The beginning of 18th century, which marks the fall of the Mughal Empire, caused such chaos and commotion in Delhi that people started migrating to other provinces in search of jobs and security. This brought most of Delhi's musicians, craftsmen and cooks to Awadh, Rampur and Hyderabad, where they were given refuge and patronage in these princely states by the royal families. This is how the fall of Delhi gave rise to the Awadhi, Rampuri and Nizami/ Deccan cuisine.

In addition to being known for a life full of luxury and debauchery, the Nawabs were also known for their unparalleled taste and passion for food which remains unmatched till date. These gourmets shaped their cuisines with such passion that the delicacies that evolved in their reigns are famed worldwide. Some notable dishes from these cuisines are Tunde kebab, Dum Biryani, Hyderabadi Haleem and Noormahali Pulao.

This passion often proved to be rather troublesome for the chefs, as can be seen by looking back at the time of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, who is known for great charity. When the British took control leaving him with little power, he began spending most of his time on his two great loves- food and architecture. The extent of this love was such that he had chefs whose jobs comprised cooking a new variant of kebab everyday.

Later on, when he lost all his teeth, chewing became a rather difficult task, however even then his tongue did not lose its love for kebabs. He commanded his chefs to prepare a kebab with such soft and melt-in-the-mouth texture that it would require no chewing. This led one of his chefs to invent the Galouti kebab where Galouti means 'melt in the mouth.' This kebab, which is tenderised with raw papaya paste is to date one of the softest kebabs to have ever existed.

Similarly, insulted over the texture of Seekh kebabs by a British official in a feast, the host Nawab Syed Mohammad Haider Kazmi ordered his chefs to create a kebab so delicate and succulent that it astounds everyone with its taste and texture, that led them to the invention of Kakori kebab- one of the softest seekh kebabs. Till date, like their Nawabs, the people of Lucknow have maintained the legacy of cooking the best kebabs using the same traditional methods, ensuring that no jot or title is out of place.

Like kebabs, another dish that Nawabs found hard to live without was Biryani. It was brought to India from Persia and here it has been improvised in such a manner that today we have endless tales of biryani along with a number of variations of the same. One such tale talks about the discovery of the renowned dum pukht style of cooking, where dum means to breathe in; pukht refers to the cooking.

According to this tale, due to a great famine in Asaf-ud-Daulah's reign, he began the construction of the iconic Bada Imambara in Lucknow. The idea behind this was to keep the workers occupied so they could be fed in return, in this time of famine. Interestingly, at the end of the day, the Nawab would order to demolish the partially built structure, so it could be built again the next day, and so on. There was a kitchen set up to feed the workers, where rice, meat, vegetables and spices were added in a huge pot, which was then covered from the top.

The rich aroma of this preparation could be felt strongly around the site. One day, while passing by, the Nawab smelled it and got so amused by the aroma that he ordered his chefs to cook the same thing for him, which is how dum pukht(style) and consequently the popular Dum Biryani of Lucknow emerged. Today, the biryani has been experimented with and improvised to such an extent that over 300 varieties of this versatile dish exist.

These Nawabs were not only particular about the taste of their dishes, that depended on the right proportion of ingredients and method of cooking, they were also particular about the weight and quality of the utensil used, which enhanced the taste- something they were not willing to compromise with.

The last ruling Nawab of Rampur, Raza Ali Khan was so particular of the same taste that wherever he went, his chefs followed him along not only with the special ingredients but also his cookware, so the taste remains the same.

The royalty of the Nawab of Rampur can be seen from the fact that gold coins and silver sheets were used for tempering the food. He had around 80 chefs, who were specialised in all cuisines, trained from different regions, not only in India but from outside as well. For instance, to learn the European cuisine, the chefs were sent to France, as authenticity was given equal importance as the taste. Having this team of perfectly trained chefs, many princely states just to have the experience of this exotic cooking, would invite these cooks on special occasions, which although expensive, was worth every cent.

The chefs in those times usually had their own secret recipe of their specialities, which they never shared with anyone, except for passing it down to the next generation. Unfortunately, this resulted in the disappearance of many dishes after their chefs. Two such delicacies were Kamal Pulao, where each grain of rice was hand carved in the form of lotus, and Gulazi, a type of dessert similar to kheer.

When we look at the personal lives of the Nawabs, we see that having a great number of wives, whores and eunuchs, something they are notoriously known for, is also connected with food. For instance, Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruling Nawab of Awadh was said to have about 350 wives, which makes one wonder about the Nawab’s vitality and libido. The royal physicians in those times were responsible for adding the unani and ayurvedic aphrodisiacs in the Nawab's food, ranging from potent herbs and powders to gold and silver in the form of ash, which are known to strengthen the libido.

Another factor was the metal of the utensil, where silver lined copper cookware were known to be used, which also enriched the food, thus giving the energy to the Nawabs that they were known for.

Undeniably, the credit for the massive popularity that dishes like biryani and kebabs have today gained worldwide goes to the Nawabs. Today, even though that era is gone, those royal kitchens are gone where the chefs would work day and night to invent a new recipe to please their Nawab, and gone are the sights where the construction of a structure would begin only for it to be demolished overnight and built again the next day, the Nawabs still live, not in their royal mansions but in the memories and stories of their extraordinary lifestyle.

Pushpesh Pant is a chef at Olive Qutub, Delhi.