded India conquering in succession: Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, and Delhi. After Ghori was killed, Qutb-ud-din, one of his generals, proclaimed himself as the Sultan of Delhi, established the first dynasty of Delhi Sultanate. Others would follow: Mamluk dynasty (1206-90), Khilji dynasty (1290-1320), Tughlaq dynasty (1320-1413), Sayyid dynasty (1414-51), Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526).

In 1398, Delhi was invaded by Timur (Tamerlane). Sultans army was easily defeated on Decembert 17, 1398. Timur himself would record the invasion in Tuzk-e-Taimur including the massacre of Hindus, raping of their women and forced conversions to Islam. In January 1399, Timur would leave and return to his own capital. After invasion by Timur, independent Sultanates were established in Awadh, Bengal, Jaunpur, Gujarat and Malwa. Even the Delhi Sultanate revived briefly under the Lodhis


In 1526, a Mongol, Babar (Born as Zahi-ud-din Muhammad, Fifth direct male descendant of Timur, 13th descendant of female line of Genghis Khan) would defeat and kill Ibrahim Lodi and start the Mughal empire that would last nearly three centuries (1526 to 1857). The various Sultanates were absorbed In Mughal Empire.


The Sultans imposed Jizya, to penalize non-Muslims.


Amir Khusrow (1253-1325) documents in his notes: 'Naan-e-tanuk', and 'Naan-e-Tanuri' being served at the imperial court in Delhi. Tanuri was a thicker bread baked in Tanur (Tandoor). Naan was eaten with Keema and Kebab.

Use of Tandoor, Naan, Keema, and Kebab were already introduced by Delhi Sultans before the Mughal empire, but became a major part of Mughalai Cuisine.


Babar Rein: 1526 -1530

Babar wrote his autobiography Babarnama leaving behind a detailed journal. From Babarnama, it is obvious that spices were hardly used in Persia at the time. Ginger was used a spice to flavor foods. They grew and ate a lots of fruits and nuts. Babar describes fruits and nuts from Farghana valley: Apples, Almonds, Apricots, Grapes, Melons, Mulberry trees, Peaches, Pomegranates, Pistachios, and Walnuts. Babar was an avid gardener and loved fresh fruits and Sharbat. His favorite Sharbat was Julabmost. He loved the fruits he found in India: Mangos and Indian Jackfruits. Other items already grown in India were: Oranges, Chakotra, Limes, Coconuts, Pineapples, Star fruit, Plantains, Tamarind, Sugar canes. He lived as a ruler of India for less than four years. Babarnama mentions Kebab made from sheep. Interestingly, there is mention of Chikhi spiced with ginger What is Chakki Chikhi. We will find Chikhi again in Ain-I-Akbar. His mark was on Indian Cuisine included planting fruits and nuts, and hiring Hindu cooks to make Persian style dishes with existing ingredients and the ingredients from China and Persia. He did not live long enough to fuse existing cuisine and spices to suit his palate. However, he sets a trend that would continue for over three centuries creating Mughlai Cuisine.


Humayun Rein: AD 1530-1556

Humayun followed Babar. He was ousted in 1544 and returned in 1556 and lived only six months after his return. He learned about Hindu customs, specially regarding meats. He would shun beef in sympathy for his Hindu subjects. He even became a vegetarian for a while. The dried fruits (Raisins), and nuts (Pistachios, Almonds, Cashews) were included in making sauces, sweets, and rice. Sweets and beverages were flavored with essence of fruits. Humayun loved Sharbat (lemon, rose water) cooled with snow, food preserves (watermelon, grapes). Humayun dies at a very young age of 26 years falling down the stone steps.

Moslems did not eat pork, and Humayun shunned beef. Thereafter, the main meat to eat was Goats, Fowls, and Venison.

Gul-Badan leaves documented details of the cuisine in 'House of Feasting'.


Akbar Rein: AD 1556-1605

Akbar immersed himself in Hindu Rajputana. In 1562 he marries a Hindu princess (Jodha Bai), daughter of the Raja of Amber, the mother of the next emperor of India (Jahangir). Akbar did not like meat. His favorite meal was Khichri with Dahi. Khichri was made every day. During Darbar, a feast of nearly 100 different types of dishes was not uncommon. Ice was brought in from the mountains every day for Sharbat.. By now, Moghul had adapted eating pan (old Indian custom). Akbar employed over 400 cooks. Some of them were Rajput who cooked for Jodha Bai. These Rajputs would fuse their cooking with Persian cooking. Example is Murgh Mussaamman (Murgh Musallam). The whole chicken is carefully cleaned, stuffed with a spicy mixture of minced meat and Dum cooked over low heat.

Abul Fazl Allami was a Moslem born in India but rose to become the prime minister. Do-Piyaza Ghosht was  named to honor Mullah Dopiaza, a quick witted philosopher and a cook in his own right. Abul Fazl documented first 47 years of  Akbar's rein in Akbarnama. Ain-I-Akbar, the third section of Akbarnama details many recipes and available foods  India Historical Recipes (Akbar period). The translated recipes are in the form of a procurement document of ingredients for the kitchen. The detailed method of preparation have not been translated due to complexity. I have taken it to another step and interpreted some of the popular recipes India Historical Recipes Interpreted. The recipes are broken down in three groups.

Rice and Grains:  Zard biranj, Sheer biranj, Khushka and Khichdi, Wheat glutton, Dals, Palak saag, Halwa, Sharbat.

Meat and Rice/Grains: Pulao, Biryani, Shulla, and Shurba or meat and wheat like Harisa Haleem Kashk.

Spicy Meat Dishes: Yakhni kebab, Do piyaza, Qalya, Malghooba, Musam-man.

Thick bread was baked in Tandoor. Thin breads were cooked on Tawa (flat iron griddle).

In 1564 Akbar abolished 'Jizya' on non-Moslems lifting ban on building temples and Hindu pilgrimages.


Jahangir Rein: AD 1605-1627

Jahangir was born to a Hindu mother. Jahangir immersed himself in Kashmir culture. He was addicted to Alcohol and Opium. He loved to hunt and eat freshly hunted meat. However he continued Akbar's abstention, and even added Thursday for fasting.  Thursday was the day of Akbar’s birth.

Jahangir did not like fish . He loved Lazizah (Gujarati Khichri  made of rice, Dal, ghee, spices and nuts), Falooda, and milk of antelope. Paaperdum. lime pickle (Achar) Chutney Conserve were served


Shahjahan Rein: AD 1627- 1658

Shahjahan was born to a Hindu mother. Still, he started to demolish the newly erected Hindu temples. This started a discourse between Hindu and Moslem. In history, Shahjahan would be known for building Taj Mahal.

During Shahjahan’s period food was at its peak. Punjab would become a home of Tandoor cooking and Dum Cooking.

Biryani becomes a layered dish, (layers of pre-coked items such as rice, sheep, chicken, and vegetables). Each layer is cooked in Ghee, onions, ginger, spices and yogurt with almond. Saffron is added to the layers. The dish is Dum-cooked in a Handi.

'Murgh Keema Mumtaz Mahal', is a combination chicken dish. The chicken is cooked in a sauce of poppy seeds and cashews. The cooked chicken is served over a bed of spicy minced lamb (Keema).

Muslims ate Naan with Keema or Kebab, Rice with onions, Phirni and Kheer, Halwa and dried fruits for breakfast.

Working class people ate Khichri with butter in the evening or rice boiled with pieces of flesh or kebabs.

Portugese Sebvastian Manrique, a friar of the order of St. Augustine described three types of bread: a paper thin bread eaten by poor, Khajur a bread as thick as a finger eaten by rich class, and Khjuru a sweet bread made with flour poppy-seed sugar and ghee. Most likely, the thin bread was Chapati, thick bread was Naan, and Sweet bread was Sheermal.

The Tandoori chicken is created.


Aurangzeb Rein: AD 1658-1707

Aurangzeb continued, what Shahjahan had started. He went a step further and tried to convert Hindus. In 1679 Aurangzeb re-imposed the Jizya on Hindus. The Hindu Moslem alliance setup by Akbar came to an end. 240 years later, the discourse would eventually lead to partition of India. Uprising by Hindus forced Aurangzeb  to move to Daulatabad in the Deccan.

Aurangzeb was a devout Moslem and a vegetarian. He drank water from Ganga river, ate Khichri, and bread made from Jowar and Bajra.

During Aurangzeb period, they would develop a 'Khichri Alamgiri' named after Aurangzeb himself.

After Aurangzeb, the Moghul empire started to crumble. There would be several weak rulers. The last Mogul Emperor (Bahadur Shah Zafar) was deposed and exiled to Burma by the British in 1857.


As the Mughal empire crumbled the Mughalai Cuisine spread and continued to evolve with Nizams of Hyderabad, Nawabs of Lucknow, Pundits in the 'Jammu and Kashmir', Rajputs in their palaces in Rajasthan, and Nobles in Lahore. This will lead to Lucknow and Hyderabad Biryani, Kebabs etcetera. Dum cooking will be revived in Lucknow and takes on a new dimension.


Partition of India

After the independence of India, the partition will lead to a Culinary revolution for a decade. The Mughalai Cuisine of Shahjahan City (Old Delhi) will fuse with the Mughalai Cuisine of Jahangir City (Lahore). The similar fusion will take place in Pakistan with slightly different emphasis.

In Pakistan, the old Moghul dishes that were cooked from Goat and Sheep are now prepared using Beef just for their hatred towards Hindus, taste and texture was secondary. Pork remain banned in Pakistan. In India Beef and Pork are illegal except for in Goa.

In Delhi, Dhaba are set up on every corner with Tandoor. Existing Seekh Kebab and Korma are now served with Punjabi dishes such as Tandoori Naan and Tandoori Chicken. Dhaba Lamb would influence Rogan Josh with tomatoes. Refugees would introduce new vegetables, specially tomatoes to rural Rajasthan.



During Mughal empire, Tandoori cooking went beyond making Naan. The meats were marinated , and cooked in Tandoor. Mughal were Moslems and did not eat Pork. Hindus did not eat Beef. So, both beef and pork were avoided in Mughal cooking. Fowls, sheep and goat, and venison  were the main meat dishes. Most of the time meat was ground, cooked with wheat or rice, wrapped around iron rods (Seekh) and slowly cooked it over open fire making Seekh Kabobs . The meats with bone were braised in fat and cooked slowly on low heat making Korma.

The Moghul immersed themselves in the existing culture with the food, and music. By the time of  Akbar and Jahangir, the fusion of the food was complete. The lamb kebobs were marinated in Indian spices, the rice pilaf had turned into Biryani. The dried fruits (Raisins), and nuts (Pistachios, Almonds, Cashews) were included in sauces, sweets, and rice. For elegance, silver and gold edible foils were used to decorate foods. The gold and silver were used to make dinner-ware. Chinese porcelain was used for beverages. The Durbar became a complete community dining affair.


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