Very few would know that the love story of Agha Bakar and Khani Begum inspired the name Bakarkhani for the bread. Do you know that Empress Nur Jahan invented biryani? Did you know that the Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Qamaruddin adopted the symbol of the kulcha bread on his flag?
These are just some of the facts mentioned in Pakistan Heritage Cuisine, a beautiful coffee-table book, which delves into the history of food.
“It is not a recipe book. It’s more about our cultural heritage,” said the book’s author Sayeeda Leghari at its launch at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture here on Wednesday evening.
“I wanted to showcase Pakistan through the one thing we don’t debate about — food,” she said.
“Through hearsay or documented evidence, I have tried giving the background of the creation of various dishes, which have come into our homes and daily lives, and while doing this I have celebrated our unsung cooks and chefs,” she said.
Sameera Raja, who moderated the panel discussion about the treatise, said that it was really a delicious publication as the pictures in it looked edible.
Art critic Marjorie Husain also said that it was “a gorgeous book. And the beautiful pictures help one take a journey of the senses,” she said.
“Food was scarce when I was growing up due to war,” she said. “So I actually developed a taste for the lavish Pakistani food when I came here,” she said, while adding that she may not be a good cook herself.
“I may be hopeless in that department,” she laughed.
Mulaika Sayeed, a family member of the author, meanwhile, said that she thought that food could also “involve fusion and a little confusion.”
She explained this with her own story where her Hyderabadi husband wasn’t particularly fond of Hyderabadi food and she made innovations in it by adding Bohra food.
“I wasn’t a very good cook but I learned by practising with recipes handed down to me from the time of Arabs who came to settle here,” she said.
“Then my in-laws warned me not to share those precious recipes, which I had mastered, with my daughter as then she would take them to her in-laws. But I could always share them with my daughters-in-law to keep them in the family,” she said.
“But my daughter wasn’t interested in cooking anyway,” she added.
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United Nations Hussain Haroon traced the history of various foods and dishes popular with different people of the world.
He spoke at length about the great Mughals of the subcontinent and their food preferences, which have laid the foundations for our traditional cuisine.
Dr Nizam-ul-Hassan, president of Child Aid Association, praised the author for her volunteerism and philanthropic work.
The author’s late friend and chef Ali Yousuf, who is also an integral part of the book and helped her research for it while travelling with her through the length and breadth of the country, was also fondly remembered on the occasion.
Originally published in Dawn, November 16th, 2017