Paya Shorba: The Evolution Of Emperor Shah Jahan’s Favourite Soup
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No cuisine in the world is devoid of the influence of numerous other cuisines it intermingled with at some point in history, and Indian cuisine is no different. A big part of Indian cuisine has been influenced by multiple cuisines of the countries it has been ruled or colonized by. The attraction of these rulers, invaders and colonisers can be attributed to the central location, rich culture and heritage of the Indian subcontinent. This amalgam of varied culinary cultures has given Indians some of their classic dishes that they swear by today. From the all-time favourite Biryani to the quintessential Halwa, dishes with foreign origin have been winning the hearts of Indians since times immemorable. One such dish is Paya Shorba that has been providing comfort and satisfying the palates of Indians since eons.

Believed to have originated between the 8th to 4th century BC, Paya was originally made by boiling animal flesh and bone together in water and the clear soup was then consumed with minimal seasoning. This bone soup then became very popular in the Middle East around early Medieval Age and was used in guesthouses and royal homes to treat the tired warriors and please the royalties. The nutrient-filled soup provided strength and energy to the Ottoman army too. While the army cooks prepared it with meagre seasoning and ingredients, the royalties enriched the soup with certain herbs and saffron as well.

Babur’s sister, Princess Gulbadan mentions a soup that was used to energize the army and treat certain serious ailments too. The soup became the foundation stone of Rajasthan’s famous Siri Paya and the delicious and aromatic Paya Nihari is Emperor Shah Jahan’s court.

Some legends have it that the popular Paya rose to fame from its ancestor ‘Pascha’ which was used to treat Abdul Aziz- the first monarch of Saudi Arabia. The Pascha was simply made with salt, turmeric, bay leaf and was served with a slice of lime. It is believed that the Paya Shorba of South India is attributed to the Arabs who settled near the coasts. These Arabs brought Pascha with them and started flavouring it with cardamom, whole spices and Malabar onions. This flavouring gave way to the modern version of South Indian Paya that has a thicker consistency and is enriched with coconut.

Paya Shorba is one of the most counted-on soups when it comes to flavour and aroma. This fame is definitely attributed to all the older versions that paved the path for its modern version.