Nurturing a passion for culinary delights cooked up in royal kitchens, was an activity that the Nawabs did better than anyone else. However, in a series of mishaps that led one of the nobles from the Mughal empire to lose his teeth, led to the happy discovery of what is one of the most sought-after kebabs of our time.
With the onset of colonialism in India in the 17th century, the reign of the Mughal empire diminished, making way for the British to establish their rule in the country. As the power centres witnessed a shift and the presence of nawabs became an ornamental representation of their times of glory, these men of royalty found themselves with plenty of time to do nothing but indulge in their passions. Although Lucknowi nobility lived off of the pensions handed to them by the British, their taste for the finer things prevailed even in sparse circumstances.
One such nawab – Asaf-ud-Daula – who was the son of Shuja-ud-Daula, who sided with the British to take on Siraj-ud-Daula, indulged his love for kebabs long after the Mughals’ fall from glory. The royal kitchen at Asaf’s palace had chefs boasting of a collection of 150 different spices, which were used to flavour the different types of kebabs that were made each day. In what’s best described as the ‘Golden Age of the Kebab,’ the nawab demanded that his khansamas or cooks, conjure up new kebab recipes on a daily basis.
This allowed the chefs from the royal kitchens plenty of room for experimentation, and hence, ingredients like sandalwood, rose petals, patthar ke phool and red gensing were among some of the exotic ingredients that were used in recipes. The nawab’s love for food, specifically kebabs, transcended all adversities, so much so that his cooks continued to innovate recipes even during the great famine of 1783. The obsession with kebabs aside, the nawab wasn’t particularly known to follow a healthy dental routine, as a result of which he ended up losing most teeth by the time he turned 40 years of age.
This led to the cooks in the royal kitchen to come up with a kebab recipe for a delicacy so tender, that the nawab didn’t miss his teeth in order to chew the meat-based preparations. Thus was discovered the galouti – which roughly translates to so soft that it melts – a kebab that swapped minced red meat for lamb and spices, to form flat patties that were fried in ghee and served with sliced onions and a mint chutney on the side. Believed to have been the brainchild of Haji Mohammad Fakr-e-Alam sahib – also the cook who created the moti pulao – the galouti kebabs were an instant hit with the nawab and his dining companions.