Legacy Of Aurangabad's Naan Khaliya, The Dish That Fed An Army
Image Credit: Mas Cooks/YouTube

Among Maharashtra's many unique tourism destinations, Aurangabad is one that shines with opportunities. From exploring the ancient Ajanta and Ellora caves or the Bibi ka Maqbara, often dubbed the ‘mini Taj Mahal’, and the tomb of Aurangazeb’s wife, to street markets and unique cultural experiences, there’s so much to do. But throughout it all, you’re reminded of the city’s long history and rich past, which is also translated on your plate. 

Among the dishes that should make your Aurangabad bucket list, few dishes can claim a history as intriguing and diverse as Naan Khaliya (or Qaliya). This delectable dish, with its roots dating back to the 14th century, has evolved over centuries, bearing witness to the changing tastes and influences that shaped the Indian subcontinent's gastronomic landscape.

Origins Of Naan Khaliya

Its journey began in 1327 AD when Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, the enigmatic ruler of Delhi, embarked on a monumental task—shifting his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, a journey spanning over a thousand kilometres. As his loyal soldiers traversed this arduous route, the need for continuous sustenance arose and the ready solution was a meat dish that was simple but hearty. Enter the humble qalia, a basic dish that would become the precursor to Naan Khaliya.

Khaliya, in its earliest form, was a straightforward concoction, relying on basic ingredients readily available in the region. Ginger, coriander, turmeric, salt, and a medley of whole spices formed the foundation of this dish. Notably, turmeric replaced saffron, primarily due to its accessibility and affordability, lending a vibrant hue to the preparation.

Video Credits: Mas Cooks/YouTube

A Unique Dining Ritual

Muhammad Bin Tughlaq was said to enjoy his khaliya in a distinctive way. He would tear a roti or chapati into pieces and submerge them into the aromatic gravy. The result was a delightful amalgamation, with the bread absorbing the light, soupy gravy and swelling in size. This culinary custom endured in Uttar Pradesh for generations and even today, it’s hailed as an ultimate comfort dish. Grandmothers would prescribe it as a remedy whenever a family member fell ill. Its status as a nourishing and delectable dish held sway in households across the region for centuries.

Regional Varieties Of Khaliya

The soldiers, chefs, and their families carried the legacy of khaliya to various corners of undivided India. Along this culinary voyage, khaliya underwent a fascinating transformation, adapting to the diverse landscapes and local ingredients it encountered. These regional variations led to distinct recipes and preparation methods.

Kundan Qaliya: In the courts of the Nawabs, particularly in Awadh, qalia underwent an exotic transformation. Saffron, poppy seeds, and an assortment of dry fruits were introduced, resulting in the opulent Kundan Qaliya. This version featured a golden gravy and a rich, flavorful texture.

Chaman Kaliya: Kashmir contributed to the tapestry of qalia with Chaman Kaliya, a vegetarian rendition made with paneer instead of meat. It boasted a unique blend of fennel, coriander powder, and an array of aromatic spices.

Mahi Qalia: The city of Hyderabad lent its distinctive touch to Qalia with Mahi Qalia. This recipe incorporated coconut, peanuts, sesame seeds, and an array of regional ingredients, rendering it a culinary gem in the Deccan.

Bengali Macher Kaliya: Historical accounts suggest that qalia found its way to Bengal through the bustling ports of Chittagong where abundant rivers paved the way for fish-based qalia, replacing meat. The result was a light, fish broth infused with vegetables, defining Bengal's qalia until the 19th century.

Transformation in Bengal

The 19th century brought about a significant change in Bengal's qalia. Wajid Ali Shah, the exiled Nawab of Awadh, arrived in Metiabruz, Kolkata, infusing the local cuisine with his culinary innovations. Poppy seeds, almonds, and brown onions from Awadh played a pivotal role in this transformation. The influence of the Awadhi Kundan Qalia helped shape what we now know as Bengali Machher Kaliya, a dish celebrated for its luscious gravy and exquisite flavours.

Naan Khaliya, born as Qalia during the reign of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, has journeyed through time and across India, adapting to diverse palates and regional ingredients. Its evolution reflects not only the rich tapestry of Indian culinary traditions but also the enduring legacy of a dish that continues to tantalise taste buds across the subcontinent.