The vintage rail travels are indeed stuff of legends.
By 1857, the British had successfully colonised most of India, and since India was one of their most important colonies, they introduced various machinery and technology to ensure they gain the most out of this association. The Railways, being one. To make transportation across states easier, the British developed the railways in India, which significantly brought down their travel time. The stories of vintage rail travels are indeed stuff of legends, but some of the long journeys were still very excruciating.
Remember, we are talking about the time before express trains, and unlike automated trains of today, these trains had to be fed coal manually, so the soot and smell of charred coal were hard to ignore, but looking at the lavish menu of the time, we partly understand as to why people were so kicked about train journeys, especially in premier, first-class trains. Enjoying a multi-course meal inside your comforting Bogies, while enjoying the view outside the window can make you forget many woes. The Railway mutton curry belongs to the same legacy of decadent ‘Railway’ delicacies. The mutton curry was a slightly mellow, watered-down version of Indian mutton curry, because the Indian mutton curries for too hot for the British. They did, however, loved the sharpness of masalas used in typical Indian curries such as ginger, garlic, red chillies, turmeric and cumin, which were adequately used in this mutton curry, along with British favourites such as bay leaves, cloves and pepper.
It is said that the mutton curry was first cooked in Railway canteens by chefs of Indian Railways and introduced on the menu of the Frontier mail, by the Western Railway. The Frontier mail, was one of the most premium rails during 1920’s and 30’s, having only first and second-class boggies. In the glory days of British-Indian railways, railway mutton curry was one of the most beloved refreshments to be served on the train, which earned it the name Railway Mutton Curry.
Now, of course, you do not find the railway mutton curry on Indian trains, but you can find them in many fine-dine restaurants. The catering protocol is very different in Indian railways now, of course, the menu varies slightly from route to route, which is something I look forward to when I am travelling in trains. For instance, on my train to Madurai, we were served Kesari Bath and Rasam for breakfast and snacks respectively. But your chances of finding mutton on the train are very bleak. After COVID, the government has also stopped catering on trains, so if you are a hardcore foodie on board, you would have to look for your own options.
Railway mutton curry goes best with hot, steamed rice. You can also pair it with any Indian bread of your choice like paratha, naan or roti. Here is a delicious recipe of Railway mutton curry, see if you can recreate the same at home.