Tickle the colonial palate  

The chefs aboard Indian trains during British colonial period cooked up some interesting recipes that are popular even now.

Published: 29th January 2022 07:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th January 2022 07:35 AM   |  A+A-

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By Express News Service

HYDERABAD: The Englishmen are now long gone! But, they left a lasting impression on our lifestyle and cuisine albeit more evident in North India and West Bengal than in the rest of the country. Unless we pause and think about it, these subtle nuances can easily be passed on as Indian traditions.

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about the British colonial period is the railways. The chefs aboard Indian trains cooked up some interesting recipes that are popular even now. Railway mutton curry, a mellowed version of the Bengali Kosha Mangsho (mutton roast), was born in the first-class dining car of a long-distance train.

The story goes like this: A British officer once visited the pantry car after the service had closed and the chefs had retired to have their meal — Kosha Mangsho and some rolls. He insisted on having the same, and the original dish being too spicy, had to be toned down using curd. Thus, a new dish was born. Pale orange tomato soups, beet-red cutlets and bread omelettes are some of the present-day British inspired snacks that one can still enjoy on train rides.

The Dak Bungalows were built in the 1800s as rest houses for the constantly touring British officials to break their journey and rest overnight. As the officers usually arrived unannounced, it was up to the khansama to whip up something with the available ingredients.

On most occasions, it was something made with chicken, fowl, milk or eggs, as these were the only available ingredients at short notice. They made the same recipes throughout the year, especially the custard. So, the officers jokingly nicknamed the dessert, Rs 365’. It was only when the wives of the officers started accompanying them on their journeys, that the caretakers were trained to cook to their liking. Delicacies like Dak Bungalow Mutton/Chicken Curry, Country Captain Chicken Curry and Rose Caramel Custard were born. The Dak cuisine is long forgotten, but its traces remain in present day Anglo-Indian cuisine.

Tiffin, a novelty to the Indian culture, is borrowed from ‘tiffing’ — an obsolete English vernacular, meaning to drink or snack in between meals. It is a long-established practice in South India to have a light meal or snack late in the afternoon , as it coincided with the teatime tradition of the English. 
Another major contribution of the British is the ‘Gentlemen’s Club’, built as a getaway for the higher English officials. The Bengal Club in Kolkata, the Madras Club in Chennai and the Byculla Club in Mumbai are standing legacies of the British Empire. The clubs’ kitchen is prized for its masala omelettes, club sandwiches, roast chicken, mulligatawny soup and a wide variety of alcohol — whiskey, soda, beer and gin. 

(Vishal Fernandes is a business traveller and a widely recognised luxury lifestyle blogger)


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