A regal march

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A regal march

Thursday, 15 February 2024 | Shobori Ganguli

A regal march

Novotel Aerocity's Food Exchange recently extracted a culinary gem from the ancient archives of Murshidabad. SHOBORI GANGULI narrates her experience of this memorable dive into history. Photographs by PANKAJ KUMAR

Murshidabad, named after its founder Murshid Quli Khan, now a nondescript town of West Bengal, was once a thriving township and one of the richest provinces of Bengal. Known the world over for its silk, the town naturally drew merchants from across the world and from within India who wanted to tap the huge economic potential of its sericulture industry.

From the Jains and Marwaris of Rajasthan to the British East India Company, the French, Dutch and Danish, Central Asians and Persians to the famous Kabuliwallahs, Murshidabad soon grew to be a melting pot of cultures best reflected in its cosmopolitan food map, quite distinct from what most of us tend to treat as Bengali cuisine. This was close to three centuries ago, a glory soon to be consumed by time.

It was therefore a wondrous treat to be invited to Novotel Aerocity’s Food Exchange where world renowned Chef Rehman Mujeebur channelised his genius to extract the essence of a 300 year old culinary history, a herculean task effortlessly placed on our table.

Since the Jains and Marawaris were a dominant merchant community in the province, Chef Rehman presented to us a vegetarian spread of Hare Masale Heeng ke aloo (Potatoes in asafoetida), with no onion or garlic, and Paneer Khubani Tikka as starters. This was followed by Hari Moong Dal teamed with rice and Paneer Pasanda Korma (Cottage Cheese) and Khumb Tawa Masala (Mushrooms), a vegetarian infusion into the region’s then strong Mughal influence.

The highlight, however, of Chef Rehman’s exhibition of Murshidabad’s centuries’ old culinary canvas was the Nalli Chaap Masala, (Lamb) cooked with his secret spices. One is yet to taste such a tender melt-in-the-mouth Chaap preparation with the meat deliciously detaching itself from the bones. Among the starters, the Chef walked us through Murgir Tikka Kali Khan (a chicken preparation) and Maach Surkh Tikka (Fish), a beautiful confluence of Mughlai and Bengali spices.

Chef Rehman then brought to the table a delectable Ghee ke Nehari (a mutton preparation) served with rotis. What followed was a regal march of Murshidabad’s little known culinary history. There was Murshid Chaap Biryani, quite different and distinct from the Kolkata Biryani, although it came with the trademark boiled egg, an Eastern India version of Awadhi or Hyderabadi Biryani. This came in the company of Qobooli Pulao cooked with Bengali chick peas (Kabuli Chana).

This East West amalgamation found further reflection in Chef Rehman’s creation of Murgir Korma (chicken). There was, of course, Sarson Maach (mustard fish), a slightly more pungent variation of Bengal’s famous Shorshe Maach which is milder in flavour.

The feast was brought to its conclusion with the Chef’s signature Dabal ka Halwa. While the food itself was outstanding it was indeed heartening to learn that Chef Rehman is one of those rare food historians who travels the length and breadth of this country in search of recipes and cuisines long lost to the world. And certainly kudos to Novotel Aerocity to delve into such rare culinary gems neglected and lost but truly rich and ancient like the famed Murshidabadi cuisine.

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