Bhopal’s food culture is an interesting smorgasbord of choices inspired from its chequered past that will leave you asking for more.
While Indian royalty is most often associated with kings and their valour, Bhopal is a little different. Well, after all, this place always had the Begums who used to look after administration and the Nawabs who generally helped them with it. As such the Begums never had the chance to spend time in the kitchen preparing dishes for Nawabs. “So the khansamas or the cooks of the house were the one who kept on experimenting and preparing new dishes for Nawabs whether they were in palace or in jungle hunting for games. The cooks generally used to prepare the food from the game hunted by the Nawabs, using the local ingredient available in abundance in and around the area and preparing it specially for Nawabs at palace or the entire army whenever they used to go out hunting. Apart from Hyderabad and Lucknow, Bhopal is the only city, I think, where you can find Mughalai influence in the cuisine,” says Siddharth Birendra, Executive Chef, Jehan Numa Retreat. As the Nawabs were more interested in hunting and eating, so the khansamas job was to serve the Nawabs with some delicacies which were to be considered as the masterpiece of those cooks!
Due to the large number of Hindus and Muslims living in Bhopal, the cuisine is greatly influenced by both the communities. The cuisine of Bhopal includes delicious vegetarian options like soya kheema methi made with soya granules and methi leaves along with exotic and rich non-vegetarian dishes too. Some of the most well-liked dishes you can enjoy in Bhopal include the Achar Gosht, a lamb cooked with pickled Indian spices, Bhopali Rizzala, a chicken cooked with generous amount of fresh coriander and poppy seed and Bafla a wheat cake made of refined flour or Maida and is dunked in a lot of ghee. It is an ideal dish to take along with a bowl of dal with a thick consistency. Kormas or wet gravies are made with meat and vegetables and Bhutte ki Kees are popular dishes. Bhutta means “corn” and kees means “grated”, this a special preparation where corn is grated and cooked with milk and spices. “As far as using unique ingredients is concerned, Bhopal does not have many secrets to unveil. The ingredients used here are basically the one which are grown or found in the adjoining areas. Bhopal’s land is conducive to grow green vegetables and so the abundance of fresh herbs like coriander and mint can be seen being used in the foods. The adjoining areas have a good growth of Chironji (Charoli) and these are used for kormas,” says Siddharth.
The cuisine of Bhopal works on the perfect balance between the flavour, aroma and texture of the food. The food here is not very spicy, the spices are cooked thoroughly over a low or medium heat, and the food gets its flavour from the spices being used rather than adding some artificial agents to it. To add to this, there is a touch of royalty to the cuisine which gives it a nice creamy, rich taste. Vinita Rashinkar who handles international PR for Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board avers, “my frequent visits to Bhopal on work have made me an ardent fan of the varied culinary offerings of this beautiful city. My all-time favourite is the simple Poha Jalebi combination which is available practically on every street. I also religiously make a trip to Manohar Dairy. The namkeen, chats and especially their shikanji (a creamy rich drink filled with dry fruits and nuts) are all stuff that stay in your mind long after the visit. Another memorable meal was at the Rail Restaurant. Their Malwa and Mughlai inspired dishes are indeed a gastronomic delight. Bhopali food to me encapsulates the genuine fondness people have for the simple pleasures of life and is a measure of the warmth and hospitality I always feel when I am visiting.” Harday Gupta, a PR professsional based in Noida who belongs to Bhopal recollects his childhood memories of spicy street food he ate with his mother and sister. “In old Bhopal’s Sarafa market, the food street comes alive post 8:30 p.m. and is the best place for some great vegetarian fare. The rabdi jalebi at Mamaji ki rabdi jalebi is so good you can actually eat half a kilo of it. Also Guptaji ki Chaat makes some of the best spicy sprouts and my personal favourite is Garadu. While this originated in Indore, it is commonly eaten in Bhopal and is a deep fried yam served with green chutney, garlic chutney and spices. You must try the usal poha and sabudana kichidi here.” For non-vegetarians, Chatori Gali is the place to head to for mutton seekh kebabs, fried fish and more. Bhopali cuisine is a melange of cultures and its food is much like its people – full of life and bursting with flavours.
Chef Siddharth Birendra shares two recipes that are intrinsic to the cuisine of Bhopal.
Bhutte Ka Kees (this is a popular as well as delicious street food snack from Indore)
- 3 medium to large corn cobs – desi corn or sweet corn (bhutta or makai)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds (rai)
- ½ teaspoon cumin seeds (jeera)
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger (adrak)
- 1 green chili – chopped
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder (haldi)
- ¼ teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder – OPTIONAL
- ¼ teaspoon coriander powder (dhania powder) – OPTIONAL
- 1 pinch of asafoetida (hing)
- ½ cup milk – instead of milk, ½ cup water can be added
- Salt as required
- Some grated fresh coconut
- Some chopped coriander leaves
- Lemon juice as required
- Remove the husks from 3 large to medium sized corn cobs.
- Now using a grater, grate the corn kernels. You can also slice off the corn kernels with a knife and then coarsely grind them in a mixie or grinder.
- Keep the grated corn kernels aside. Some corn milk will also be there with the grated corn.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a kadai or pan. Keep the flame to a low and add ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds and let them crackle.
- Then add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds and let them crackle.
- Then add 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger, 1 green chili (chopped) and 4 to 5 curry leaves (chopped). You can also skip curry leaves if you do not have them. Mix well.
- Next add ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, ¼ teaspoon kashmiri red chili powder (optional) and a pinch of asafoetida. You can also add ¼ teaspoon coriander powder if you want.
- Mix again very well. Make sure that the spice powders do not get burnt, so keep the flame to a low.
- Then add the grated corn along with its milk.
- Mix very well and begin to sauté the corn mixture on a low flame for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Then add ½ cup milk. you can also add ½ cup water instead of milk.
- Mix very well.
- Season with salt as per taste. mix again.
- Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 10 to 11 minutes till the corn mixture thickens and becomes slightly dry.
- In between after 3 to 4 minutes, do check the corn mixture and give a stir. Cover and simmer again.
- Now spoon the hot bhutte ka kees in serving bowls.
- Top with some grated coconut.
- Then add some chopped coriander leaves. drizzle some lemon juice and serve hot. You can also accompany some lemon slices if you want.
- Serve bhutte ka kees immediately.
- Chicken ½ Kg
- Lemons 2
- Green chilies 6
- Onions 4 Paste
- Ginger Garlic Paste 1 tsp
- Yogurt ½ cup
- Turmeric powder 1 tsp
- Chopped coriander leaves 1 cup
- Poppy seed paste 2 tbsp
- Garam Masala powder 1 tsp
- Salt to taste
- Wash and keep the chicken aside, whisk the yoghurt and keep aside, make a paste of onion and keep aside.
- In a kadhai, heat refined oil, dilute the turmeric powder in 2 tbsp of water and add it to the heated oil and sauté for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Then add onion paste to it and sauté till onion starts leaving the oil from the side.
- Then add ginger garlic paste and sauté for another 4 – 5 minutes and then add yoghurt to it. Cook till the masala is cooked.
- Add chopped coriander leaf and cook for another 10 minutes in slow flame till the coriander starts wilting.
- Then add chicken to it and cook till the chicken is about ¾th done.
- Add poppy seed paste and season as per your taste, let it cook for another 5 – 7 minutes.
- Finish off with lemon juice and garam masala powder.
This story first appeared in The Tribune dated 2nd Sep 2018 here: