This is probably my last installment of my trip to Murshidabad. The land of nawabs just 4 hours journey from Kolkata and supposedly the mango capital of West Bengal. But, I don’t know why, the culinary delights have never found enough takers in the foodie circle. Apart from mango, the famous chhanabora and rosokodom is found here. But is that all ? After all, Murshidabad is the last capital of Nawabs in Bengal. I am not really a historical blogger and my information may not be perfect, but if history serves me right, traces of nawabi cuisine can still be found here. And my quest started from this pointer …..
But why rose water ?
Use of rose goes back to ancient romans, who used to scent their wine with rose petals. However, a persian scientist, Aviscenna, invented the process for extracting rosse water from rose petals. The distillation technique became popular in the Middle East in the early Middle Ages, and was brought to Europe by the crusaders. The fruits of the rosebush, know as “rose hips”, were harvested, too, and boiled down to make fragrant syrup. At medieval banquets roses were used to perfume the water for hand washing at table. Physicians praised roses for their supposes power to heal eye diseases. Thus, the rose water were used as the traditional medicine in Egypt, Greece, China, and India because of its remarkable healing properties. The most usage of Rose water is in religious ceremonies. It is used in mosques especially at mourning ceremonies, to calm and relax people. (Reference here)
The house of the rose water
Now, once I attended the sheherwali pop-up at Kolkata, they specifically told me that they source the rose water from Murshidabad only. And I was slightly surprised. Why is it so ? what is the damn difference ? After all, rose water is available even at our para shops. And, then Devashis da told me to search for one ittarwala at Nashipur. I was staying near Lalbagh and it was a 10 min toto journey from my hotel. All the Toto owners seemed to know the place and all I needed to tell them that I want to go to the Ittar wala house at Nashipur.
Now, I had made prior appointment with Asif da, the junior brither taking care of the production now. As per him, they are producing and selling this rose water from last two centuries ….. “What the F ??? ” yes, that simply was my reaction. But sitting inside that small room, I couldn’t deny that statement also. Once we started talking, Asif could probably sense that I was not believing his story of producing original rose water. and at that point, he offered us to wash our hands with his rose water. Being a middle class bong, I was slightly hesitant. All I’ve seen throughout my life is preparation of occasional preparation of mughlai dishes with rose and keora water, but frankly, I never really liked that strong smell. But when this gentleman poured it on my hand, the smell was different and very very subtle. And I was feeling fresh. A bottle of their best quality (extreme right sided one in the pic below) cost me 125/- and I found it pretty worth.
But sadly, they don’t produce it here locally anymore and tend to get it done from Balia and other places in UP. A sharp fall in demand may be one of the reasons or the family members getting into other jobs. Whatever maybe the reason, it felt actually bad to see one hidden gem dying slowly.
However, I was continuously asking him one single question … “Asif da, where can we get authentic nawabi biryani in Murshidabad ? No the roadside stuff …” And sadly he couldn’t find one single place. All the famous biryani karigars seem to travel outside and prepare only bulk orders on occasions. But, nagging consistently is one of my strong characteristics. And maybe he got fed up and told us “Let me call you by the evening and see what I can do”. Frankly, I was under the impression that he wanted to get rid of us, but little did we know what lied ahead of us …
By the evening, one phone call and we were invited at his residence over lunch- a biryani lunch ….
We didn’t know him enough and neither did he. But off we set for his place. his elder brother Shaheed Tanveer was home that day. And naturally we had a long chat. But frankly, I was waiting for the biryani. And let me be honest, I had one of the best mutton biryani ever on that day. The women from his family did the cooking and his 3 year old son took to responsibility of keeping us entertained.
The mutton biryani was super subtle- and with no excess use of keora and rose water, The parota was made with rose water and milk and was called as Gulabi Paratha. It was light, soft and flaky. And what came as a chicken champ, is more of a korma (or as we are used to know it). There were two desserts- fruit custard and seviyan, The seviyan was a bit different- sticky and juicy to the core- topped with kheer. But these home cooked dishes were the best that we had and it was like our elder brothers were feeding us- such was the hospitality.
It was an amazing experience.
But having stayed in Murshidabad, I was searching something, some reference on Murshidabadi cuisine. After all, the cuisine is supposed to be a blend of moghlai and bengali gharana. And at that time, somebody introduced me to Fahim saheb, the current nawab of Murshidabad- from the Mirzafar gharana.
A nawabi meeting …
As they say, long gone are those days and with a few phone calls and follow ups, there I was ringing the bell at his place. Fahim ji is a gentleman, a thorough gentleman. And frankly, didn’t get irritated with me poking him with hundreds of my silly questions. As per him, the real history of Mirzafar is never written and history has termed him as a traitor. But as I do not have enough knowledge on that topic, I chose to bend it to food.
Let me be honest here, I venture into a number of different food genres. But, whatever items he was talking about, forget about tasting them, I hardly heard the names – Aam Pulao, Anaras Pulao, Mahi Pulao (fish pulao cooked with steamed fish) etc. In nawabi families, they prefer to call it a pulao, than a biryani. during winters, shabdeg is cooked overnight. It’s basically meat with shalgam. Rogni Roti (mostly made with semolina and finished like a crispy parantha) and Roomali Roti were highly used. Even during winters, Neemus (of malaiyo as we’ve seen in Varanasi) is eaten with Tunki. Now, tunki is a variety of thing crispy bread which is used a crackers with neemus. then over breakfast, there used to be Makhudi (some variation of Firni). Then there is Mitha parantha, where a seven layered parantha is dipped in a thick sugar syrup for 12 hours and finished with dry fruits and saffron.
Let me be honest. I am sure, I couldn’t cover the full murshidabadi cuisine and would love to do it someday. But these lost cuisine or these lost recipes should come out …..
You can check my experience of visiting a mango orchard in Murshidabad here
Bon apetit !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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