Feast fit for kings: Kayasth community’s food brings together Indo-Islamic cultures

From fragrant yakhni pulao to succulent shami kebabs, the food of UP’s Kayasth community is a unique blend of Indo-Islamic cultures. A new book on its food illustrates this contrast with stories and recipes

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Nov 10, 2016 19:57 IST
Meenakshi Iyer
Meenakshi Iyer
Hindustan Times
kayasth community,anoothi vishal,Mrs LC's Table
Badam Pasande is made with flattened pieces of mutton stuffed with almonds(Photo courtesy: Anoothi Vishal)

When author Anoothi Vishal (38) was barely two years old, she remembers spending summers at her grandmother’s – Swaroop Rani Mathur or fondly called as Mrs LC – home in Lucknow. “Some of my earliest memories of these visits are of her narrating a bedtime story. But it wasn’t a story; it was the recipe of gajar ka halwa (carrot dessert). Though, I’ve never made this dessert, its proportions are firmly entrenched in my mind till today,” recounts Vishal, a food writer and columnist who specialices in food history and trends.

Mangori - matar ki tahiri (Photo courtesy: Anoothi Vishal)

Launched last week in the city, Mrs LC’s Table, written by Vishal, is made of many such stories interwoven with recipes from the Kayasth community’s culinary repertoire. The community is defined by its distinct mélange of cultures. “One of the theories on Kayasth community’s origins is that it developed when a few youngsters (mostly from Uttar Pradesh) joined a school of Persian language. They learnt this new language and found jobs in the Mughal administration,” says Vishal. Eventually, during the British Raj, the community also went on to adopt the English language, and become the one of the earliest bureaucrats. Naturally, they shared a common culture with the Mughals, which also influenced their way of life, including food traditions.

Mrs LC (third from left) with her family (Photo courtesy: Anoothi Vishal)

Of pulao and pasande

While the community follows the Hindu way of life, its food heavily centers on meat preparations. “This is one of the finest examples of the Ganga-Jamuni (Indo-Islamic culture of the Gangetic belt) identity. My grandmother (who features prominently throughout the book) was a strict vegetarian. Yet, she would make some of the finest meat-based preparations such as yakhni pulao, shami kebab and keeme ke kofte, without ever tasting meat,” says Vishal.

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Though, Mrs LC was not an adventurous eater, Vishal recalls that she was known for orchestrating elaborate meals for her husband’s friends and colleagues. While most Kayasth women were vegetarians — they were the protectors of the community’s Hindu identity — the men would eat meat. “A lot of the menfolk were close to the Mughals, thus they entertained quite a bit. Initially, meat was never cooked in the kitchens. It was only cooked in the courtyards,” adds Vishal.

Author Anoothi Vishal (Photo: Kunal Chandra)

Meat substitutes

While meat featured prominently in the community’s food, they were also experts at creating faux meat dishes. And since the women folk were largely vegetarians, a large section of the book elaborates on recipes such as kele ki machli (raw banana cooked like a fish preparation), aate ka keema (the flour is washed till all the starch is drained out and only gluten remains) and moong dal ki kaleji.

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“Though Kayasths are considered upper caste Hindus, you’ll find vegetarian recipes cooked with masalas that are traditionally used for meat preparations,” says Vishal who claims to be a “reluctant Kayasth” throughout the book. Her view of the community is that of an insider, as well as an outsider.

At a time when community-centric meals are gaining prominence in the food-verse, Mrs LC’s Table adds a regal touch to the many untold stories from Kayasth community.

Read on

Mrs LC’s Table by Anoothi Vishal is out now

Publisher: Hachette India

Price: Rs 350

First Published: Nov 10, 2016 00:00 IST