Much earlier than Heston Blumenthal’s mad experiments with multisensory dining or modernist chefs taking part with perfumers and “scent composers” like Christophe Laudamiel (who appears in perfumes as sculptures and has composed scents for a whole opera, amongst different things), Indian cuisines recognized the significance of smell inside the manner we taste our food. Perfumery in meals has been a part of lots of India’s courtly cuisines — from Awadh to Marwar and Delhi to Hyderabad — although nowadays, 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 through cooks patronized with the elite’s aid were extraordinary, not simply due to higher ingredients or subtle cooking but also because of how they were perfumed. In truth, perfumery becomes one of the key ways a wealthy man’s food differs from dishes cooked for the masses— which is why most avenue food dishes no longer install perfume pretty the same way as elegantly cooked domestic-fashion dishes.
Natural elements such as the distillate of flora, roots, and culmination, and woods like sandal and oud were used to feature pinnacle notes while completing those dishes.
It or attar was a culture in India because the Mughals seemingly popularised their manufacturing and used, influenced by using Central Asian traditions of perfumery with plants. Empress Nur Jahan is meant to have bathed in rose water, and Jahanara Begum, Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter, seemingly spiked her Shirazi wine with rose water.
Thanks to this patronage of perfumery, Kannauj, the city alongside the Ganga, became India’s attar capital. Every circle of relatives continues to be engaged in one way or the other within the business. Like Persian, Turkish, and Egyptian traditions, Indian attars are oil-primarily based, wherein the essences of flowers and woods have distilled the use of sandalwood oil as a base. The Western lifestyle makes use of alcohol as a base.
Many of these perfumes had been food grade and used with precision via grasp chefs cooking Mughlai or, later, Awadhi meals. In reality, how masterfully a dish turned into cooked should — and nevertheless is — be judged via just the whiff of the meetha it or kewra (screwpine) essence wafting from, say, a dish of the biryani.
Too plenty of perfume, and the chef could drown out its subdued spicing and different flavors. After all, the superiority of biryani is equally determined by the rice’s scent (Dehradun basmati in the Awadhi version). However, an excellent Awadhi biryani or qorma can draw you in using its top floral notes used with restraint.
“The concept in the back of the usage of these fragrances turned into now not simply because they may be alluring, but additionally due to the fact in keeping with Unani remedy, these ingredients were an idea to be cooling digestives. Food perfumed with these became a part of the Nawabi etiquette to attend to physical odors,” says chef Ghulam Quereshi of Dumpukht, the luxury restaurant serving a slice of old Lucknow.
Meetha, literally “sweet fragrance,” stays a mystery despite its use in Awadhi, antique Delhi, and Kolkata-fashion Mughlai cuisines. Most cooks will show you tiny vials of it retailed from a handful of antique perfumeries.
But what precisely is it? Chef Quereshi says it was historically made from a distillate of vegetation accrued from bazaars of Sufi saints. Every bazaar had a pit where plants had been amassed, dried, and later their essence turned distilled.
Suppose orange blossom water is a first-rate aromatic in Turkish and Moroccan cuisines. In that case, rose water and rose rou (essence distilled sandalwood oil) have been key to state-of-the-art flavors of Indian gastronomy. From desserts like gulab jamun and phirni or kheer to game meats, partridge, and quail to bread sprinkled with rose water and publish-prandial paan, roses have historically perfumed lots of our ingredients. Kannauj, considered one of the largest buyers of attars, changed into the food industry and gutka makers. This is on the wane, considering that natural Gulab rou charges upwards of Rs 12 lakh according to a liter, and the cost of sandalwood oil itself has long passed up manifold.