———– Abhishek Avtans ©
Most of us have heard the famous folktale involving Mughal emperor Akbar (1542 -1605) and his minister Birbal, in which Birbal tries to cook Khichdi to prove a point. But not many of us know about the journey of this popular rice-lentils dish from India to Britannia.
Kedgeree (also known as kitchery, kitchri or kichiri,) is a British colonial version of the rice-lentils dish popularly known as Khichdi ( खिचड़ी ) in Hindi. A simple Indian Khichdi is a one-pot vegetarian dish cooked with rice, lentils (daal) & some vegetables with some condiments like salt, turmeric, cumin etc. When cooked with Moong lentils, Khichdi is also used as a recuperative food and as a first food for babies. Like most of the dishes which fall into the category of Anglo-Indian cuisine, Khichdi has also been adapted and adjusted to the British palate, thereby evolving into Kedgeree. This Kedgeree is usually made with the smoked fish gently curried and mixed well with rice and onions and eggs and parsley.
In the Victorian era Kedgeree started out as an Indian breakfast dish somewhere around 14th century. British travelers to India came to know of Kedgeree first as a healthy vegetarian dish but gradually it developed into the hybrid dish of smoked fish and eggs. Since smoked fish in various forms had traditionally been eaten as a breakfast in Britain, naturally Kedgeree was served for breakfast on Anglo-Indian tables. Later it was brought back to Britain by British colonials on their return from India. Kedgeree’s popularity in United Kingdom reached such heights that the famous British playwright W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) is thought to have said that ‘to eat well in England, you should have a breakfast three times a day and with Kedgeree in it’.
Colonel Henry Yule & Dr. Arthur Coke Burnell in their Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases (1886), give the following description of Kedgeree –
Even before the arrival of British colonials, in 1334 AD, the great North-African explorer & Arabic scholar Ibn Battuta (1304–circa 1377 AD) from Morocco visited India and commented about ‘Kishri’ in his book Tuhfat al-anzar fi gharaaib al-amsar wa ajaaib al-asfar (A gift to those who contemplate the wonders of cities and the marvels of traveling. While describing about the grains and cereals of India, he mentions a rice-lentils dish which Indian used to eat at that time.
Another inspiration from Khichdi is found in Egypt as Kushari / Koshary. It is widely considered as Egypt’s national dish (even though it is a very recent introduction to the country). Koshary is made with rice, lentils (black or brown), chickpeas and pasta, which are cooked individually, then tossed together and topped with cumin-scented tomato sauce and crunchy fried onions.
From its humble beginnings in India, Khichdi has come a long way to Britain and then to Egypt and other parts of the world.
Brown, Patricia. Anglo-Indian Food and Customs: Tenth Anniversary Edition. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse, 2008.
Yule, Henry, and A. C. Burnell. Hobson-jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases. Richmond: Curzon, 1999
Leong-Salobir, Cecilia. Food Culture in Colonial Asia: A Taste of Empire. Place of Publication Not Identified: Routledge, 2014.
Mohammad, Ibn Batouta Abou-Abd-Allah, and Samuel Lee. The Travels of Ibn Battuta in the Near East, Asia and Africa. New York, NY: Cosimo Classics, 2009.