As diverse cultures of the world unite through the globalization of food habits, traditional food habits seem to have lost their appeal. India too has become entangled in this big web of the globalization process, imitating the food habits of various parts of the world, while its rich and original recipes threaten to slowly fade away from the memory of the natives.
With Instant recipes and processed foods taking over India, people seldom feel the need or desire to prepare any dish that requires a significant amount of time and effort. This has led to a decrease in the popularity of several dishes that were earlier used to create a buzz for their authentic preparation styles. However, it becomes a crucial factor to observe that native recipes of India are dissolving over time or if not dissolving, getting replaced by some quick and different style of cooking method.
And when talking about restaurants, they are capitalising on the demand, refusing to risk on creating more awareness towards what the original food of India was, even before Independence, before invasions, or when India was a large nation with neighbouring countries as part of one nation.
“People don’t have the time to invest in long-winded recipes anymore,” says Amit Ghosh founder of Lost and Rare Recipes, who grew up in a joint family with its varied members constantly trying their hand at different dishes ranging from Cabbage Soup to Bijoya Mishti. Ghosh’s grandmother found innovative vegetarian dishes to make for the family, which she would always serve with rice. Subhajit himself was cooking by the age of 11, his first dish being Aloo Tikia.
He shared his inclination towards Chingri Korola Purpuri, which no one talks about. This dish has its origins in the Natore district of Bangladesh. It’s the first in his Bangladesh series, which includes 12 dishes from 11 districts. He uses video as a medium to educate people about the recipes less talked about.
Similarly, Mughals brought Persian, Turkish and Central Asian cuisine into India. Most of the dishes that were cooked during Mughal-era have survived except some. Khichdi Dawud Khani is one of such lost Mughal recipe that had meat, moong dal, pureed spinach, egg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, saffron, onion, ginger, coriander, garlic, oil and salt as ingredients. Half the meat was prepared as yakhni (meat broth) and rest was minced and cooked separately. Later, the meat was combined and cooked in a sealed pot (dum dahad).
“While the charm of some traditional recipes faded away because of their lengthy cooking time and elaborate styles, others found a way to remain on our menus through some makeovers. One such dish is the Murgh Zamin Dos, another Mughal era dish, mentioned in the Ain-i-Akbari, the historic chronicle of Akbar's reign. Arguably the favourite dish of Akbar, Murgh Zamin Dos (literally meaning 'inside earth') involved three main ingredients- murgh (chicken), rumali roti, and mud,” said Rituparna Goswami, storyteller at ThisDay by Ekank Technologies.
Garlic or Benami kheer was a popular dessert in the House of Mewar. Such was the craze of this dessert that the royal cooks purposefully called the kheer 'benami' (without a name) because they did not wish to reveal the secret ingredient.
In fact, one of the many reasons why some traditional recipes got lost over time was because the creators refused to share or pass on their recipes, perhaps a desire to remain different and unique. This was the fate of the Kabishambardhana Barfi, a highly personal recipe created by Rabindranath Tagore’s niece. This sweet was a special gift to the great poet for his 50th birthday. The primary ingredient of the barfi is cauliflower or Phool gobi, which is flavoured with saffron, cardamom powder, etc., and mixed with milk.
Dr R. Ravichandar, managing director and founder of Nandhana Palace Group took the initiative to promote one such lost recipe from the state of Andhra Pradesh in his restaurants. “One of the lost recipes from Andhra is bamboo chicken. It is not served by many restaurants but we have introduced it at Nandhana. You will be surprised to know how we revived it. We actually sent our chefs to the forests of Andhra and recreated the recipe at Nandhana,” he commented.
Another such name from the restaurant industry is Osama Jalali. The natural inheritor of the culinary legacy has led him to carry out extensive research on lost Indian cuisines, meticulously recreating and perfecting age-old recipes. His quest to bring back these forgotten flavours has taken him across the country and he also runs a group called the 'Lost Recipes of India'. His mother, Nazish Jalali, who hails from the princely estate of Rampur, collected rare recipes during the years she spent in the Walled City.
He has brought famed classic dishes like Anjeer Mewe ke Kebab, Kulliya Chaat, Chitta Murgh Tikka Makhni and Ghilafi Seekh to restaurants that were never talked about.
Indian food is not just about food from the north and south anymore. There are a lot more businesses taking things back to their roots, maybe with a contemporary spin. But the flavours that should be incorporated should be true to their nature. The food we eat has to strike a chord and evoke some kind of nostalgia. There was a lot of clutter, even a loss of identity a few years ago in the food scene of India, but now, a lot of people have realised that recipes must be showcased as it is, so that our true native food does not get lost in the web of world cuisine.