A real taste of India

Tele review

A real taste of India

Did you know that the South Indian staple sambhar was actually invented by the Marathas? Or that the sumptuous and rich dum biryani was actually an ordinary dish that was prepared for the labourers who were involved in the construction of Lucknow’s iconic Bada Imambara? And that the popular Gujarati delicacy dhokla was first mentioned in a 11th century literary text?

Well, I am no food expert or a historian. I am just a foodie who happened to accidentally come across a phenomenal food show during a frustrating channel-surfing exercise. At a time when food shows on the telly are all about niche European or American cuisine and our Indian chefs are busy creating weird twists to our traditional recipes, it is refreshing to see Raja, Rasoi aur Anya Kahaniyan, a show on Epic channel that celebrates Indian food in all its diversity and complexity.

The beautifully shot show takes us into the royal kitchens across India from Kashmir to Kerala, interspersing the recipes with interesting information about the historical events that influenced culinary practises in different parts of the country or vice versa.

The weaving together of the culinary culture of our country with the historical events that led to the creation of certain recipes is what sets Raja Rasoi Aur Kahaniya apart from the other food-travel shows on television. Other than that, the series does not have a host and only has a narrative voice that guides us on our journey into various kitchens of the country, with food experts and historians like Pushpesh Pant providing historical and cultural tid-bits to the narration.

For example, the Rajasthani delicacy kheech was a source of inspiration for a local warlord who formulated a strategy to expand his territory while eating this hot ghee-laden delicacy. And Gujarati speciality lazizan was comfort food for Emperor Jehangir. The smooth succulent nalli-nihari was actually created in the 17th century within the strong walls of the Delhi fort. Even the delectable chaats were first invented in Delhi to counter the Mughal influence in the cuisine by vegetarian inhabitants of the capital. And chillies which are liberally used in our food were not even grown in India but were brought to the country from South America. The recipe of the famous kachoris of Benaras is over 2,000 years old. The sambhar, which is an irreplaceable part of South Indian cuisine, was in fact invented by Maratha King Shivaji’s brother Venkoji in the honour of his nephew Sambhaji who had come for a visit to the south.

These fun facts are not exactly what one comes across in history textbooks. But these are certainly details that give us a sense of pride in our culinary heritage, which has been kept alive thanks to the royal kitchens. From wazas of the Kashmir valley to the khansamas of Mughal kitchens, the authenticity of Indian food has been sustained by humble epicurean minds who have guarded recipes and cooking techniques and some of them have even taken their knowledge to their graves, unfortunately refusing to share it or pass it on.

Having been influenced by several factors including geography, weather, flora and fauna, each region in India has a diverse repertoire of dishes. But sadly, this does not reflect in our standing in the global cuisine, which is limited to chicken tikka or an unauthentic version of the rogan josh. Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniya is certainly a show that takes pride in our varied culinary heritage and makes us reflect on the richness of diverse cuisines in our very own kitchens. The show airs on weekdays at 7 pm and 10 pm, on Epic.

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