City Food – Shahi Tukra, Cool Point
A royal treat.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Topped with cream, nuts, dry fruits, candied cherries and silver foil, it is deadly delicious.
Shahi tukra (the imperial piece) is a sort of bread pudding. You’ll see it in a number of pavement stalls across the garbage-strewn streets of the Mughal-era Walled City.
The Delhi Walla patronizes the one served at Cool Point, a kiosk outside Gharib Nawaz Guest House in Matia Mahal Bazaar. The dish is spread out on a giant pan where it is left to sizzle on a slow fire.
According to Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food, shahi tukra is “an Indian dessert in the Mughal style, which is made with bread fried in ghee, dipped in a syrup flavoured with saffron and rosewater, and covered with a creamy sauce in which decorative slices of almond are embedded.”
In Old Delhi, the syrup is replaced by milk.
But shahi tukra is perhaps not a Delhi native.
In her book The Penguin Food Guide to India, author Charmaine O’Brien refers to it as part of the Awadhi cuisine from Lucknow, and shares an interesting story about its origins: “Apparently a nawab was in the habit of throwing pieces of stale bread to the poor when he passed by them in the city. One day, a cook picked up some of these pieces, took them back to his own kitchen, deep-fried them – perhaps to sterilize them from their sojourn on the road — dipped them in hot sugar syrup and poured reduced milk over them to create a pudding called shahi tukra.”
Oddly, in her other book Flavours Of Delhi: A Food Lover’s Guide, Ms O’Brien tells us that shahi tukra flourished in Sultanate-era Delhi – that period preceded the nawabs of Awadh by a couple of centuries.
History notwithstanding, the present-day shai tukra is a pale version of the original. The purists believe that the genuine shahi tukra wasn’t made from slices of bread; instead it consisted of deep-fried layers of malai (cream).
Oh yes, and we all bathed in milk.
Sweet and crisp