The tales of Emperor Akbar and his wittiest minister Birbal are an integral part of Indian folklore. Their stories often end with a moral teaching, and have been passed down to generations of fascinated young children.
Interestingly, Birbal was the only Hindu in Emperor Akbar’s court. Born Mahesh Das, stories of his timely wit and moral standing won him over as Akbar’s dearest adviser, much to the chagrin of his counterparts.
One of the most popular Akbar Birbal stories is entitled ‘Birbal Ki Kichdi‘ (Birbal’s Kichdi). What is Kichdi you ask? An Indian risotto would be the best way to describe it to a global audience. However, the Indian counterpart is not as starchy as the one eaten by Italians. Indian kichdi is made up of near-equal proportions of rice and lentils, cooked together along with a mix of spices, and enriched with ghee (Indian clarified butter). Here is how the story goes:
Birbal Ki Kichdi
One cold winter’s day, Emperor Akbar was walking along a river with his ministers. “The water is so ice cold, surely no one can survive a night in it” commented Emperor Akbar.
Birbal challenged the Emperor, and stated that a human being is an incredible creature. Surely a man with strong determination can brave the night in the winter stream. Emperor Akbar took it on as a challenge, and told his men to announce that if anyone in the kingdom can stand in the ice-cold waters of the river for one long night, the brave soul will be rewarded their weight in gold!
The news spread like wildfire, but the very thought of the challenge made the villagers shudder. Surely an entire night inside the ice-cold waters will equate to death. However, in their midst was a poor Brahmin (a Hindu priest) who desperately needed the money to get his only daughter married.
He came forward to the court, and was summoned into the river that very night. A pair of royal guards vigilantly watched him through the chilly, cold night, flanked in layers of warm winter clothing themselves.
Come morning, and the Brahmin was presented infront of Emperor Akbar. The guards declared he had successfully completed an entire night in the river, and therefore deserved the promised award.
Astonished, Emperor Akbar asked the Brahmin how he managed this feat. “It is simple my Lord,” he began, “I saw a burning fire in a hut far in the distance. My concentration was on its bright amber flames, and this kept me warm all night.”
“Then you have cheated!” declared Emperor Akbar, and the poor Brahmin was sent home empty-handed.
Birbal was very upset with the Emperor’s decision. He sympathized with the Brahmin, for he really did deserve the promised award for his agonizing night out in the cold. Birbal pondered on how to make Emperor Akbar see his mistake.
The next morning, Birbal went to Emperor Akbar with an invitation. He announced his wife makes the best kichdi in the country, and that Emperor Akbar should even skip breakfast to try it out.
The Emperor arrived at Birbal’s quarters along with his ministers. They sat at the table, and made small talk. The minutes turned to hours, and before long no one could help but express how hungry they were. “Why is the kichdi taking so long?” asked the Emperor.
“Oh it will be cooked soon enough” said Birbal, and ushered the group to see where the dish was being prepared. A fire burned at the bottom, and the pot holding the ingredients was elevated high up above it, on a tree!
“How can it possibly cook?!” roared the Emperor, “the flames will never reach the pot.”
“Just like the Brahmin kept warm all night, my Lord.” stated Birbal.
At that instance, Emperor Akbar realized his mistake. He summoned his court to immediately reward the much-deserving Brahmin, and they all celebrated together with steaming hot servings of kichdi.
Birbal Ki Kichdi at Tresind
Birbal’s Kichdi may be fit for an Emperor, but surely it wasn’t as craftily created as the one named after him at Tresind.
Kichdi is an ultimate comfort food, and is especially suited for cold winter months. It has therefore been added to the brand new Winter menu at Tresind. In true Tresind style, this humble Indian dish that is often far from being photogenic, has been churned into a work of art.
The kichdi comes in a covered vessel, with a candle burner keeping it warm. It sits on a mirrored surface which looks like something you might expect to find adorning the walls of Emperor Akbar’s court. The platter holds a total of 15 different condiments from all around the world!
The condiments include a number of Indian masalas, lotus seeds, truffle, dehydrated Daal Makhani (seriously! In powder form!), and even cucumber.
A Tresind staff member expertly sprinkles each of the 15 condiments into the kichdi, and gives it a thorough stir. A generous pour-oown of Desi Ghee (Indian clarified butter) follows. It smells amazing!
It tastes even better! The kichdi tastes like a warm, familiar hug. It is moreishly good, and has the perfect texture of moist. What is more interesting is the fact that 15 very different condiments have been stirred in together, yet they all manage to work in unison!
I was a little skeptical about cucumber in a warm kichdi, and then remembered that cucumber is also used in Malaysian pilafs. In the kichdi, it gets semi-cooked and tastes like Ash Gourd.
I bet Birbal is looking down at the Tresind version of his Kichdi and beaming ear to ear! Kudos Chef Himanshu for bringing a legendary folktale alive as a fine-dining experience.
I wish I had more room for a second helping, but as usual, a tasting session at Tresind entails a long lineup of very magical treats. Promise to post my epic tasting lineup from the Tresind Winter Menu here soon! Till then, I might just book myself in for another round of Birbal’s Kichdi 🙂