In the previous post we were exploring the Heritage stay at the Garden Palace Balasinor in the erstwhile princely state of Balasinor in Gujarat, India.
While the place has its old world charm and the surrounding attractions include a world renowned dinosaur fossil site, the clear winner here is their signature cuisine which is the outcome of the passion and talent of Nawab Salauddin’s mother Begum Farhat Sultana, ably supported by his wife Begum Zeba.
Well what can I say about a cuisine that deserves an entire book of its own. It is not an easy task for me to condense the nuances of their signature Balasinori cuisine as they call it but I will try my best to encapsulate my experience and learning that I gained in the 2 days that I was with them.
And if your appetite has been whetted for more, well then my earlier post tells you very clearly how to get there … so fret not, you know exactly what you have to do 😀
About the Balasinori cuisine –
This is the signature cuisine of the royal family of Balasinor and has been created by Begum Farhat Sultana ji. It can be defined as a blend of Mughlai and the royal houses of Balasinor, Radhanpur, Palanpur, Junaghadh, Bantva and other such princely states with which they had a connection. Added to this, there is also a touch of the Continental.
Using traditional family recipes and tweaking them over the years to make them unique and intricate, this has now gone on to becoming a big hit not just with the family and its guests but across the country where the Begum has conducted her food festivals and shows.
Some of the features of this cuisine are as follows – Fresh herbs and home ground fresh spices are used, packaged masalas or powders are completely shunned and spices like cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are used extensively.
Ghee is the preferred medium of choice for cooking. Ready made processed cream is avoided and they extract their own cream from full fat fresh buffalo milk to infuse richness in the dishes. Earlier they had their own cows and hence the dairy products also were in house.
Some of their signature dishes are so elaborate that they take days to prepare.
They also commendably have adaptations of their cuisine to suit vegetarians and even Jain palates, so that no one will miss out on benefiting from their fare.
About Begum Farhat –
Begum Farhat Sultana is highly talented and passionate about cooking and crafting innovative dishes in her kitchen. She has essayed the main role in putting these recipes together with great care.
She is also good at baking and brings forth some exquisite Swiss rolls, choux pastries and varieties of cakes.
She was also exposed to continental cuisine at the tender age of 7 when she had gone on a 6 month holiday to Europe, complete with her entourage.
When the palace was first opened as a heritage stay, she also started an al fresco restaurant on the lawns called Bageecha, which commendably served pure vegetarian food and was a big hit among the locals who flocked to dine there.
She has many TV shows to her name and has also conducted several successful food festivals across India.
The Govt of Gujarat, Dept of tourism promoted her talent and organized a grand food festival at Chola Sheraton, Chennai, called the Begum’s Bounty. A similar festival was conducted at The Park, Kolkata.
She has also curated a sit down formal dinner of 40 members in the Belgian Embassy, New Delhi and a 7 day food festival at the Renaissance Ahmedabad, to name a few.
She has been a consultant to the ITC Welcome Heritage group in Ahmedabad and has catered for all their high end events.
She also received a lot of media coverage over the years. Farzana Contractor from Upper Crust magazine did a series on her ‘Shahi breakfast’
She hosted and appeared on many national TV shows. She was featured on Zaike ka safar on Zee TV, the Tara Gujarati channel owned by Mallika Sarabhai and also had 15 exclusive episodes on the DD Urdu channel on a show called Shahi Dastarkhwan where she demonstrated dishes from various royal cuisines of India.
She has also cooked with celebrity chefs Ranveer Brar and Gautham Maharshi who stayed as her guests at the Garden Palace.
Begum Zeba and Nawab Salauddin –
Zeba has married into the family 5 years ago and shares the same passion for cooking as her mother in law. She too has brought in touches of Karnataka from where she hails. Both the Begum and Nawab are also excellent cooks as well as experts at baking and they can produce delightful cakes and pastries.
The Nawab has also conferred names on many of the dishes and regal sounding ones at that 😀
Due to Begum Farhat’s ill health, Zeba spent time with me, explaining the various dishes and nuances of the cuisine.
Dining options –
The place offers a regular option or Shahi (a high end royal) fare at all meals. Shahi meals are to be preordered.
A regular breakfast is usually made of dishes like Alu paratha, varieties of Poha (beaten rice), Upma, Idli, Dosa, and other such standard Indian fare, along with cereal, bread, fruit and the usual accompaniments.
Shahi breakfasts have options of elaborate dishes like Khagina -eggs cooked on a bed of onions, Lasaniya kheema – a winter dish of Lamb mince cooked in a profusion of green garlic, Paya soup – lamb trotter broth, Khichdi – a semi solid rice and lentil dish, Hareera – an energy drink made of wheat flour, almonds, milk and spices, Cold badam milk – milk infused with almond paste, Gurda Kaleji fry – kidney and liver, signature Balasinori parathas – crispy, flaky flatbreads made with a lot of ghee and also eggs to order with Continental options too, like Eggs Benedict and French toast.
The Shahi breakfast is popular among bikers who visit them to load up on high energy foods before a trip.
Regular lunches and dinners also have a standard structure whereas the Shahi variants have to be pre ordered.
Basically, the possibilities are endless and one can have customized meals which include options like child friendly food. In winters, Barbeques are also organized on request.
My dining experience –
I was graciously accompanied at every meal by the Nawab and Begum Zeba and at my first dinner I had the honor of Begum Farhat’s company too. On subsequent days, she did not join us due to ill health and I unfortunately could not spend more time with her.
While their cuisine could fill a book, the number of dishes that I was served in a short span of 2 days itself could contribute to several chapters 😀
There were also many dishes that I was told about like the Nargil chutney kabab which is an complex dish of boiled egg coated with multiple layers of coconut chutney interspersed with mince and finally deep fried and added to gravy. This a variation of the Nargisi kofta but with their twist of coconut. I do not eat egg and hence this was not made for me.
The Begums personally cook some of the meals but they also have an extremely talented cook who is in his early 20’s who imbibed the love for cooking right from childhood where he hung around the kitchen with his mother who was a cook there. Today it is astounding to see him expertly producing several dishes on demand. I was served a mind blowing 28 dishes during my 4 meals and it seemed like they effortlessly kept churning them out of their kitchen, despite each item being a unique and laboriously crafted expression of skill.
We have heard of eating with our eyes before we taste with our tongue but this was also a case of eating with my ears (apart from eating upto my ears of course :-D) and as each name was called out to me, I felt as if I was in a performance hall listening to mellifluous Urdu poetry, as a Raitha e mauz, a Kofta dilruba, a Hariyali ki nazakat, a Lizzat e guzah and a Seviyan Shahjahani paraded liltingly in front of my astonished eyes and delighted ears. Of course the palate was enthralled too and so was the camera.
It was a crime to shoot such exquisite fare in the artificial light of the night but fortunately I managed some daylight clicks though I did not have time to individually set up each dish with the deference that it deserved. However, it would have been unpardonable to accord no styling to the Zarda e Jamiat and this was one dish that I shot to satisfaction. And as you can see, Begum Zeba literally had a hand in it 😀
Given below, is a list of the dishes that were prepared for me. You can vicariously enjoy this spread for now, until you eventually visit them yourself … and if you are a lover of good food, visit you will for sure.
Kabab Akalbaksh – chicken breast marinated and filled with cream, fresh spices and walnuts cooked in creamy gravy. Walnuts that are said to be good for the Akal (intelligence) 😀
Biryani e Balasinor – mildly spiced Biryani prepared with freshly ground spices.
Hare masaley ka murg – chicken in green masala
Gote ka pulao – a rice preparation for vegetarians prepared in layers of rice and fried onions mixed with curd and Gotas (popular bhajiyas in Gujarat)
Motiya pulao – a rice preparation made with in layers of rice and fried onion mixed with curd and fried chicken or mutton koftas.
Dahiwali bhindi – fried bhindi (Lady finger) filled with spices and mixed with curd and cooked.
Lasania kheema – mutton kheema cooked with lot of green garlic on it and topped with fried egg and lot of ghee. It is a winter dish and was prepared specially for breakfast during winters in olden times.
Murg ke samose – Samose made of chicken kheema with herbs and spices.
Shami kabab e Balasinor – Melt in the mouth authentic recipe of the royal house of Balasinor. Mutton mince kebabs with fresh herbs and spices and rare filling of dry fruits and egg.
Dahi ke kabab – kebab made of hung curd and cottage cheese with fresh herbs.
Gurda kaleji fry – Kidney and liver fry, a unique recipe to suit the palette of Indians and foreigners.
Gurwali mirchi – A side dish preparation made with moti Mirchi (big chilllies) filled with jaggery and cooked.
Dahiwale alu – delectable potatoes cooked in curd with very mild flavors.
Gajar ka achaar – Freshly made pickle of carrot with seasoning and mild flavors specially made in winters. It is a wonderful combination of spices with the sweet taste of carrot.
Balasinori parathey – Crisp flaky Indian bread made in Balasinori styl. Prepared in ghee and served at breakfast.
Hariyali ki nazakat – healthy vegetarian preparation with all green leafy vegetables and almost no spices.
Kofta Dilruba – A vegetarian dish in which koftas are made of spinach and gram flour filled with cottage cheese and are cooked in tomato gravy.
Radhanpuri korma – mutton recipe from Royal house of Radhanpur as the Balasinor and Radhanpur Nawabsaheb were brothers.
Sookha ghosht – mutton recipe which was made with shikar ka gosht (game meat) in olden times. Prepared with freshly ground spices.
Murg e Kalandari – rich chicken preparation in curd and cream with mild spices.
Lizzat e guzah – mutton kebabs made with fresh herbs and spices in freshly made sauce with mild flavors and spices.
Badshahi dal – Dal preparation seasoned with unique blend of spices and onions.
Char dal Palanpuri – Dal preparation made of four different lentils and seasoned with various spices. Named after the royal house of Palanpur, as the Begum Saheba belongs to royal family of Palanpur.
Balasinori roast – Authentic recipe from the royal house of Balasinor. Mutton recipe made of mutton steak cooked in sauce seasoned with fresh herbs and spices with some sauteed veggies and baby potatoes. In olden times this recipe was made with shikar ka gosht (game meat).
Murg safeda pulao – Rice preparation with Chicken leg pieces and mild flavors of spices.
Kheema gatta badam korma – unique recipe of mutton mince gatte (popular rajasthani dish made of gramflour) in almond gravy.
If their savory items were so rich then you can imagine the Desserts 😀
Queen’s pudding – a crisp bread pudding like no other
Zarda e Jamiat – very authentic dessert named after the late Nawabsaheb Jamiyat Khanji of Balasinor. Made of grated potatoes cooked in sugar syrup.
Badaami kheer – authentic dessert made of almonds and milk. A royal treat to taste.
Seviyan Shahjahani – dessert preparation made of vermicelli in a royal style.
Chawal ka Zarda – local Balasinor dessert made of rice cooked in sugar syrup prepared in all the weddings, but in the royal house of Balasinor this dessert has an added royal touch of lot of almonds and saffron.
Motiya Kheer – dessert preparation made of milk, sago and bottle gourd.
Shahi phirni – rice pudding with saffron strands and dry fruits.
Is your head spinning after reading this ? Well mine certainly was 😀 and I was not be able to pick favorites because every dish was exquisite.
So many things were new to me like the jaggery stuffed chillies, the dahiwale alu, the kheema gatta and of course the zarda e Jamiat.
The Gurwali mirchi was an unusual item, with the large variety of chillies stuffed with jaggery and sauteed.
The Zarda e Jamiat popularly gives rise to a guessing game at the Nawab’s table and I too joined the ranks of the many guests who have failed at recognizing the main ingredient in this unique halwa.
Made of finely grated potatoes cooked in sugar syrup to absolute al dente precision, this is a recipe that has been tweaked by the Begum and named by Nawab Salauddin, after his grandfather Nawab Jamiat, who loved the dish.
While nowadays the potatoes are grated, in olden times they used to be finely shredded with a needle that was dipped into water infused with silver vark. Several hands would work for hours and perform this meticulous activity and the outcome was this delicate sweet, with each shred lying distinct and yet creating a cohesive and exquisite product.
Well this is a favorite quiz for new guests at the palace but because of me, you people now have an unfair advantage when you visit 😀
And sssh do not tell them that I told you!!!
For more details about the Garden Palace Balasinor, please refer to the earlier post.
Please Note – This trip was made in collaboration with Garden Palace Balasinor. The narrative is based on the inputs that I received from various sources as well as my own experiences.
This itinerary was specially curated hence some of the features might have been personalized accordingly. Before booking, please check the facilities offered in your package.
Sep 23rd – 25th, 2019