Dishes created from book found in Thanjavur library

Dishes created from book found in Thanjavur library

The cuisine is a mix of Maratha and Tamil influences

Khasa Khasa Payasam, Shakar Biranji and Doodh Bopla Peta

A festival at the ITC Windsor draws its dishes from a recipe book dating back to 1812 AD. The Thanjavur royal family has shared the book, and its kitchen secrets, with the hotel chain’s chefs.

‘Dakshin’ at ITC Windsor says its curated dishes, on offer till November 17, are made from heirloom recipes from the royal kitchen of the Palace of Thanjavur. 

Abaji Rajah Bhonsle, younger brother of the present nominal king Rajah Bhonsle, and his wife Dhanashree have worked closely with Praveen Anand, executive chef,  southern cuisine, to help him put together a meal with the authentic taste of the royal kitchen.

The Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur, one of Asia’s oldest, has a collection of 500 palm leaf manuscripts with recipes that are centuries old. About 50 palm leaves have been translated from the Marathi (Modi) script to date. 

The festival has tweaked the recipes to suit the modern palate, says Praveen.
Not many know that the royal kitchen produced kebabs and kormas, among other mouth-watering dishes. Most dishes used imported dry red chillies (or what they called kappal molagu), poppy seeds, fresh-grounded pepper, cow milk and ghee. 

Although meat is the primary focus of the cuisine, the menu has includes an array of vegetarian options as well. 

The elaborate dinner starts with ‘Valli Kezhangu Shunti’, a spiced sweet potato snack. Shaped like small balls, it is stuffed with grated coconut, cinnamon, ginger and grounded peppercorns. The taste of cinnamon and peppercorn are predominant.

We also tried the ‘Mashanchi Kebab,’ a fish kabab that is marinated with poppy seeds and green chilli and pan-fried in ghee. The fillet was uniformly spiced, soft and perfectly salted.  

Meat-lovers can relish ‘Komdyachi Sherva’, a slow-cooked chicken soup with curry leaves, peppercorn and ginger, while vegetarians can soothe their palate with the light ‘Murunga Rasam’, a soup made from drumstick and lentil extract. 

The non-vegetarian meal includes a shrimp curry, fish curry, chicken curry, a dry vegetable, and rice. 

The ‘Barik Jhinga’, a shrimp curry made with coconut and spices, was the winner of the evening. The semi-gravy dish had just the right pinch of masalas and the slightly tangy taste made the dish exotic and mouth-watering. Mix it with the ‘Khichidi Pulao’ for that extra taste. The pulao is cooked with roasted moong dal and the rice has a dry and solid texture. The ‘Komda Kalia’, a slow-cooked country chicken curry was my next favourite. The juicy and flavourful chicken curry goes well with the akki rotti and the pulao. You can choose what you want to have it with.

One of the unique dishes of the menu was the ‘Khelyachi Bhaji’, raw banana tossed with ‘karivadagam’ and ‘hurit’.

The mixed curry, ‘Khendata’, made with the combination of five dals and ten Indian vegetables could be easily mistaken for sambar. But the fenugreek and dill leaves give it a unique taste.

Looking at the small bowls arranged on the plate, I wasn’t sure if I would be full but the meal was definitely filling. The desserts are also an attraction.  The royals have an order in which they devour their desserts. They move from sweet to sweeter to sweetest. The ‘Khasa Khasa Payasam’ made from poppy seeds and roasted nuts has a predominant nutty flavour. It is mildly sweetened—perfect for those who don’t have a sweet tooth. Next came the ‘Shakar Biranji’, a sweet rice pulao made with almonds, coconut and sultanas (dried grapes). The dish was a sweeter version of the ‘Khichidi Pulao’. My favourite was the ‘Doodh Bopla Peta’, made with bottle gourd, almonds and saffron. If you aren’t told about the main ingredient---bottle gourd---you would definitely mistake it for a milk-based sweet. The saffron and dry fruits gave it a rich taste.

The vegetarian meal is priced at Rs 1,950 and the non-vegetarian meal at Rs 2,250.