Food of the royals

Mutton Korma. Photos: MANNSI AGRAWAL

Nepal’s Rana dynasty ruled for just over 100 years, building ornate neo-classical palaces with vast manicured gardens copied from Victorian England, while the aristocrats wore magnificent jewellery.

What the Ranas are less well known for is a cuisine that is a unique fusion of Nepali and Mughlai dishes from northern India. The recipes date back to influences of the khansama brought in from Lucknow by Jung Bahadur Rana after the Indian Mutiny in 1857. These Muslim chefs worked with the baje and bajai in the Rana palaces (although strictly not in the same kitchen), perfecting the fusion cuisine that evolved into the unique Rana flavour.

The recipes will soon be out in a new cook book by Rohini Rana, who was born in Agra to the Indian royal house of Awagarh and married to Gaurav SJB Rana, who went on to become Nepal’s army chief from 2012 to 2015.

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Rohini “Dolly“ Rana

Finely sliced steamed bandel with timur ko chope

“Growing up as the youngest sibling in one of the most beautiful hill stations in northern India I had an idyllic childhood. I was loved and, I admit, slightly pampered,” recalls Rohini Rana, whom friends and relatives all call ‘Dolly’. “Summers in Nainital were endless lunches and dinners with tables piled high with food.”

Breakfasts were spent discussing the day’s menu, with each member of the family picking a dish to cook. After coming to Kathmandu, Dolly adjusted quickly to the new Rana household, also bonding with the kitchen staff.

Her husband, Gen Gaurav Rana, is the great grandson of Prime Minister Chandra Shumshere Rana and is the seventh generation of the family serving in the Nepal Army. Dolly accompanied her husband on various military postings internationally, and to remote regions of Nepal.

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Dolly Rana wrote the first draft for her Rana cookbook while her husband was posted in Suparitar Army Base in Hetauda nearly 30 years ago, where they lived in an old Rana house in the middle of the forest. Many of the recipes in her book were perfected by her husbands’ nanny, Chiniya Champa Didi, who started working at age 15 in the Baber Mahal palace, where her father was a retainer. Though her job was to raise the young Gaurav Rana, she was interested in cooking and learnt the dishes from other maids and cooks.

Rana cuisine incorporates and builds on the basic dal bhat staple of rice, lentil soup, meat and vegetables, adding a unique aroma and taste from the jimbu and timur that differentiate the Nepali rice dish from Indian food. While north Indian cuisine is noted for its rich and thick gravy, Nepali food comes with lighter jhol, dry bhuttan and kawaf.

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Dolly collected and documented recipes from Rana prime minister families, with each having a slightly different twist and taste to the basic dishes. The book will soon be published by Penguin Random House.

“It is very important to preserve the dishes for posterity because the cuisine is part of our heritage, and it is in danger of disappearing with the passing of generations,” says Dolly Rana, refusing to divulge the exact recipes.

“You will have to wait for the book,” she smiles.

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