The nawabs in the medieval period were known for their love for refined arts, culture, architecture and music. Their penchant for food is also no strange fiction. We are pretty well aware of the famous Awadhi cuisine which enchants everyone with its delicate layer of flavours till date.

Awadhi cuisine originated from the region of Awadh, or present-day Uttar Pradesh. The cuisine is a rich medley of Mughal, Persian and regional influences. The bawarchis or raqabdaars (royal chefs) made use of aromatic spices like cardamom, kewra and saffron to ramp up the dishes, which gave a distinct rich touch to the cuisine. Their practice of cooking food on coal-fired tandoors was probably the unique thing that grabbed the attention of many connoisseurs, as this method used to impart a rich smoky flavour to the dishes which was unparalleled in many ways.  The most popular dishes among the Awadhi cuisine are Galawati Kebab, Shammi Kabab, Paneer-Do-Pyaza and Mutton Korma. These mouthwatering dishes would be incomplete without the company of Sheermal. Every gravy-based dish can only be fully relished if there is a flatbread with it. And sheermal, also known as shirmal is a mildly sweet flatbread made with leavened all-purpose flour (maida) and saffron which is cooked in tandoor or oven. It is said that the history of this sweet flatbread goes back to the early 19th century, when the first king of Awadh Ghaziuddin Haider, wished for a new type of bread for special occasions. This not only made the royal chefs but also local cooks quite enthusiastic to make new varieties of bread to please their Nawab. On the day of choosing from an array of breads, his eyes fell on a yellow bread which was kept on a dastarkhwan (table cloth). He quickly tore a piece and tasted it, and it was clear that he instantly fell in love with the bread. This yellow bread was created by a local baker called Mahmood, who ran a small restaurant at Firangi Mahal for travellers in Chowk. The avid baker named the bread sheermal because of the contents that went into the food- ‘sheer’ means ‘milk’ and ‘mal’ means ‘rich’ denoting the use of saffron in it.

Needless to say, the nawab quickly added sheermal to his favourite menu. Even today many Bawarchis of Lucknow snap off a piece of the dough before baking it, to honour the creation of this robust flatbread.

The legacy of sheermal is still preserved in Lucknow, as Mahmood's head chef who was Ali Hussain, later set up his own modest stall named ‘Mohammadu's Jaanashin' in 1830 which was later changed to ‘Ali Hussain Sheermal’. Presently, this shop is run by the sixth generation of Hussain’s family. The piece de resistance is none other than the sweet aromatic sheermal. Thus, whenever you get the chance of visiting Lucknow, you should surely try this heavenly treat.