Rarely did the travelers of the early modern age attempt to examine the diversity or the widespread distribution of nature too closely khichdi, Nikitin, for example, was unaware of the fact that in the late 15th century it was by no means just a Hindu dish. Just a few decades after his death, Abu al-Fazal ibn Mubarak (1551-1602), the Mughal emperor's grand vizier, made some efforts to emphasize his popularity among Muslims in Turkey Ain-i-Akbari (Constitutions of Akbar); and there is evidence that it was also eaten by Buddhists. Nikitin and his colleagues didn't know that either khichdi could no longer be seen as a single dish. The subtle variations of the past, compounded by political changes and religious differences, had led to a number of different regional recipes. For example, in Mughal Bengal it was often eaten with an oil-based pickle, while in Gurarat it was cooked with cumin, turmeric and curry leaves. Least of all did Nikitins show much interest in it khichdi home with them. Indeed, he would have opposed the idea. Obviously he had no desire to ever eat it again.
Act to govern
The advent of British colonialism heralded a different approach. After Clive's victory over the Mughal Empire at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company only managed outposts, mostly in coastal areas, and ruled much of the subcontinent itself. This required a fundamental change in the setting. Although society's relationship with India became more exploitative, it soon became apparent that it could not afford to reject Indian culture if it wanted to govern effectively. After all, how could she expect to collect taxes, administer the judiciary, or perform any of the other tasks she was now faced with unless her officials knew the customs and customs of the people? The company "Nabobs" started learning Indian languages, learning Indian habits and even developing a taste for Indian cuisine – including khichdi,
The khichdi Served in their homes, however, was not the same as eaten on the street. Rather, it was a cross between the relationship between Indian chefs and the wives of company officials. Believing that food remains an integral part of British identity, it generally insisted that the recipe be adapted to its own culinary taste. While rice remained the basis of the dish, hard-boiled eggs were added and legumes were made with flakes or smoked fish (e.g. Hobson-Jobson, the Anglo-Indian glossary later explained, had previously only been eaten on the side khichdimainly in Bengal).
In the recipe books
The new dish found its way back to the UK, complete with a new name: Kedgeree, One of the earliest recipes can be found in a cookbook that Stephana Malcolm wrote around 1790. Although she spent most of her life in Dumfriesshire, her family traveled a lot – including India – and thanks to them, kedgeree found her recipe book in the kitchen. However, it was another dish. Many of the ingredients used by the Nabobs were simply not found in Scotland. Malcolm was able to replace some of them with local products such as haddock. Although unknown in India, it was cheap to buy on the quays of the Solway Firth and had the merit of being scaly by nature. But it replaced others with more exotic alternatives, which testified to the growing reach of British trade interests. In the absence of curry leaves, Malcolm used, for example, cayenne pepper, which, although it had been known on the British Isles since at least the 16th century, was still predominantly grown in South America.
After the dissolution of the East India Company and the direct domination of the British crown on the subcontinent from 1858, Kedgeree appeared more and more in recipe books. By the end of the 19th century, it had become an integral part of British cuisine. It was largely seen as a frugal dish that could either be prepared with cheap, locally caught fish or more often with leftovers.
But when the British Raj was no longer dominated by middle-class adventurers, but also by British elites, the Kedgeree increasingly developed into a high-class dish. As a result, it was often made with richer, more specific "British" ingredients like salmon and veal. At the beginning of the 20th century, this led to it being associated not only with aristocratic tastes, but also with extravagance, even decadence. In Evelyn Waughs Reunion with Brideshead (1945), for example, ordered Charles Ryder Salmon-Kedgeree after starting an adultery affair aboard an ocean liner. In his memoirs, Anthony Powell shares the astonishment of a Sheffield fishmonger when Edith Sitwell tried to buy salmon at the height of World War II to prepare kedgeree ("Did the Bourbon Days Return?").
Since the fall of the British Empire, kedgeree is no longer reserved for an imperial elite. The ingredients were democratized and "Indian" elements were typically added (cumin, turmeric, curry powder, etc.). But like a palimpsest, you can still see the faint traces of previous versions beneath the surface of modern recipes: some of curiosity, others of prejudice, but all eloquent evidence of the long and often difficult relationship between the West and India.
Alexander Lee is a fellow at the Center for Renaissance Studies at the University of Warwick. His latest book, Humanism and Empire: The Imperial Ideal in 14th Century Italy, is published by Oxford University Press.