The General’s Table – The New Indian Express
Express press service
Reviving and supplying royal cuisine is the common culinary trope these days. Suddenly, home cooks in purani Dilli and the ancient principalities of Rajasthan discover old grandmother’s cookbooks – the more tattered the better – which claim lineages dating back centuries that imply lost traditions and tireless khansamas with an eclectic flair to satisfy discerning royal palates. Many of them have infiltrated the recipes of palaces like Jehan Numa in Bhopal, which dominates the hill of Shyamala.
The palace was a statement built in 1890, a statement of power by General Obaidullah Khan, Commander-in-Chief of Bhopal State Force and second son of Nawab Sultana Jehan Begum. As was common in the confusing but grand colonial era, the palace is a mix of British, Renaissance Italian and Classical Greek styles. While it’s unclear which dishes the current Nawab family prefers, the menu with its Mughal epicurean roots features a 13-course meal at the General’s Table.
Can Obaidullah Khan attest to its authenticity? His great-grandson Faiz Rashid, director of the Jehan Numa hotel group, thinks so. “Authentic homemade flavors, when creatively paired, are a true gastronomic journey.” Bhopal was a rare state once ruled by Begums. The kitchen was not where the leading ladies spent their time, thus leaving the khansamas to develop a trademark style.
Like tenderizing meat and pounding it with a wooden mallet to make Filfora, a luscious, lightly spiced mutton dish that takes – hold your breath – nine whole hours of toil. Chef Jeevan Singh, who runs three restaurants at the hotel, says chefs are trained by kothi khansamas. He explains: “We follow the original techniques and use the same old utensils. The spices are ground by hand according to the original recipe. We use iron, copper and bronze utensils to make the general’s table fare.
Fresh coriander is a key ingredient in all Bhopali sauces. Rezala is green, while its delicious Bengali version is usually white. The area has many freshwater lakes and tarns where lotuses and water lilies grow in profusion. Therefore, soft and firm koftas made from nadru (lotus stem) paired with steamed rice (Rampuri variant) is a unique dish on the menu.
Bhopali cuisine does not resemble the rich cuisine of Lucknowi, although it is impossible for the royal kitchens of the North to completely escape Mughal influence. The change is that royal Bhopali food is low in spice and fat and rich in flavor and aroma.
There is the typical but tasty set of pickles, pasta and papads. The table itself is set in a garden filled with petunias and lit by a hundred candles. Murgh Badam ka Shorba has a characteristic nutty touch. Part of the course is the spicy Dahi ke Kebabs, followed by a coarser and meatier galouti kebab. The chef effortlessly blends aromatic spices with meat. Pairing a piece of sweet Khameeri Roti (fermented flatbread) with Kachumbar Karela yields inspiring results.
The highlight, pun intended, is the traditional pulao yakhni and the delicious murgh makhane ka korma. The desserts served are Shahi Tukda made with freshly baked bread from the on-site bakery, an amber colored chana Dal ka Halwa and the iconic Sheer Khorma. Between Faiz and the kitchen staff, the Table du Général offers a gourmet experience where the feasts of yesteryear are renewed with passion and know-how.
✥Vermicelli: 25 g
✥ Clarified butter: 15 g
✥ A pinch of green cardamom powder
✥Milk: 1 L
✥ Green cardamom (whole): 1-2 pieces
✥Almonds, thinly sliced: 10
✥Pistachios cut into thin strips: 10
✥ Grapes: 10
✥Heat the ghee in a frying pan, brown the vermicelli mixed with the cardamom powder and set aside
✥Heat the milk with the whole cardamom to the boiling point, then bring to a simmer and keep stirring
✥Once the milk has thickened a bit, add the roasted vermicelli. Continue cooking then add the sugar.
✥ Bake another five minutes, let cool
✥ Sprinkle with slivers of nuts and whole raisins and serve