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Khichuri, Mach Bhaja, and the Queen of England

Khichuri, Mach Bhaja, and the Queen of England

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Khichuri, Ilish Mach Bhaja and The flag of England

This is a story of Khichuri which is one of the popular breakfast dishes in the Buckingham Palace. Somashis Gupta narrates how this simple dish is transformed as a gourmet dish.

British monarch Queen Elizabeth passed away on the 8th of September. Since then the social media trend is #Kohinoor. So what is this Kohinoor? Well the crown of the Queen mother has 2800 precious stones, one of which is Kohinoor a 105- carat oval shaped diamond. It is the proverbial jewel of the crown.

This stone has its own history. Mined sometime between 12th to 14th centuries, this jewel, travelled from one king to another. It went from the Kakatiyan dynasty to the Mughals, to the Persians, to the Afghans and then to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. Ironically the Kohinoor passed hands again, this time to the Queen of England as a gift from the East India Company who took control of Punjab after the death of Ranjit Singh. Since then this piece of Jewel is the pride possession of the British crown.

But that is different story. Today’s story is all  about Khichuri, Mach Bhaja and the British royal family. Confused? Well do you know that one of the most popular food which is served as breakfast at the Buckingham palace is Khichuri? You don’t believe me? Than listen to what Darren Mc Grady the retired Chef of the Royal Family says.

Okay, now that I have got your credence, let me share with you the riveting story of khichuri and its travel across the borders and boundaries all the way to England.

Honestly the research I did to write this article, made my brain go round. The earliest recorded document on Khichuri is by the Greek Ambassador Seleucus Nicator (ca. 358 BC – 281 BC). Then there is the French traveler Jean Baptiste Taverneir who came to India six times during 1640-1685. He mentions this dish as a popular meal in South Asia in his writings. But the best I found was on a 16th century document Ain-i-Akbari by Abu’l Fazl Ibn Mubarak which gives 7 different variations of the dish during the Mughal rule.

But for us Bongs, Khichuri is synonymous to writing love letters. Bhoger Khichuri, Bhuna Khichuri, Mangsher Khichuri, Bristir diner Khichuri, Mushuri Daler Khichuri the list goes on. We Bengalis have managed to make Khichuri a celebrity food by turning it into a delicacy. For us it is a gourmet food and a must-have dish on a romantic rainy day!

That brings me back to our story of the Queen and her Khichuri. It was the 23rd day of June 1757. A joint conspiracy of Jagath Seth, Raja Krishnachandra, Mir Jafar, Ghaseti Begam and a few more led to the death of Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah the last free ruler of Bengal. The British colonel Robert Clive suddenly found himself as the master of Bengal, the province which was one of the richest places in the world during those times.

So astounding was his fortune that Clive attributed it to providence and sought to give thanks to the Lord. But there were no churches around, so Nabakrishna Deb, a Zamindar and Clive’s Persian interpreter, invited Clive to offer thanks to Maa Durga during the okal bodhon.

Nabakrishna ensured a grand celebration for Clive. A resplendent pujo was organized to celebrate the British conquest of Bengal. Amongst other dishes, the feast included the famous Khichuri and Ilish Mach Bhaja which was offered to the guest.

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Titli enjoying the food with her friends

Robert Clive was so impressed with this dish that he instructed his cooks to learn the recipe. When he went back to England in 1767, Khichuri traveled with him. Thus this comfort food from Bengal travelled all across the oceans and reached England.

But then the problem starts. The swadeshi Ilish refused to lay eggs in firingi England. By this time the fame of Khichuri reached the Royal Family. They instructed their chefs to prepare this dish. But Khichuri without Ilish Mach Bhaja is like a Vegetarian Biryani which is as good as garbage.  So the cooks looked for alternatives. Finally after a series of experimentation they found Haddock. No, not captain Haddock, but the fish Haddock from the Atlantic.

They shallow fried it, they deep fried it, they roasted it but nothing seemed to fit in. Finally they smoked it and then poached it in milk and cream. That is how Kedgree the British version of Khichuri was born. From that day till today Kedgree remains as one of the most preferred food in the palace. So this was the story of Khichuri travelling boundaries to be a part of Royal Kitchen. So join me in saying….

Long live the Khichuri.

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