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When the king decides to cook
Jacinta D'Souza | September 10, 2005 16:37 IST
It is a family that has juggled the royal insignia and the ladle with equal ease -- earning them a unique sobriquet of the 'The Cooking Royalty'.
For members of the Royal House of Saliana from Madhya Pradesh, it is not just blue blood that runs through the family but a passion for cooking as well.
"Cooking is an art but cooking for the royal kitchen a well guarded secret", says Maharaja Vikram Singh, the royal scion from Saliana, who is in the midst of completing a book enlisting the recipes from the royal kitchens of yore.
In Bangalore, to launch a 10-day food festival to promote the cuisine of Salian, Singh admits cooking is a passion inherited from his ancestors grandfather Dilip Singh and father Digvijay Singh, erstwhile rulers of Saliana.
Tracing the love for cooking, he said, "My grandfather was gourmet. And his royalty notwithstanding, he entered the kitchen every single day to coax out new recipes from the legendary cooks or to keenly observe them as they whipped up a culinary delight. To him cooking was a passion."
Recounting some hilarious moments, wife Chandrakumari said, "The former ruler of Saliana was keen in laying hands on some exotic recipes but some of the traditional cooks refused to part with the recipe. The shrewd Maharaja came up with a clever idea to get hold of the recipe," she laughs.
"All he did was to weigh each and every ingredient, the cook had asked for on a gold weighing scale. And once the cook had left, he would weigh the remaining spices that were left over and calculate how much had been used. This way he got to root of every secretive recipe.
"Thanks to his ingeneous idea, we have a whole lot of recipes," Chandrakumari chuckles.
"Many of the recipes are closely guarded secrets. Some were not even disclosed to the daughters of the family, lest their in-laws decide to ask them to share their culinary secret, which would mean revealing secret from the family culinary treasure trove," she laughs.
Today, the recipes all meticulously gathered from old family cooks, the erstwhile culinary experts and some which were handed down for generations lay within the confines of the family, except for those which were printed in a book 'The Cooking Delights of Maharajas' printed in 1982, penned by Vikram's father, Digvijay Singh.
Recounting an interesting incident connected with the book, she says, "The book was banned in the Saudi Arabia because it contained two pork dishes. But we were shocked when a news report on a raid on the house of Saddam Hussain revealed copies of the prohibited book."
The recipes, some of which comprise handwritten notes of their ancestors, have been constantly improvised on. "There are many recipes that when I try out for the first time, I ask for a feedback from my family all of whom are passionate food connoisseurs and some expert cooks."
With feedback from all, the dishes are modified and improvised while some have additional features.
"Our characterstic love for cooking has earned us a reputation of the royalty with legendary culinary skills."
"Some of our innovative ingredients including Sandiyal Kaliya, a dish with a dash of sandalwood powder and 'lasan ka kheer' (kheer with garlic), says Chandrakumari.
To Vikram Singh, it is the time consuming process of allowing the spices to marinate and seep into the meat overnight, the herculean task of gently stirring the ladle till the spices blend and waiting for the unmistakbale aroma of a dish to gently overtake the sense--is what makes cooking delightful.
"While cooking for the royalty, the use of LPG and pressure cooker is out. They do not find room in my cooking and interestingly tomatoes never figure in our recipe... I guess that is because they were introduced late in India," he added.
Though Vikram plans to publish 160 recipes in his still untitled book expected to be out by the end of the year, he says few of the recipes are those he would never part with.
"They are closely guarded secrets as precious as our family heirlooms. No one could coax out the recipe of 'Mirchi Ka Salaan' from him," says wife Chandrakumari.