Chef Narayan Rao, the commander-in-chief at Kandahar, the Indian restaurant at the Oberoi, is a man on a mission. While his primary concern is to give us a taste of the food prepared in the royal kitchens, he also intends to dispel some of the myths surrounding the food consumed by royalty.
Kandahar is hosting a 10-day-long food festival featuring cuisines from different Rajwadas or royal houses of India. On till April 26, the festival includes cuisines served in the royal households of Hyderabad, Banaras, Kashmir, Rajasthan and Travancore with two days dedicated to every cuisine.
So while you may have missed out on the non-vegetarian Hyderabadi thali and the no-onion-no-garlic saatvik thali from Banares by now, you are still in time for the Vindyachal Thaali from Kashmir today the, Rajputana Thali from Rajasthan (April 23 and 24) and Arcot Thali from Travancore (April 25 to 26).
The Rajwada food served at Kandahar shatters several pre-conceived notions about royal food.
Myth 1: Royalty thrived on ghee-laden, oil rich foods and sweets.
Reality is that not all royal food is necessarily rich. Heavy dishes were restricted to festivities. The food served at this festival sits light on the stomach. It is sans creamy, dry-fruit laden pastes.
Instead you have light curries and gravies, like the yoghurt-based Gustaba, flavourful minced lamb dumplings in a light yoghurt gravy, a part of the Kashmiri thali. Not just for meat-eaters The menu also caters to both the vegetarians and meat eaters, striking the right balance between the vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare.
Myth 2: Royal kitchens prepared lavish non-vegetarian spreads every day.
Actually, barring the Mughals and the Nizams, most royal kitchens were largely vegetarians. The non-vegetarian fare was largely restricted to the hunting trips.
"Most Hindu royal houses had Brahmins cooking for the king. Also, the food cooked in the royal kitchen was first served to the deity in the house, which meant that the food had to be vegetarian," says Rao.
The food at the Rajwada festival also reflects the influence of the Raj cuisine with dishes like Chicken Cutlets, also in the Travancore thali.