Rampur Cuisine – a lesser known culinary delight.
Credits : Mini Ribeiro / Firstpost
Volume: 12, No: 03 ; March-2018
Rampur was a small riyaasat (estate) situated in between the Delhi to Lucknow highway, 150 km away from Delhi and 350 kms from Lucknow. It was only after the fallen dynasty of Mughals and Awadh, that Rampur came into its own. After the exile of the Nawab of Awadh, Nawabs in Rampur hired Awadhi Khansamas for their royal kitchen, who in turn imparted the Awadhi flavour to this cuisine. Geographically, it is similar to the cuisine of Delhi and has evolved with the influence from the regions of Meerut, Muzzafarnagar and Shahjahanpur, which are in the same belt as Rampur.
The famed Awadhi cuisine from Lucknow with its biryani and kebabs, has always found favour with gourmands and has easily overshadowed the lesser known culinary delights of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur, also in Uttar Pradesh. It is only at periodic food festivals of Rampuri cuisine at hotels across India, that one hears of it and gets to sample this almost forgotten cuisine.
The cuisine of Rampur is historically the food of the Mughals, just like the cuisine of Awadh. However, the characteristic difference between the two is that unlike Awadhi cuisine, Rampuri cuisine is not perfumed with ingredients like kevda, ittar or rose water. While there is use of heady spices like saffron and nutmeg, they are used in subtle quantities.
Doodhiya biryani, mahi seekh kebab, adrak ka halwa, may upon first glance seem like dishes from the popular Awadhi or Hyderabadi cuisine, but upon tasting these, flavours representative of the distinct Rampuri cuisine are evident. Perhaps not as mainstream as the other Mughlai cuisines, Rampuri cuisine, a royal cuisine of India, is equally rich in its culinary heritage and owes its origins to the khansamas or cooks who used to work in the kitchens of the royal family.
Rampuri cuisine is a confluence of numerous cooking styles ranging from Awadhi, Mughlai and Afghani. Honing creativity, Rampur has offered respite to several artists including Chefs who were able to experiment and develop new recipes.
Rampuri cuisine has its own chungezi masala, which is a complex blend of about 21 spices and herbs. In Awadhi cooking, we use a lot of fine powdered spices, whereas here we use few whole spices only. Onion, is one of the most basic ingredients of this cuisine, and they use onion in various forms — raw onion paste, golden onion and sometimes brown onions. Saffron root is one of the rare spices which we use in a few Rampuri preparations.
Khada or raw masalas, unusual vegetables like doodhi, lotus stem, jackfruit, figs, pineapple khus roots, dal chini and even amla were among the favourite ingredients of the Rampuri cooks. Copious amounts of ghee are used while cooking but the food is less aromatic than the Awadhi cuisine. Clay pots is what they traditionally cooked in and the process was slow and laborious.
A meat-intensive cuisine, there is however a fair amount of chicken and seafood too. Mutton Tar Korma, a lamb preparation from the house of the Nawabs, Shab Deg, a kaliya of mutton chops cooked overnight in yoghurt and Mehtabi Paya Nehari or lamb trotters stewed with milk and cream, flavoured with herbs, are popular delicacies. Nasheela Jhinga or prawns marinated with blend of red hot spices, chungezi masala powder and other spices, is a seafood dish. These are usually paired with typical breads like Fitri, Rampuri Naan and Sheermal. Among rice preparations, Yakhni pulao cooked in mutton stock, is a must-have dish.
Interestingly, this cuisine is equally at home with vegetables. Sabz makhana qaliya and Dal-e-Mumtaz, a blend of eight organic lentils from the Rampur region, annanas or pineapple pulao, are common.
Desserts too are an important part of a Rampuri meal. Chukander-e-Afroz or beetroot simmered with milk and finished with sunflower seeds and reduced milk, Gur Ke Yaquiti, a traditional chickpea flour milk pudding, Sheer Khurma, a unique dessert made from vermicelli, milk and nuts and Ande ka Halwa, an unusual dessert of the royal kitchen made of egg simmered with cow’s milk with a hint of cardamom powder, are desserts that this cuisine proudly showcases.
Nawabs fashioned their menus to suit individual zest. They treated royal visitors with recipes created especially for them. Rampuri cuisine is essentially a ‘courtly cuisine’ that evolved along with its sultans and their taste buds.
Sadly, these recipes have not been chronicled and are thus lost over the years. It is a few chefs and hotels who are doing their best to revive and popularise Rampuri cuisine. What is served today at hotels and restaurants that too during the Rampuri Food Festivals is an altered versions of the original recipes, but that is all that is left of it.