Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Of different book and food

April 27, 2013: This weekend I’ll be Singapore. I landed here early Saturday morning amidst a rainy weather. Last week, Kolkata was very hectic. I went to The Taj Bengal on Wednesday evening thinking that the Sonargaon restaurant would be empty due to the Kolkata Knight Riders vs Mumbai Indians match at the Eden Gardens. Much to my chagrin the place was full.
I had gone there to dine with  few friends and met His Highness Raja Shreeman Vikram Singhji Bahadur, Raja of Sailana. Sailana is a small town located in the Malwa plateau region of Madhya Pradesh 25 km from Ratlam and some 50 km from Rajasthan's Banswara district.
It was indeed nice of him to join me and my friends for dinner. There was a week-long festival at The Taj Bengal for authentic Sailana cuisine - a treasure trove of recipes laced with exotic spices, collected from royal kitchens all over India. The Kingdom of Sailana has been famous for its cactus gardens, hospitality, cuisine and wine, a culinary culture that goes back to over two-and-half centuries.
The authentic flavours of Sailana was brought to life by none other than Maharaja Vikram Singhji of Sailana himself at The Taj Bengal. History has it that the ancestors of Maharaja Vikram Singhji’s family, who used to live in Jodhpur, were in Delhi when the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, was watching his favourite past time - elephant fighting.
It so happened that one of Shah Jahan's favourite tuskers went berserk and attacked the crowd and started moving towards Shah Jahan. Vikram Singhji’s ancestor, Ratan Singh, who was just a lad at that time, jumped on the elephant and took control of it and saved the Emperor from the charging tusker. Shah Jahan was very pleased with the boy and granted him a Riyasat in the Malwa region. Soon after, the family shifted base from Jodhpur.
Connoisseurs of Indian cuisine would know that at the Mumbai Taj hotel"s old Tanjore restaurant used to serve Sailana dal. The recipe was from the Sailana family only.
Cooking Delights of the Maharajas: Exotic Dishes from the Princely House of Sailana by His Highness Raja Shreeman Digvijaya Singhji Bahadur, Raja of Sailana, is one of the most popular cuisine books of India at home and overseas running into its 15th edition. This book was found in the personal library of Saddam Hussein. Maharaja Digvijaya Singhji was the son of His Highness Bharat Dharma Nidhi Raja Shreeman Sir Dilip Singhji Bahadur, Raja of Sailana.
 There are several stories about the ancestors of Vikram Singhji. One is that there was a Master Chef who used to cook puris out of which a live bird would fly out.
The story of how the Sailana cuisine started in again very interesting and goes like this. The forefathers of Vikram Singhji once went to the forest and lost their way. They could not eat anything as none of them could cook. The Maharaja and his guests starved. Maharaja Dilip Singhji there and then took a resolve that he would learn cooking and that was how the Sailana cuisine began.
Soon Maharaja Sir Dilip Singhji (KCIE) became an expert in culinary arts and collected recipes of bygone eras from the Nizam of Hyderabad, Kashmir and Begum of Bhopal; from which emanated the most exotic culinary recipes. He took great pains to translate ancient recipe books from Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian to ensure that these recipes were preserved for posterity.
The only regret of Maharaja Vikram Singhji was that he could not serve hara chana ka halwa because he couldn't get the fresh green chana, the basic ingredient in Kolkata at this time of the year.
ess bee

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