One of the city’s most celebrated historians, Sharada Dwivedi, best known for books such as Bombay, The Cities Within, passed away earlier this week. Curiously, one of the last projects she lent her expertise to was a special Valentine’s Day menu, which employs the use of edible aphrodisiacs from the Mughal era.
“About three weeks ago, we were wondering what to do for Valentine’s Day, since the restaurant focuses on Lucknowi Awadhi cuisine. We thought of paying tribute to the aphrodisiacs used by the emperors of that time,” says Chef Mukhtar Qureshi of Neel, at Mahalakshmi Racecourse.
He adds, “Sharada, who was a dear friend of the restaurant’s owner Malini Akerkar, had recently done a paper on the same subject. She offered to help us make the menu special and authentic.”
Qureshi, whose family originates from Lucknow and comes from a line of royal chefs, took the historian’s advice, and combined it with his own knowledge of the rich legacy of the royal courts.
One of the quirkier items on the menu is a special palate teaser called Palaang Tod Paan, which literally means ‘bed breaker’. “They used to stuff the paan with stimulating ingredients like almonds, khus and animal horn. The Maharaja would have about 20 concubines waiting for him, and this served as an early Viagra,” the chef reveals, hastening to add that they’ve reinvented the dish without the somewhat unappetising animal horn.
“Another dish, the Jal Tari Shorba, is a velvety soup flavoured with saffron and fennel. Saffron is commonly used in beauty rituals, and the older generation vouches for the fact that it heightens the sensitivity of the body’s erogenous zones,” explains Qureshi.
The special menu has about 20 dishes, starting at R285, each packed with the potency of at least two aphrodisiacs.