Much earlier than Heston Blumenthal’s mad experiments with multisensory eating, or modernist chefs taking part with perfumers and “heady scent composers” like Christophe Laudamiel (who appears at perfumes as sculptures and has composed scents for an entire opera, amongst other things), Indian cuisines recognized the importance of scent within the way we flavour our meals.
Perfumery in foods has been a part of many of India’s courtly cuisines — from Awadh to Marwar and Delhi to Hyderabad — though today the scent of that way of life seems to have emerged as just a whiff. From qormas and kebabs to bread, rice and desserts, dishes cooked with sophistication using chefs patronized by way of the elite have been extraordinary, now not just due to better components or subtle cooking however additionally because of the manner they were perfumed.
In fact, perfumery becomes one of the key approaches in which a rich guy’s meals differed from dishes cooked for the hundreds— which is why most road meals dishes do not deploy perfume quite the equal manner as elegantly cooked domestic-fashion dishes.
Natural substances such as the distillate of flowers, of roots and culmination and woods like sandal and oud, have been used to feature top notes whilst completing those dishes.
It or attar was a subculture in India since the Mughals reputedly popularised their production and use, motivated by Central Asian traditions of perfumery with flora. Empress Nur Jahan is supposed to have bathed in rose water and Jahanara Begum, emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter, apparently spiked her Shirazi wine with rose water.
It became a way to this patronage of perfumery that Kannauj, the metropolis along the Ganga, has become India’s attar capital, in which each family continues to be engaged in one way or the opposite in the enterprise. Like Persian, Turkish and Egyptian traditions, Indian attars are oil-based, where the essences of plant life and woods have distilled the usage of sandalwood oil as a base. The western subculture makes use of alcohol as a base.
Many of these perfumes were food grade and used with precision with the aid of master chefs cooking Mughlai or later Awadhi meals. In fact, how masterfully a dish was cooked could — and still is — be judged with the aid of just the whiff of the meetha it or kewra (screwpine) essence wafting from, say, a dish of the biryani.
Too a good deal fragrance and the chef should drown out its subdued spicing and different flavours — after all, the prevalence of biryani is equally decided via the smell of the rice (Dehradun basmati inside the Awadhi version). However, a super Awadhi biryani or qorma can nonetheless draw you in using its pinnacle floral notes used with restraint.
“The concept at the back of the usage of these fragrances become now not just because they may be fascinating however also because, in keeping with Unani medication, these substances had been idea to be cooling digestives. Food perfumed with those become part of the Nawabi etiquette to attend to bodily odours,” says chef Ghulam Quereshi of Dumpukht, the posh eating place serving a slice of vintage Lucknow.
Meet it, literally “sweet perfume”, remains a thriller no matter its use in Awadhi, vintage Delhi, and Kolkata-style Mughlai cuisines. Most cooks will display you tiny vials of it retailed from a handful of old perfumeries.
But what precisely is it? Chef Quereshi says it changed into historically made of the distillate of flora amassed from bazaars of Sufi saints. Every bazaar had a pit wherein plant life have been gathered, dried and later their essence turned into distilled.
If orange blossom water is a primary aromatic in Turkish and Moroccan cuisines, rose water and rose rou (essence distilled sandalwood oil) has been key to sophisticated flavours in Indian gastronomy.
From cakes like gulab jamun and phirni or kheer to recreation meats, partridge and quail to bread sprinkled with rose water and post-prandial paan, roses have traditionally perfumed lots of our meals.
In truth, in Kannauj, one in every of the most important shoppers of attars changed into the food enterprise and gutka makers. This is at the wane nowadays because natural Gulab rou charges upwards of Rs 12 lakh according to a litre and the fee of sandalwood oil itself has gone up manifold.