Curtin University of Technology
| This article was first published in Hobgoblin Magazine School of Social Sciences, Curtin University of Technology, issue 2, May 2000, pp.3-5 and 25.
Republished with permission of Hobgoblin Magazine
Recently, for HobGoblin, a history students' journal at Curtin University, I was asked to talk about my research. I happened to mention that 'on my backburner' is a project to look at the ways in which cooking and food in the Indian Ocean region - but especially South Asia - have been a process of sharing ingredients, techniques and knowledge over a long time and in many different settings and it was suggested that I might like to share some of this material - complete with recipes for 'practicals' - and so I here make a small beginning on a project which is still, literally, on the backburner.
I make my start with Party kedgeree
| Serves 8
2 smoked haddock on the bone, each weighing about 1 1/2 lb. (700g)
Cut each haddock in 4 pieces and put in a saucepan along with the water, bay leaf, parsley and lemon. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Lift out the cooked fish and keep warm. Strain exactly 2 pints (1.1 litres) of the cooking liquid into a measuring jug then pour into the rinsed pan and set aside.
Peel and finely chop the onion. Melt half the butter in a separate saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and fry gently for 5 minutes to soften but not brown. Add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally, to draw out the flavour. Bring the reserved fish liquid to the boil. Add the rice to the onion and toss together, then pour in the boiling fish liquid. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then lower the heat, cover with a pan lid, and cook gently for 20-30 minutes, until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed.
Meanwhile, flake the fish, removing skin and bones, and chop the hard-boiled eggs. Draw the pan of rice off the heat, add the remaining butter in pieces, the flaked fish and lemon juice. Season with pepper and gently mix together with a fork. Turn into a warmed serving dish. Sprinkle with the chopped eggs and parsley and serve. If you wish, you can press the hard-boiled egg yolks through a sieve instead of chopping them. This makes a finer texture and looks pretty sprinkled over the rice mixture.
So, you say, where's the South Asian content in that!
The fact is that 'kedgeree' started out as an Indian breakfast dish (and also, in some forms, because of its ingredient of mung dal, as a recuperative dish for those who needed simple foods), with regional variations and with documentary notices that go back at least until the 14th century :
c. 1340. - "The munj (Moong) is boiled with rice, and then buttered and eaten. This is what they call Kishri, and on this dish they breakfast every day." - Ibn Batuta, iii, 131
I have found an authentic recipe for this Anglo-Indian breakfast dish. It is Pat Chapman's grandmother's recipe as given in her Indian Cookery Book published in Calcutta in 1902:
300g basmati rice
1. Take rather more than three quarters of a coonkee [i.e., 300 grams or 10 1/2 oz] of bassmutee rice and a half coonkee [150g] of dal.
2. Take 2 large onions and cut them up lengthways into fine slices.
3. Warm up the butter (but before doing so, be careful to warm the pot) and while bubbling throw in the washed dal and rice.
4. Fry until the dal and rice have absorbed all the ghee, then add the onion, a few slices of green ginger, some peppercorns, salt to taste, a few cloves, 3 or 4 cardamoms, 6 bay leaves and as many small sticks of cinnamon.
5. Mix well together. Add as much water only as will cover the whole of the rice and dal. Put a well-fitting cover on, and set over a slow fire, reducing the same from time to time as the water is being absorbed. Care must be taken not to allow the kitcheree [sic] to burn, which may be prevented by occasionally shaking the pot, or stirring its contents with a wooden spoon.
6. Serve up quite hot. strewing over it the fried onions [which you will, of course, have remembered to do without being instructed!], which serve both as a relish and garnish of the dish
But where does the haddock in Katie's 'party kedgeree' come from? There seem to be several strands in that culinary conundrum. Yule and Burnell's Hobson-Jobson was aware of the presence of fish in some English usages:
In England we find the word is often applied to a mess of re-cooked fish served for breakfast; but this is inaccurate. Fish is frequently eaten with kedgeree, but is no part of it.
But Crooke added, in editorial parentheses in 1903, "'Fish Kitcherie' is an old Anglo-Indian dish, see the recipe in Riddell, Indian Domestic Economy, p.437". And indeed it does seem to have become accepted: in 1867 Bishop Fraser said that he thought that 'kedgeree is a capital thing for breakfast' and by the 1870s both British - and Anglo-Indian - manuals on 'household management' had firmly included fish. Mrs James' Indian Household Management (1879), p.88 is clear: 'Kegeree [sic] is composed of the remains of cold fish, and is usually a breakfast dish' and Mrs Beeton in Household Management (p.140, also knows about 'kegeree'
Even so, why was the fish added? The magnificent new Oxford Companion to Food has an interesting explanation in its article on 'Anglo-Indian Cookery' which was, it argues
'Kedgeree' then takes up the specific issue. It starts with the Ibn Batuta reference given by Hobson-Jobson and goes on to make the point that, in addition to mung dal, other lentils are used and that it is 'usual to add flavourings (onions, spices)'.
It seems to have been under British influence and for British tables that flaked fish or smoked fish was built into the dish, replacing the 'moong' or 'lentils'; and again due to the British that chopped hard-boiled eggs came into the picture (plus, in de luxe versions, ingredients such as cream). It was this transformed dish which became famous as kedgeree, a British breakfast speciality.
The extra piece of information that may be necessary in this explanation is - why did the smoked fish replace the mung? The answer is in the colours in the dish: in khicri the dal provides a red-orange colour contrast to the white rice; and so it presumably was the desire to remove the dal, but keep the colour contrast, which led to the use of smoked fish.
So, there we have kedgeree - 'de luxe edition' - for Katie's party fare. In my childhood in Tasmania I remember a version (a dish for Australian 'tea', not Katie's 'de-luxe' version) which I think my Grandmother Reeves made, using smoked cod as the fish ingredient and I certainly have cooked that for my own family in the past. And I can clearly remember making the connection between khicri and kedgeree for myself back in the early 1970s. I was living with a Muslim family in Saadatganj, a very old suburb of Lucknow built around the wholesale grain market of the city. I was learning Urdu and my hosts were part of an extended family with whom I lived and practised my faltering Urdu in the village Thulendi (Rae Bareli district), Saadatganj and Jamia Millia Islamia (Delhi). One day a Brahman gentleman, a neighbour of my Muslim hosts, asked me to dinner and I went and ate a very rich meal of vegetable curry, puris and rice - with a liberal addition to the curry and rice of ghi which is normal in offering food to guests and important visitors in such households. The next day my motions were extreme - the ghi acted as though it had been the castor-oil of my childhood! - and my hosts were extremely worried because they thought that I might have cholera or some such. (I should explain that the sanitary arrangements in a house in a suburb such as Saadatganj were such that it was not possible for there to be concealment of my plight.) I was taken to a doctor and cleared of any disease; but for my recuperation, very plain khicri was prepared: merely rice and dal, no butter, no onions, no condiments of any kind. It was just what I needed and I was very grateful to my hosts; and even now I cook rice and dal together in this unadorned way, just as a change to straight rice. Cooking it on one occasion, I remember, I thought: this has the look of the kedgeree I grew up with in Tasmania but without the fish and without the eggs and butter. So began the search for its origins.
The story does not stop there however, for there are other borrowings and extensions of the khicri story. I recently received, as a gift, Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food which was published about three years back. Roden is one of my favourite food-writing authors - many will know her books which include Mediterranean Cookery, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Food of Italy - and so I was delighted with the gift. It has an excellent chapter on the Jewish communities of India but it also reveals another connection for khicri. The first clue was in the 'Introduction'. There, Claudia Roden describes her recipe-collecting techniques; she was on this occasion in Israel and visited someone - 'an anthropologist who was also a brilliant cook' - and the anthropologist's Indian guest, to discuss recipes with them both. After taking detailed notes she left and then 'that night, [the anthropologist] brought me kichree, a dish of rice and red lentils, to taste, and it was wonderful'. The anthropologist had said to her, when they parted, that she hoped she would get many recipes and 'find the very best version'. Roden records that in London a friend, Sami Zubaida, whose family were from Iraq, gave her what she considered 'the very best' recipe for Kichree, Rice and Red Lentils:
This Iraqi version of a dish that originated in India (it is related to kedgeree) was cooked every Thursday evening by Jewish families in Baghdad as part of the light dairy meal that is supposed to rest the stomach in preparation for the rich Sabbath food.
Here is Sami Zubaida's recipe for Kichree: Rice and Red Lentils:
4 garlic cloves, minced or crushed in a press
Fry the garlic in the oil till it just begins to colour. Stir in the cumin and tomato paste. Add the rice and lentils (in this case they do not need to be washed) and stir over very low heat until all the grains are coated. Cover with 1 litre (1 3/4 pints) of boiling water. Add salt and pepper, bring to the boil, and simmer, covered, on very low heat for about 45 minutes, until the rice is very soft. Be careful that it does not dry out or burn; add water if necessary. Stir in the butter and let it melt in. Keep the lid on. Serve topped with yogurt or with the cheese topping that follows.
For the topping: in a large frying pan, fry the onion in the oil until golden. Lay the cheese on top and leave the pan on low heat. Serve when the cheese begins to bubble.
- For the topping, 2 large slices of tomatoes can be added to the onions and
allowed to soften before the cheese goes in.
On the page following the kichree recipe, Claudia Roden gives a recipe for Egyptian 'Megadarra, Brown Lentils and Rice' (called mudardara in Syria) which is much more the straight combination of rice and lentils - but cooked with lots of onion (in olive oil) and with caramelised fried onion topping.
Bishop Fraser and Katie Stewart - eat your heart out!
Final twists: in both its Indian and English forms, khicri/kedgeree has taken on figurative and other meanings. In Hindi: khicri, 'a mixture; hotch potch'; khicri-bhasa, 'mixed language, a jargon'; khicri-bal, 'greying hair'. Likewise in English usage, the Oxford English Dictionary, under 'figurative' uses, has a 1928 reference:
English art, music, vegetables, and song. All to the same consistency you
Your life - a kedgeree! Your mind - a hash!
English does not follow the Indian usage in one way, however; khicri-karna is 'to make a mess or hash (of doing something); khicri-pakana, which is literally to cook khicri, is figuratively also 'to concoct schemes or plans, to scheme, plan, plot'. Perhaps, in this sense, plotting the path of khicri-kedgeree-kichree may be seen as revealing something of the complexity of how traditions and exchanges of food and the culinary arts work.
 Katie Stewart's Cookbook (London: Book Club p.63.
 Achaya, K.T., Indian Food. An Historical Companion (Delhi: Oxford, 1998), p.178; on p.162 he says it was the Hindu meal most mentioned by visitors to India but interestingly he denotes it here as a meal 'taken in the evening'.
 Yule, H., and A.C. Burnell, Hobson-Jobson. A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, new ed. by W. Crooke (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1903)p.580; 'moong, moongo'. Hobson-Jobson was first published 1886.
 Achaya, Indian Food, has mentions from Karnataka (p.118), Gujarat (pp.134, 158), the court of Akbar in northern India (p.158).
 Hobson-Jobson, p.476, 'kedgeree, kitchery'. Hobson-Jobson's source, Ibn Batuta, refers to the 4 volume edition of the famous Muslim traveller's Travels of Ibn-Batuta published by the Société Asiatique in Paris in 1853-58 in a translation by C Defremery and B R Sanguinetti. The English edition is edited by Hamilton Gibb and published in the Hakluyt Society's second series as The Travels of Ibn Batuta, AD 1325-1354 (London: Cambridge University Press, 3 vols, Nos. 110, 117, 141) in the 1920s-1930s.
 McGregor, R.S., The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary (Delhi: Oxford, 1994), p.237, 'khicri'; cf. John T Platts, A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi, and English (London: Oxford, 1960; first pub. 1884), p.872, 'khicari, khicri', 'a dish made of rice and split pulse (dal) boiled together, with ghi and spices'.
 Achaya, Indian Food, p.118.
 ibid., p.134.
 ibid., pp.158-59.
 Achaya says that Jahangir followed his father's schedule and also added Thursdays as a day of abstinence from meat. p.476.
 Chapman, P. Taste of the Raj (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1997), pp. xi, 70-71.
 ibid. The Oxford English Dictionary [OED](vol. VIII, 2nd. ed., 1989, 'kedgeree' has an 1816 reference which probably reflects Yule and Burnell's point: 'The servant enters with a dish containing kedgeree and fish'; 'Quiz', Grandmaster, p.51.
 You can see a recipe for the basic 'kedgeree', English-style in Chapman, Taste of the Raj, pp.71-72; this is from 'Wyvern', who wrote Culinary Jottings from Madras (5th. ed., 1885) and Fifty Breakfasts (1894). Basically, he takes four tablespoons of butter, melts it and heats 500g of cooked boiled rice in it; then he adds 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs, 50g of chopped smoked haddock, salt, pepper and herbs - and serves 'at once'.
 OED, reference to Hughes' Life of Bishop Fraser (1887), p.143.
 both cited in the OED. It is worth noting that OED definition in 1989 treats eggs as an Indian 'ingredient'.
 Davidson, A. (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p.20. The literature on British wives and Indian cooks suggests that in late 18th and the early 19th century 'memsahibs' rarely went to the 'cook-house' ('bobajee-khana'; i.e., bavarci-khana) which was in the servants' quarters in the compound, not in the bungalow itself; see J.K.Stanford (ed.) Ladies in the Sun. The Memsahibs' India, 1790-1860 (London: Galley Press, 1962), p.69, citing 'Anglo-Indian Domestic Sketch' 1849; and D. Kincaid, British Social Life in India, 1608-1937 (London: Routledge, 1938), pp.55-58 citing Curry and Rice 1859. Reliable 20th century witnesses record more positive interactions. Philip Mason in C. Allen (ed.), Plain Tales from the Raj. Images of British India in the 20th Century (London: Deutsch/BBC,1975), pp.16-17 and other materials in the same volume, pp.75, 80-81. See also C. Allen (ed.), Raj. A Scrapbook of British India, 1877-1947 (London: Deutsch, 1977), pp.57, 63. Allen notes in this volume (p.57) that the 'cook-house' was 'behind the bungalow, near the servants' quarters', so perhaps it was easier to interact. Charles Allen also speculates (Raj, p.81) that the memsahibs did become 'more active, even aggressive, house-mothers' in the late 19th-early 20th century. By then, it seems, many cooks in service had recipes handed down from their fathers or grandfathers who had served earlier generations of the same family.
 ibid. Alan Davidson, in writing the article, had access to several authors whom I have not been able to consult in Singapore so far: 'Wyvern' [Col. Kenney-Herbert ](Culinary Jottings from Madras, 5th. ed., 1885; Fifty Breakfasts, London 1894 and others) - although as you see above I have his kedgeree recipe, courtesy of Pat Chapman; Jennifer Brennan (Curries and Bugles London, 1990); and Robert Burton (The Raj at Table, London, 1993).
 The Book of Jewish Food. An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day (London: Viking, 1997).
 ibid., pp.313-19.
 ibid., p.13.
 ibid., p.394.
 ibid. There is a Malaysian-Indian version, in Rafi Fernandez, Malaysian Cooking (London: Penguin, 1985), pp.246-47, 'Rice Cooked with Lentils: Khichdi'.
 ibid., p.395.
 McGregor, Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary, p.237; Platts, Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi and English, p.872. Some of this sense of mixing of ingredients comes through in a recipe in Mark Copeland's Indian and Chinese Cooking from the Himalayan Rim (New York: Evans, 1996) - which actually has a great deal about the cooking of minority groups in Calcutta and West Bengal - which records a Marwari recipe for 'Kidgeree: Rice, Spices and Water Chestnuts' on pp.65-66.
 Platts, Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi and English, p.872. McGregor gives a similar reading, plus a number of other connections - though they are beyond the scope of this piece.
Professor Peter Reeves has been Visiting Professor and Co-ordinator of the South Asian Studies Programme at National University of Singapore since June 1999. Emeritus Professor of South Asian History at Curtin University (Perth, Western Australia) and Fellow of the Academy of the Humanities in Australia, he has also taught at the Universities of Sussex, Western Australia and Michigan. He specialises in the modern political and socio-economic history of India. His books include: Sleeman in Oudh (CUP, 1971); A Handbook to Elections in Uttar Pradesh 1920-51, (with B.D.Graham & J.M.Goodman) (Manohar, 1976); and Landlords and Governments in Uttar Pradesh: a study of their relations until zamindari abolition (OUP, 1991). His current research concerns the history and development of fisheries in colonial and post-colonial South Asia and the politics of economic liberalisation in West Bengal.