New Delhi: Have you
ever heard of the traditional Bengali mixed vegetable stew, called shukto, tweaked to suit the old Islamic palate? Try it out with a
dash of nuts, raisins and dry fruits at an elite eatery in the
capital which has just incorporated Murshidabad cuisine in its
Murshidabadi cuisine from West Bengal is a lighter version of the
richly flavoured Mughal cuisine, popularly known as the Mughlai
food cooked in northern India. A blend of Bengali and Islamic
food, it was a runaway success at a festival in Suryaa Hotel,
drawing packed houses for 15 days.
The cuisine is now part of the hotel's special "made-to-order"
"With growing health consciousness, Murshidabad food can edge
Mughal cuisine to the sidelines of the mainstream Indian menu if
promoted vigorously in metropolitan cities," Syed Mustaque Murshid,
a descendant of the 1,000-year-old Syed clan of Murshidabad and
chef de cuisine of Suryaa Hotel, told IANS.
He was the first among a long line of Murshidabad's Syed men -
traditionally religious preachers, scholars and royal power
brokers by profession - to have taken up cooking for livelihood.
Chef Syed shares his name with the erstwhile nawab of Bengal,
Murshid Quli Khan, the founding father of the commercial hub of
Murshidabad along the bank of the Bhagirathi river in the 18th
century during the reign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
History cites that it was during Murshid Quli Khan's rule that the
local chefs of the town honed the cuisine to a distinct fusion
Murshidabadi cuisine draws from the light traditional food of West
Bengal that is sweet in texture, the eclectic breads and stringy
meats of the Islamic Syed community of preachers, the spicy Mughal
food of the erstwhile "shahi" Delhi and the rugged northwestern
frontier food, the chef said.
"But the version of the cuisine that we have created at the Suryaa
is a curious combination of spices, innovation, north Indian
concepts, traditional recipes and royal influences from my
maternal home which has inhabited Murshidabad for the last 23
generations," Syed said.
The most popular dish on Syed's Murshidabadi menu is the
traditional Bengali shukto, a light vegetable bitter stew cooked
in a gravy of milk and clarified butter, and flavoured with a
five-spice blend of fenugreek, fennel, white mustard, a pinch of
asafoetida and bay leaves, the chef said.
"But in Murshidabad, we add dry nuts, cashews and raisins to a
local variation of shukto to make it spicy and compatible with the
Muslim palate," he said.
Tikiya, a Bengali-Muslim variety of the minced lamb kebab made
popular by the nawabs and royal khansamahs, or cooks of Avadh,
also has a large following.
"We knead the lamb mince with gram (matar) lentil paste into
circular cakes that are shallow fried in a wok with homemade
clarified butter. It is lighter than the kebab," Syed said.
The improvisations trace their origin to exciting historical
"The local Bengali cuisine could not be served to the erstwhile
royal Mughal guests from Delhi. Mughal envoys from the courts of
Akbar, Jahangir and Aurangzeb between the 15th and 17th century AD
frequented Murshidabad to take stock of the revenue collection.
They had to be treated to spicy food.
"A popular lore cites that the fusion cuisine dates back to the
time when emperor Salim or Jahangir married Noor Jahan, the wife
of Sher Ali Quli Khan Istaju, a Muslim governor from the region,"
chef Syed said.
The spirit of the confluence of the two cultures, Hindu and
Islamic, comes across in traditional local delicacies.
"We have a variety of kormas (spicy curries) - a very north Indian
Muslim food that is traditionally meat-based. But the most
sought-after kormas in Murshidabad are vegetarian - the aloo
korma, and yam korma, spicy dishes of potatoes of yam cooked in
tamarind and flavoured with brown onion paste, cashewnuts and
saffron," Syed said.
The breads are of the Syed origin. "The Syed Islamic preachers
carried them to Bengal in the eighth century AD as fodder along
the way," the chef said.
As a result, the traditional khamiri bread rolled with white flour
cooked in boiling water lasts for more than three days.
Another Murshidabad combination that has travelled across the
country is dhuki and duck - a dish of steamed idli-like rice bread
and curried duck. "It is usually eaten before the namaz (Muslim
prayer) during winter," the chef said.
According to Devraj Halder, the executive assistant manager, food
and beverage, Suryaa Hotel, "a Murshidabadi meal for one costs
Rs.1,250 with tax".
Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)