The Evolution Of Indian Cuisine From The Ancient Times

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Food During Sultanate Period

India is a melting pot of cuisine. Indian cuisine has a 5000-year-old history and has been influenced by various groups and cultures that had become a part of India. Foreign invasions, trade relations and colonialism have aided in bringing new elements to Indian cuisine. The integration of foreign elements to the traditional Indian cuisine over various centuries has made it diverse.

Indian cuisine also depends on various factors like region, religion, culture, and climate. Apart from the introduction of various ingredients and innovation of new dishes; novel cooking techniques were also introduced.

The Mauryans, the Guptas, the Turks, the Mughals, the Portuguese, the British have introduced elements that have been easily incorporated into the Indian cuisine owing to its versatility. The fusion of cultures and consequently food has made India a big melting pot and Indian cuisine continues to evolve.

The Turko Afghans

The Turks who came to India in the 11th century were essentially barbarians. They came to India from the northwest and prior to their entry to India, they led a nomadic life. “They were not a refined fraternity.”

As a result of this, they possessed commendable survival skills but as far as cultural finesse is concerned, they were inept. Their cooking skills were rudimentary and their diet primarily involved meat and dairy products.

“Their culinary expertise was limited to roasted sheep and fermented ewe’s milk”.

With the advent of Muslim rule in India and Delhi being made the seat of power the Turks began to develop culturally and Delhi began evolving as a “city of culture”.

Sources

There are very few sources that provide us information about the social and cultural life of people during the Delhi Sultanate. The sources that tell us about food during the Sultanate period are listed below.

  • The Ni’matnama or Book of Delights– This gives us details about recipes, remedies and also a variety of ingredients used to create delectable dishes. Ingredients like “meat, vegetables, fruits, seeds, gums, resins, leaves, bark, stems, roots, tubers, juice and pollen” are mentioned. There is also a mention about “flavoursome aromatic pastes, powders, pellets and essences like rosewater and kewra made from flowers of the fragrant screwpine.”
  • Manasollasa or Book of Splendours– This gives us details about various culinary delicacies of the aristocrats. It also describes various methods of “cooking pork, venison, rabbit, different birds as well as tortoises and field rats.” It also gives us a detail about the courtly style of the Sultans.
  • Works of Amir Khusrau– Amir Khusrau, the legendary poet gives us information about many delicacies that were eaten by the royals.
  • Accounts of Ibn Batuta– The famous traveller Ibn Batuta also gives us details of some dishes in the court of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq.

The Sultanate Period

The rule of Turks commenced with the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni. The Turkish rule remained in India for more than five centuries. The timeline of the Sultanate Period can be listed as follows:

  • Slave Dynasty (1206 AD-1290 AD)
  • Khilji Dynasty (1290 AD-1320 AD)
  • Tughlaq Dynasty(1320 AD-1414 AD)
  • Sayyid Dynasty (1414 AD-1451 AD)
  • Lodi Dynasty (1451 AD-1526 AD)

Cereals and Pulses

A variety of cereals was grown and eaten in the Sultanate Period. Wheat was grown widely as it was the staple food. Wheat was either baked or fried. It was eaten along “with dal, meat and vegetable curries.”

Other cereals grown were peas, lintels, ‘mash’, lobhiya and sesame. Rice was also eaten by people. However, it was prepared differently. It was either cooked with molasses or with milk. This was how the concept of sweetened rice developed in India. Apart from these almost all kinds of pulses and millet were also grown.

Vegetables

As mentioned earlier, the diet of the Turks was predominantly non-vegetarian before they came to India. Hindus were mainly vegetarian. Many types of vegetables were grown and consumed in the sultanate period.

The main vegetables eaten during that period were brinjals, bitter gourd, beetroots, onions, garlic, fennel, jackfruits, turnips, carrots, asparagus, pumpkin, spinach and thyme leaves. The vegetables were “cooked and fried with various kinds of condiments and ghee.”

Pickles were also eaten. They were prepared from mangoes, chillies, ginger and lemon.

Fruits

Fruits were grown in abundance. Apples, oranges, limes, grapes, pears and pomegranates were eaten widely. Melons were also common. Green melons were called tarbuz and yellow melons were called kharbuza. Sugarcane was also grown in abundance. Mango was the favorite fruit of the people.

Types of meat consumed

The Turks were primarily non-vegetarians. Their rule in India brought focus to non-vegetarian dishes. Sheep meat was eaten a lot by the Turks before they came to India. A variety of meat was consumed. The Turks preferred to eat beef and mutton. The types of meat prevalent in the dishes eaten in the Sultanate Period are listed as follows:

  • Beef
  • Mutton
  • Venison
  • Quail
  • Sparrow
  • Rabbit
  • Pigeon

What did the Sultans and the nobles eat?

The diet of Qutubuddin Aibak, lltutmish and Raziya Sultan was heavily influenced by the Central Asian cuisine. They usually ate meat soup, dairy products, fresh fruits and local vegetables available in and around Delhi like spinach, pumpkin, brinjal. With time, the quality of food eaten by the aristocrats improved.

Apparently the royal table of Mohammad bin Tughlaq was festooned with 200 dishes at times. The royal kitchen fed 20,000 people every day. Like mentioned before Ibn Batuta has given us details of banquets in the court of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq. The food consisted of “sharbats of rose water, barley drink, roasted meat, almond halwa, sambusak filled with meat and dry fruits, rice pulao with roasted chicken.”

Poet Amir Khusrau tells us that “the royal feast included sharbate labgir, naan-e-tanuri, samosas, pulao and halwas. They drank wine and ate tambul after dinner.”

Drinks

Wine was prohibited by Islam. Even the Hindu Shastras discouraged the drinking of liquor.

However, the wine was drunk freely. It was a favorite of the nobles and the Sultans.

The Turks also introduced the drinking of Sharbat. Sharbat was usually rose flavoured. It was extremely popular during festive occasions and was distributed for free along with the free distribution of sweets.

Spices

The common spices used were:

  • Cardamom
  • Nutmeg
  • Mace
  • Pepper
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon

Public Bakeries

Public bakeries became an extremely important part of social life and they replaced individual kitchens. In these public bakeries, almost every kind of cooked food and raw materials were available at nominal prices.

Innovations and delicacies

A number of dishes were innovated under the Turkish rule in India. Some of them are as follows:

  • Naan– Naan is a leavened flatbread. Two types of naan were introduced. They were the Naan-e-Tunuk and the Naan-e-Tanuri. The Naan-e-Tanuk was a light bread and was not baked. The Naan-e-Tanuri was the heavy bread and was baked in the tandoor. The Turks introduced the tandoor or clay oven. Naans were eaten with kebabs.
  • Kebabs– The Turks are credited with the invention of the kebab. In the nascent stages, kebabs were just pieces of skewered meat. But in India after the addition of spices and refining the recipe kebabs became a delicacy. They were eaten both by the royals and the commoners.
  • Pilaf– Pilaf is a dish in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth. The Turks used to add meat to the dish and plenty of spices were used.
  • Koftas– Koftas are basically meatballs cooked in a spicy gravy. The Turks introduced the process of mincing meat.
  • Paneer and curd– The Turks had known the art of fermentation and milk. Hence, they introduced curd in their diet and this became an indispensable part of Indian cuisine. They also introduced paneer another important ingredient in Indian cuisine.
  • Khajur or dates were a delicacy.
  • Other delicacies were halwas, harrisa, parathas, meat soup, etc.

Utensils

“Vessels of gold and silver, and of Bidari alloy” were used to make dishes and cups for the aristocratic class. Copper and brass were used for making utensils for people in the lower rung of the economic ladder. Large ‘degs’ were used to make pilaf.

The integration of Turkish elements in Indian dishes changed the face of Indian cuisine and the new dishes introduced remain an integral part of Indian cuisine even today.

Though in the early years of the Sultanate period the cooking methods were rudimentary, new and better cooking techniques were adopted eventually. The Sultans and the nobles encouraged good food.

However, it was under the Mughals that the cuisine of North India reached its zenith. They brought sophistication to cuisine in India.

 

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Neha Mohanty

Neha is a dreamer, a history buff, an animal-lover with immense passion for writing. Give her a good book and she shall not complain, show her a good movie and you are on her team, give her great food and you are her new best friend. When she is not dreaming, writing or reading, you will find her in the kitchen, stirring up some delicious dishes for the people she loves.

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