Settling in for a conversation with Osama Jalali to discover the magic of some incredibly sophisticated recipes that have remained hidden from the limelight and one gets the sense that something is not quite right. We have asked the chef, author and food historian about ingredients of some rare desserts in the Mughlai milieu and the man is talking about mutton,fish and chicken. Sensing that we are a little lost, Jalali clarifies. “Historically,the Mughlai kitchens of India took great delight in creating dishes that would surprise their patrons,” he says.“So, they came up with recipes for Gosht Ka Halwa or Chicken ki Barfior Fish ka Gulab Jamun.” Jalali has served these dishes all the way from Delhi to Dubai and says that a lot of people classify them as exotic recipes. However, what is considered rare these days was once very commonplace in our country and it is these regional treasureswhich have sparked off a greatpassion for Indian cuisine allacross the world. “We try toinnovate various renditions of age-old recipes that were experimented with and perfected over many years.They have helped definecoastal cuisine,” says Sathiya Prakash, Executive Chef at SET’Z. “Authentic cooking techniques like Malabari or Hyderabadi give each dish its distinct nature and taste.”
It is also something of a misconception that Mughlai or coastal cuisine was focussed heavily around non-vegetarian dishes and recipes. In fact, it is completely utrue. Jalali pointsout that Emperor Aurangzebwas a vegetarian and many outstanding vegetarian
recipes were created during his reign. The typical royal Mughlai meal always had more than a fair representation of vegetables and chefs would take extraordinary joy in disguising those dishes as something else.
“The southern coastal regionin India is known for its abundant rainfall,” says Sathiya Prakash. “These weather conditions help in harvesting fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables. We try to innovate various renditions of age-old recipes that were experimented with and perfected over many years which have helped define coastal cuisine.”
The quest for authenticity has taken culinary experts back to the point where it all began because the level of sophistication in the kitchens of yore is a veritable textbook on the preparation and presentation of food. It is somewhat of a mystery why these recipes have remained lost in time although Jalali does say that some dishes translated well into the gourmet sensibilities of successive generationsand some did not. However, it is that lost flavour that is the true essence ofIndian cuisine and chefs are sparing noeffort to recreate them.
“Currently the gourmand in Indiahas been on culinary journeysthrough the world,” says Tenzin Phuntsok, Chef de Cuisine at Tao of Peng, Intercontinental Chennai Mahbalipuram Resort. “When theyenter a restaurant that claims to specialise in a certain cuisine, they are looking at an authentic dining experience.”
Phuntsok further goes on to emphasise the efforts that go intocreating an experience which veritably transports the guest to the point oforigin of a particular dish. “We like to believe that the food at Tao Of Peng takes you through the journey of a thousand bites,” he says. “We do so by employing traditional methods of cooking. The process to cook the Peking Duck is very traditional where the duck has to be dried overnight, post which it will be mixed with maltose and hot water and dried over the wok.” Sathiya Prakash talks about how it is necessary to go right to the root of a particular strand of coastal cuisine for it to maintainits unique identity. “Coastalcuisine has been inspired by the influence of the various communities that existed or still do in the Southern states of India,” he says. “For instance, Andhra and Hyderabadi style ofcooking is inspired by the royal recipes of the Nawabs.” It is this search for authenticity that is brewing up a revolution in contemporary kitchens and will undoubtedly script a glorious new chapter for Indian cuisine.