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Mughlai cuisine consists of dishes developed in the medieval Indo-Persian cultural centres of the Mughal Empire. It represents a combination of cuisine of the Indian subcontinent with the cooking styles and recipes of Central Asian and Iranian cuisine. Mughlai cuisine is strongly influenced by the Turko-Persian cuisine of Central Asia, the region where the early Mughal emperors originally hailed from, and it has in turn strongly influenced the regional cuisines of modern Afghanistan, Northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The tastes of Mughlai cuisine vary from extremely mild to spicy, and are often associated with a distinctive aroma and the taste of ground and whole spices. A Mughlai course is an elaborate buffet of main course dishes with a variety of accompaniments.
Although the ruling class and administrative elite of the Mughal Empire could variously identify themselves as Turani (Turkic), Irani (Persian), Shaikhzada (Indian Muslim) and Hindu Rajput, the empire itself was Indo-Persian, having a hybridized, pluralistic Persianate culture. Decorated Indo-Persian cookbooks and culinary manuscripts adorned the personal libraries of the Mughal elite, serving as both culinary guides and for aesthetic value.
One example was the Ni'matnama, a 15th-century work illustrated with Persian miniatures. This was commissioned by Sultan Ghiyas Shah, a sultan of Malwa in modern-day Madhya Pradesh, and features Central Asian dishes such as samosas (fried meat-filled pastry), khichri (rice and lentils), pilaf (rice-dish), sikh (skewered meat and fish), kabab (skewered, roasted meat) and yakhni (meat broth), as well as western and southern Indian dishes, such as karhi (yogurt broth mixed with chickpea flour), piccha and khandawi.
From the Mughal period itself, one popular culinary work was the Nuskha-i-Shahjahani, a record of the dishes believed to be prepared for the court of Emperor Shahjahan (r.1627-1658). This Persian manuscript features ten chapters, on nānhā (breads), āsh-hā (pottages), qalīyas and dopiyāzas (dressed meat dishes), bhartas, zerbiryāns (a kind of layered rice-based dish), pulāʾo, kabābs, harīsas (savoury porridge), shishrangas and ḵẖāgīnas (omelette), and khichṛī; the final chapter involves murabbā (jams), achār (pickles), pūrī (fried bread), shīrīnī (sweets), ḥalwā (warm pudding), and basic recipes for the preparation of yoghurt, panīr (Indian curd cheese) and the coloring of butter and dough.
Another famous textbook was Ḵẖulāṣat-i Mākūlāt u Mashrūbāt, perhaps dating to the era of the emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1656-1707), while another was Alwān-i Niʿmat, a work dedicated solely to sweetmeats. Divya Narayanan writes:
These include varieties of sweet breads such as nān ḵẖatā̤ʾī (crisp bread, like a biscuit), sweet pūrīs, sweet samosas (or saṃbosas), laḍḍū and ḥalwā. The cookbook introduces each recipe with a line of praise: for instance saṃbosa-i yak tuhī dam dāda (samosa with a pocket cooked on dam) is declared as being ‘among the famous and well-known sweets; pūrī dam dāda bādāmī (almond pūrīs cooked on dam) is said to be ‘among the delicious and excellent sweetmeats, and nān ḵẖatā̤ʾī bādāmī (almond nān ḵẖatā̤ʾī) is noted for being ‘among the rare and delicious recipes.
There are even many commonalities between Indo-Persian cookbooks used at the Mughal court and contemporary culinary works from Safavid Iran, such as the Kārnāma dar bāb-i T̤abāḵẖī wa ṣanʿat-i ān (Manual on Dishes and their Preparation) of Ḥājī Muḥammad ʿAlī Bāwarchī Bag̱ẖdādī.
Mughlai cuisine is renowned for the richness and aromaticity of the meals due to extensive use of spices like saffron, cardamom, black pepper, dry fruits and nuts, as well as rich cream, milk and butter in preparation of curry bases. This has influenced the development of North Indian cuisine.