Mughals gave fish cutlets to the world


If we look at the international cuisine scenario, it'll hurt us a bit to know that very few preparations are completely Indian, I mean originated on the sub-continent. Fish, which's actually a sub-continental delicacy, was (re)discovered by the Mughals and Muslim dynasties. Fish cutlets, made of Bhetki  in Bengal and Assam, Salmon and Haddock (UK), were prepared by the Mughals. Zahiruddin Babar, the first Mughal emperor, was extremely fond of fish and despite being a full-blooded Central Asian, Babar could never relish beef and lamb. In his Turkish autobiography, Tuzuk-e-Babri, he wrote that after coming to the sub-continent, the only thing he fell in love with, was fish. He was surprised to see the ample availability of all kinds of fish. Babar was very fond of sagiv (Turkish name for Labio Rohita  or plain Rohu). Moreover, he suffered from chronic stomach upset and his court physician Muhaffiz Rabiz advised him to abstain from eating hard meat. Being extremely close to Babar, Muhaffiz was also Babar's cook (Persian word bawarchi:  Bawar=trust, Chi=endowed and entrusted with). In those treacherous times, only those who were very trustworthy and honest, could become cooks in the courts of kings and emperors. Muhaffiz didn't eat meat and he experimented with fresh water fish in Lahore and found it to be very light on stomach. Since fish bones are real dampeners and a peculiar smell of all fish can put off even non-vegetarians, he pounded fish to crush its bones. He also devised something else to get rid of the bones of fish. Though alcohol is prohibited in Islam, the slightly fermented grape juice can be had. It's crude wine that de-bones! People in Iranian villages still use fermented grape juice to de-bone a fish. The de-boned light flesh of fish was deep-fried with the albumen (white of an egg) and served. Babar liked it very much because it didn't have that typical fishy smell and the white of an egg made it all the more smooth. He advised Muhaffiz to make it smoother. Muhaffiz added a teaspoonful of lime juice. It tasted crispier and very tasty. It's worthwhile to state that a teaspoonful of lime juice, while cooking fish, helps retain its whiteness and makes it tangier. This was the beginning of fish cutlet not only on the sub-continent, but in the world. Now Babar became very fond of fish and there has never been a dearth of fish on the sub-continent. Babar told Muhaffiz to hire specialist anglers to catch big fish for him. Nepal's Mahsher, now almost extinct, was first cooked and fully roasted on the cinders in Mughal kitchens. Napali Mahsher is the only fish which doesn't have that off-putting fishy smell. Babar called it the king and queen of fish. It was the roasted fried Mahsher that was Babar's favourite dish. One must mention Babar's fondness for bigger varieties of fish and he never liked tiny fish. Bigger a fish, tastier it is. It's said of Rohu and prawn (though not a fish, but a crustacean) that they taste the best when they grow to their full size. On page 42 of the original Tuzuk-e-Babri, Babar calls fish an aphrodisiac (ehraam-abzid in Uzbeki; Babar mainly wrote in his mother tongue Uzbeki, a sub-dialect of Turkish) but while translating it into Persian (Babar knew no Persian), Abdul Rahim Khankhanan just deleted it. He must have been a prude like today's Indians, who can see explicit images on the internet, but feel squeamish to watch the full monty on the big screen.           


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