In those days the best food was considered to be that which appeared light and delicate but was in fact heavy and not easily digestible. People with old-fashioned taste still have a penchant for this sort of food but today it is not generally popular.
A special art was to produce one particular substance in several different guises. When placed on the table it looked as if there were scores of different kinds of delicacies, but when one tasted them, one found they were all the same.
For instance, I have heard that a Prince Mirza Asman Qadar, the son of Mirza Khurram Bakht of Delhi, who came to Lucknow and became a Shia, was invited to dine by [the ruler of Lucknow] Wajid Ali Shah. Murabba, a conserve, was put on the dastar khwan which looked very light, tasty and delicious. When Asman Qadar tasted it he became intrigued because it was not a conserve at all but a qaurma, a meat curry, which the chef had made to look exactly like a conserve. He felt embarrassed and Wajid Ali Shah was extremely pleased at having been able to trick an honoured Delhi connoisseur.
A few days later, Mirza Asman Qadar invited Wajid Ali Shah to a meal. Wajid Ali Shah anticipated that a trap would be laid for him, but this did not save him from being taken in. Asman Qadar's cook, Shaikh Husain Ali, had covered the tablecloth with hundreds of delicacies and many varieties of comestibles. There were pulau, zarda, qaurma, kababs, biryani, chapatis, chutneys, achars, parathas, shir mals - in fact every kind of food. However, when tasted they were all found to be made of sugar. The curry was sugar, the rice was sugar, the pickles were sugar and the bread was sugar. It is said that even the plates, the tablecloth, the finger bowls and cups were made of sugar; Wajid Ali Shah tried everything and became more and more embarrassed.
Gastronomy in Lucknow
Since I am featuring breakfast this week, I wondered what my book on the culture of Lucknow before the British took it over in 1857, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, which I have quoted from several times, had to say about it. (Lucknow was considered the ultimate in the post-Mughal north Indian courtly tradition. It had a hybrid Hindu-Muslim culture. It was very different from south India, which has been my primary focus in this weblog, but I enjoy reading about its refinements.) As it happens, breakfast is not addressed, but there is quite a lot about food fashions generally. Here's a sample: