Food in British India: Blissful breakfasts and decadent dinnershttps://indianexpress.com/article/parenting/learning/food-british-india-breakfasts-dinners-5500990/

Food in British India: Blissful breakfasts and decadent dinners

The famous British author Aldous Huxley was stunned by the sheer amount of food that the British were able to pack away. He said, "Five meals a day - two breakfasts, luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner - are standard throughout India. A sixth is often added in the big towns where there are theatres and dances to justify a late supper."

food british india
Devilled kidneys and vegetable jalfrezi (Source: Ewan Munro/Wikimedia Commons, Fatfoodie/Wikimedia Commons)

(This is part of the series Make History Fun Again, where the writers introduce historical facts, events and personalities in a fun way for parents to start a conversation with their kids.)

By Archana Garodia Gupta and Shruti Garodia

As the British gradually took control of India, both military and civilian people came to settle here, and they soon developed a very distinctive Anglo-Indian lifestyle. Much of this centered around food…a lot of it!

Ingredients were cheap and plentiful and servants a dime a dozen, so the average mid-level Britisher serving in India could eat like a king – tables of the Raj became bywords for excess and gluttony!

The famous British author Aldous Huxley was stunned by the sheer amount of food that the British were able to pack away. He said, “Five meals a day – two breakfasts, luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner – are standard throughout India. A sixth is often added in the big towns where there are theatres and dances to justify a late supper.”

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Here is a description of the bewilderingly large meals eaten by the typical sahib.

food toast india british
Baked beans an egg on toast (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Meal #1

Starting early, at 6 am. Chhota Hazri (small breakfast) would be served, with tea and perhaps a piece of fruit.

Meal #2

A few hours later would come the Burra Hazri. This was the enormous breakfast without which no Englishman in Victorian India would even consider starting his day. A selection of “crumbled chops, brain cutlets, beef rissoles, devilled kidneys, whole spatchcocks, duck stews, Irish stews, mutton hashes, brawns of sheep heads and trotters, not to mention an assortment of Indian dishes such as Jhalfrazie, prawn dopiaza, chicken malai and beef Hussaini.

kedgeree food british india
Kedgeree (Source: Justinc/Wikimedia Commons)

Added to this were a number of Anglo-Indian concoctions such as kidney toast Madras style, Madras fritters, and leftover meat minced and refried with ginger and chillies. There was also the ultimate Anglo-Indian breakfast dish of kedgeree, a perennial favourite, even though Indians considered it highly inadvisable to eat fish in the high heat of summer.

Meal #3

A light tiffin lunch at 1 pm would include grilled fowl perhaps, modest in comparison to the enormous Anglo-Indian breakfasts and dinners. A typical lunch would be European style soup, roast meat, pie, cheese, dessert and wine.

Meal #4

Dinner was vast: mulligatawny soup, “an overgrown turkey (the fatter the better)…an enormous ham, at the top of the table an enormous sirloin or round of beef, at the bottom a saddle of mutton, legs of the same, boiled and roasted down the side, together with fowls three in a dish, geese, ducks, tongues, humps, pigeon pies…mutton chops and chicken cutlets, devilled bones and stews and curries of any game the sportsmen amongst them had shot during the day.”

Also Read: The marvels Marco Polo saw in India

Indians adopted many classic dishes of their British masters into their daily life, though more into breakfast and tea, rather than the main meals of lunch and dinner.

Chicken Kiev
Chicken Kiev (Source: Jon Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons)

Sixty years on, the British have long gone, but the exclusive private clubs of Delhi remain the flag-bearers of Raj-era cuisine and continue to serve classic fare like omelettes, scrambled eggs, liver and kidney for breakfast, baked beans on toast, cucumber sandwiches, club sandwiches, cheese balls, curry puffs, cutlets and chops, chicken a la Kiev, chicken stroganoff and trifle pudding and caramel custard.

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(For more fun journeys through India’s history, check out the newly released two-volume set, The History of India for Children Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, published by Hachette India, which is now available online and in bookstores across the country.)