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Cuisine of the Mughals: Akbar (1542-1605)

Akbar (1542-1605)

Akbar’s childhood was spent in present day Afghanistan. From his Persian mother, he inherited princely manners, his love for literature and the arts. And from his Turkish father came his fierce energy, his love for war and his ability to command. Later, he learned to absorb what was genuinely Indian.

The Ain-i-Akbari, a gazetteer of the Mughal empire, detailing every aspect of Akbar’s government written by his courtier Abul Fazl has a vivid and fascinating chapter devoted to the imperial kitchen. Abul Fazl provides a list of recipes of some of the dishes which reflect that the Mughal diet heavily relied on rice, wheat, gram, barley and some other lentils. Bernier describes how shops were stacked with pots of ghee, rice, wheat and grains. The Central Asian and Persian influence is evident in the recipes listed in the Ain-i-Akbari. Abul Fazl writes that the kitchen department was headed by Mir Baqwal (Master of the Kitchen), an officer of the rank of 600 horses (in Akbar’s reign). Hakim Humam held the post under the direct control of the vizier (prime minister). Mir Baqwal had under him an army of cooks, tasters, attendants, bearers and a special officer for betel. The cooks came from Persia, Central Asia, Afghanistan and different regions of India.

The Ain-i-Akbari mentions a dish in Akbar’s kitchen which is exactly like the present day kulfi. His alliance with the Rajputs brought a Rajasthani flavor to the royal table. Many dishes were developed and cooked on the hunting grounds in pits. Akbar mostly dined once in 24 hours and privately. Before eating, he set apart food for the poor and started his meal with milk or yoghurt.

Recipe for Dum Ke Karele

Book Review:  The Emperor’s Table: The Art of Mughal Cuisine

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