Moradabadi Cuisine: Delving Into A Tale Of Contrasts

A simple-at-heart town in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Moradabad has in no way displayed modest feats over the centuries. From its global fame in the brass industry that lent Moradabad the title of ‘Pital Nagri’, to its rich Mughal legacy and the famed Moradabadi cuisine, which can be best described as a tale of contrasts, Moradabad’s imprints are firmly on the past and the present.

Earlier known as ‘Rustam Nagar’, after Rustam Khan, one of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s governors, the town was later named Moradabad after Murad Baksh, Shah Jahan’s third son, when he was only a few months old. Since the prince was still young, Rustam Khan was tasked with laying the foundations of the town, which would soon grow prosperous. Its brass handicrafts rose to artisanal fame around the world, with the British particularly fond of them. The Brass City’s craft crossed the seas to the West in the 19th century and made an impression on world handicrafts.

One would assume that Moradabadi cuisine would be derived from the Mughal culinary heritage, but that is true to only an extent. On the one hand, for a Moradabadi, the gosht biryani is as close to his heart as to his palate. The biryani reflects the town’s simplicity, and its cooking doesn’t employ exotic ingredients or frills: just morsels of tender meat, flawlessly cooked with aromatic Basmati rice using the most nominal condiments, traditionally cumin seeds and green chillies.

For those with spicy taste buds, there is that sprinkle of the not-so-simple Moradabadi chaat masala. A dash of this masala gives the Moradabadi biryani a unique spicy twist, and this rendition has spread to other areas of North India. The origins of the chaat masala can be traced back centuries to the intricate spice mix from Moradabad, which was enhanced with the singular use of chilli powder and green chilies together in several recipes. Today, the chaat masala is a must in lentil and chickpea snacks, and the chaat is customarily topped with raw onions.

The contrast in the cuisine of Moradabad is reflected no better than in the vegetarian dishes of the town. One will be surprised to discover that young prince Murad grew up with a fondness of vegetarian food and not the gosht biryani. This can be partly attributed to Jodha Bhai, who had made the Mughal court familiar with vegetarian delicacies. Many Mughal rulers started savouring vegetarian dishes ever since.

Prince Murad’s fascination for ‘Dal Moradabadi’ was legendary. He was known to relish it more than once a day, that too spiced differently ever so often. At a time when Mughal kitchens were cooking non-vegetarian dishes with exotic condiments, here in the town of Moradabad, a young prince was basking in the love of the humble moong dal.

Dal Moradabadi continues to rule the kitchens of Moradabad, and has also spread far and wide in the towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh. The simple moong dal recipe is incredibly popular as a snack, and chaat wallas swear their utensils run dry at the end of each day.

Moradabad remains what it is: a picture of black and white. It is modest at heart, yet its glitter crosses the seas. It’s that quaint old town boasting an incredible legacy. And while biryani may be in its blood, so will Dal Moradabadi be.