A chef, a doctor and a translator worked relentlessly to decode the recipes found in the Falaknuma Palace

Among the many things that had to be restored at the Falaknuma Palace were tattered sheets of paper with words and scribblings that appeared like measurements. No could decipher what they indicated. Since every article found in the palace was of immense value, everything was kept safe for historians to make meaning out of them. When the rooms of the palace were combed, many more such treasures emerged: “Some in the form of books and some as papers. When the restoration work of Taj Falaknuma was in progress, I made sure nothing was thrown out. I remember eating dishes which tasted out of the world and every day the food served at the palace was unique. Sure enough we found these treasures where the secret to the royal kitchen is,” says Princess Esra.

While most of the recipe books thus discovered were either in English, Hindi or Urdu, a few couldn’t be deciphered for long. Thinking it was a style of writing Urdu, one sheet of paper was taken to a local translator, recalls Executive chef Arun Sundararaj “I gave it to a translator who sits outside the High Court. I thought they were the best suited because these guys translate old property papers which are in Urdu, so I gave a paragraph to him to see what comes out of it. The translator gave it back to me it was not Urdu but Farsi-Urdu.”

The translator however made a rough verbatim translation; when that translation was put on Google search, it led Arun to Unani Library and eventually to recipe references. “There was nothing that I could make out from that. The fact that it led us to the recipe reference assured us that the pages had recipes or they had details of ingredients that is used for cooking. The verbatim translation was hilarious. The fact that the measurement unit were mentioned in taka and ser assured us that language was Farsi Urdu and the only people who work with such measurements now are Unani doctors,” says Arun. This led to another search and “A unani doctor was on board to make sense of the scriptures. For example one ingredient read something else, which was never heard of in the cooking context but the Unani doctor solved our puzzle. A powder finally turned out to be baking soda. So it took us a lot of time to decode a few recipes . It will take some more time to get the other recipes in place,” he says.

The items on the menu at the Taj Falaknuma are mostly royal recipes especially in the Hyderabadi menu. That could be the reason why the Deccani saag, naan, qubani, sheer korma, biryani etc tastes unique when it is served at the palace’s dining room. Princess Esra recollects how her interest in cooking led her to the royal kitchen as a new bride. “The royal cooks would never refuse to tell me the ingredients and methods. But when I try to prepare the same it never turns out as delicious as their preparations. I guess they would hold back something so that the secret wouldn’t go out,” she laughs.