Recipes from the Raj

I have a small collection of cookery books published in India in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were scores of this type of book written for British housewives who were resident in India. The books are mainly concerned with cooking British food under Indian conditions but some of the books include chapters on cooking curries, kebabs, koftas and pulaos.

A wealthy Indian merchant's home
picture from Wikimedia Commons
  please note:  The territory referred as "India" in this section relates to the India of the British Empire which incorporated the modern-day countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is the India that the authors of the books wrote about and which their readers would have recognised. Place names are the ones used in the books, not their modern equivalents.

I suppose the picture opposite illustrates what most of us think of when we imagine the British in India. It shows a rich merchant and his wife being waited on by their Indian servants. Yet the circumstances of many British housewives were not like that at all. For sure, they would have employed a cook or a housekeeper but many had never managed a household before and they were not prepared for the experience. That is why this type of book was so popular.

The "Oriental" recipes in these books are not what the Indian population of the time would have been eating. The recipes have been Anglicised to suit British tastes and give a fascinating insight into the British in India.

The Economical Cookery Book (For India)

by G.L.R (Mrs G. L. Routleff)

First published in Lucknow, 1913

from the Introduction :

"Who does not know the difficulties attached to housekeeping in India! especially as the servant problem is one which has yet to be solved. Trouble with servants, particularly cooks, is now an universal complaint..."

featured recipe:

Dhal and Meat Curry

The Indian Cookery Book

by A Thirty Five Years' Resident

first published 1880; re-printed as new editions in Calcutta until 1948; over 10,000 copies sold

from the chapter on Rice or Chowl:

"Rice is consumed by most European families at breakfast, tiffin, and dinner. It is eaten at breakfast with fried meat, fish, omelet, country captain, or some other curried dish..."

featured recipe:

Country Captain

The Cooking Colonel of Madras by David Smith