I was reading a book, few years ago, in which it was mentioned that the food was different from one group or class to another one. I did not understand it (though it was not completely described here also) till the time I was indeed reading the book titled “Cooking Delights of the Maharajas -Exotic Dishes from the Princely House of Sailana“. It was written by His Highness Shri Digvijaya Singh-from the palace of Sailana and Sailana is a small city present in Madhya Pradesh. It was published in the year of 1982 in India. It was published by Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai. The price of the book is Rs.400. The ISBN is 978-81-8462-026-9. The total number of pages is 198.
The moment I read the title of the book, I was really impressed for various reasons:
1. One may be delighted after reading the book and trying to cook the dishes mentioned in it.
2. The word “The Maharajas” meant more than one king. I assumed that the recipes were different and handed over from one generation to another.
3. The dishes are exotic by nature.
4. The recipes will be from the land of Sailana exclusively.
The cover page was adopted and depicted one of the popular paintings of the royal family of Sailana (though it is not mentioned anywhere in the book). The backside of the book gives us the details of the author and his qualities and skills. The 15th edition of the book was published in the year of 2015. The photograph present on the 3rd page exhibits different kinds of copper vessels utilized for cooking various dishes in the royal kitchens of the city. My attention was towards the beautiful rectangular box meant for keeping all kinds of spices and powders. Now I hardly find one available in our country. I wish I had one of them in my possession and adding beauty to my kitchen also.
The author has dedicated he book to his father-Late Highness Raja Sir Dilip Singhji of Sailana. One may see the stamp of the royal family placed above the photograph of author’s father. I had never seen one in my life! The author acknowledges other royal families present in India like Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar and Princess Shalini Devi Holkar of Indore. The foreword has been written by none other than Late Her Highness Gayatri Devi- Rajmata of Jaipur. According to her, the author is” not only a gourmet but a superb cook”. There is good number of coloured photographs of various dishes cooked and presented for the royal feasts.
The section on the contents is given in detailed manner and these are enlisted in the following manner:
a) 54 recipes prepared by using meat or mutton
b) 9 recipes prepared by using chicken
c) 10 recipes prepared by using fish
d) 8 recipes prepared from the flesh of animals after hunting them
e) 21 recipes using different grains like rice, millets, etc.
f) 50 recipes prepared from various kinds of vegetables
g) 12 varieties of sweet dishes
I liked the section on “Preface” of the book. The secrets of the royal families are given to the readers and the best ones are:
1. The Maharajas were the connoisseurs of good food (mentioned in the 2nd paragraph).
2. Fine kitchens and best cooks are hired (mentioned in the 2nd paragraph).
3. There is a separate cook for each and every recipe (again mentioned in the 2nd paragraph) (I was imagining the total number of cooks present in the royal kitchens. No wonder the royal families of Turkey had dedicated one large palace to the cooks and guides meant for cooking, chopping of the vegetables, tasting, guiding other cooks, measuring the quantities, etc.).
4. It was the “status symbol” for the kings to display”the most unusual kind of dishes” to their guests.
5. The secrets of cooking various recipes were never shared by the cooks and passed on from one generation to the other (usually from father to son only).
6. Some of the exotic recipes and the process of cooking exotic dishes are lost as they were not passed on from one to another individual.
7. The author gives the credit to his father for collecting the recipes from the past 100 years. He collected them from various cooks present across the country and had ancient recipe books in different languages like Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian. He translated some of them.
8. Cooking is not an art however it is a scientific process.
9. The differences present in different kinds of spicy powders or masalas is due to the quantity used in their preparation in the kitchens.
10. The author has taken pain to share some of the recipes only to his readers (I don’t know about the other recipes and the time when those would be shared with us).
In the section on “Helpful Hints”, the author discusses on the following points:
a. He explicitly denies the usage of stainless steel and aluminium pans for cooking purposes. They were used only for boiling things (Oh! My God; we use these metallic utensils for cooking in the contemporary times).
b. Different kinds of utensils used are –
dekhchi-pot kind of utensil used for cooking meats
tapeli-broad utensil used for cooking and boiling rice and curries
kadhai-deep and large pan.
Pressure Cookers-for preparing dishes from lentils, rice and to tenderize hard meats like trotters
c. Differences between
i)bhunao is the process of cooking ground spices in little amount of oil, at high temperatures and adding small quantities of water after few minutes
ii) Baghar meaning tempering or seasoning
iii) Dhugar means smoking technique
iv) Dum means cooking on low flame and the utensil is covered with lid and sealed with dough
v) Kalia is a curry prepared with water or milk
vi) Korma is a curry prepared with ghee or oil
vii)”do pyaza” means cooking with some vegetable like cauliflower, green peas,potato, etc.
d) Details had been discussed with respect to the quantities used for preparing pastes, seasoning or for enhancing the taste of a particular dish.
The weak points of the book are:
a) The recipes are not exclusively from Sailana only.
b) The author mentions about other recipes from other regions also like Rajasthan, Bhopal, Delhi, Jhabua, Kashmir, Persia, Nepal, Hyderabad, etc. They are 24 in number.
c) The recipes shared for the dishes prepared from the flesh of hunted animals are confined to rabbits and wild boars. During those days, the hunting of animals was not restricted to these animals only. The recipes for other dishes are not mentioned in the book.
d) There are other exotic dishes from other royal families across India. Why they were not mentioned? I am wondering about other dishes from the royal kitchens of Lucknow, Gujarat, Jammu, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Bengal which are worth mentioning in the book(may be in the footnotes).
e) The sections on recipes for the snacks, salads, chutneys, curd preparations, pickles and soups are missing in the book. Apart from this, there are various dishes prepared separately in each and every season. This is not mentioned anywhere in the book.
f) In the photographs, three to four dishes are placed and clicked together in the book. This was not really good. The colors of the dish depicts haziness and not very appealing to the eyes.
The excellent points to be noticed in the book are:
a) The sections are divided as per the themes and sub-themes in the book.
b) Minute details about the preparation of the dish have been pointed out in the recipes.
c) Meanings of certain words have been given from the side of the author.
d) Photographs are given in good number in the book (though not upto the mark).
e) Some of the rare recipes are shared in the book like mutton ke dahi badas (mutton dumplings placed in the curd), porridge prepared with garlic, etc.