Friday, August 19, 2011

Nimatnama: Recipes from the Royal Kitchen of 15th Century Malwa

After the demise of the imperious Tughlaq dynasty in Delhi, Malwa (roughly corresponding to the central part of the modern Indian state of Madhya Pradesh) saw the rise of its own independent sultanate in the 15th century. In 1469, Ghiyath Shah ascended the throne of Mandu, the capital of Malwa. This heck of man was a bon viveur and eccentric par excellence. As soon as he ascended the throne, he deputed his son, Nasir Shah to run state affairs and promptly busied himself in the pursuit of sensory pleasures and satisfaction. Nimatnama or the Book of Pleasures was the outcome of his unremitting exertions in this direction. The work comprises of recipes of various food and drinks, for preparation of perfumes and essences, as well as for aphrodisiacs and medicines. It also elaborates on the preparation and benefits of betel chewing and provides advice on what to take into battle and instructions concerning hunting expeditions.

The recipes of Nimatnama are detailed and delightfully alluring. Take this one for example:

Another recipe for the method of saffron meat: wash the meat well and, having put sweet-smelling ghee into a cooking pot, put the meat into it. When the ghee is hot, flavour it with saffron, rosewater and camphor. Mix the meat with the saffron to flavour it and when it has become well-marinated, add a quantity of water. Chop cardamoms, cloves, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, cassia, cumin and fenugreek, tie them up in muslin and put them with the meat. Cook almonds, pine kernels, pistachios, and raisins in tamarind syrup and add them to the meat. Put in rosewater, camphor, musk and ambergris and serve it. By the same method cook partridge, quail, chicken and pigeon.

Did you know that they had samosas in the 15th century? Well the Nimatnama provides recipes for several types of samosas. Take this one for example: 

The method for samosas of tender meat of mountain sheep (parbatī) or of deer: mince (the meat) finely (f.3b) and add turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, coriander, cardamom and cloves and mix them together. Flavour sweet-smelling ghee with asafoetida. When the ghee has become well-flavoured, put the mince in it and leave it so that it becomes wellcooked. Add lime juice and pepper and then put in a quarter of a sīr of dried ginger (zanjabīl) and one sīr of chopped onion and remove it. Add one rattī of camphor and one rattī of musk. Prepare a few large samosas and a few small ones the size of one mouthful. Having stuffed them with the mince, fry them in sweet-smelling ghee and, when they are to be eaten, sprinkle them with vinegar or lime juice. Serve them and eat them.

A new mirco-oven at my home and a new-found medieval cook book. Hm, wondering whether I should start putting 2 and 2 together!


  1. I have a question, Pratyay. I know for a fact that the Portuguese have their 'samosa', which they also call 'samosa'. Whats the connection?

    1. Samosa or Sambuseh is a n ancient Persian food.
      You can find it in Iran and Central asia.
      It is one of the first forms of sandwiches.

  2. Hi,do you have a copy of the book with you? Kindly let me know. Ramani swarna(

  3. Just about to purchase this book, So, would you recommend it Monsieur Gallbladder? :-)
    Ujwala S

  4. Az a matter of fact, this is an original Persian foods cook book that was sent for the local ruler in india.
    Samusa or Sambuseh is also an ancient Persian cuisine which was spread all around the world by Persain merchants and Monarchies.