What is the Mughlai Paratha?
The Mughlai paratha is a rectangular paratha made with white flour or maida which is folded like an envelope . The thin layered , deep fried paratha consists of a rich filling of eggs, keema (minced meat) and lots of spices. The paratha is cut in little squares, and served with potato curry and cucumber and onion salad on the side. "One of the specialties of Bengal is that they have such wholesome non-vegetarian snacks. If you see snacks across the country, they are mostly vegetarian, be it samosas, pakodas or jhal muri. This is why perhaps, Mughlai paratha is also not a typical street-side fare and you associate it more with canteens or cabins in Kolkata than with a roadside street food joint," says Food Critic Bikramjit Ray.
The Mughal or 'Moghlai' Connection
It is believed that the Mughlai paratha originated during Mughal emperor Jeheangir's reign and it was a creation of his his cook Adil Hafiz Usman. The ruler was looking for something new, and was bored with his simple parathas with keema (minced meat). Usman came up with a novel idea of the egg based paratha or anda-roti which was served with keema and this is probably how the Mughlai paratha was invented. Usman, who originally hailed from Bardhaman in West Bengal, not only refrained from sharing his recipe with the khansamas in Old Delhi and Lucknow, but also asked his son to keep the recipe a secret from the other chefs in the royal kitchen. The family secret was fostered for several generations, until their later descendants started selling the delicacy across Bengal during the British Raj.
The East Bengal Connection
The classic Kolkata snack is also a popular street food in Dhaka. Before the British invasion, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) saw a greater Muslim influence in their food. The extensive use of keema in their dishes is one characteristic feature of the regional cuisine of East Bengal. According to Chef and Restrauteur Sabyasachi Gorai, "The Mughlai parathas travelled to Kolkata via Dhaka, post-independence, at the time of partition."
Mughalai Paratha's Close Cousins
According to Chef Sabyasachi, a replica of Mughlai Paratha can be found in Maharashtra which is known as the 'Baida Roti' (baida means egg). It is a flaky wrap filled with meat, eggs and spices. It is shallow-fried, and served as a mid-day snack or a lunch meal. The Baida Rotis are also known as 'Burma Rotis'. In Burma (present day Myanmar), a version of these rotis known as 'Palatas' are very popular. The entry point of Burma rotis in India can be traced back to the British period which had the entire country and parts of Burma and Sri Lanka under its administration. It is believed that in those times people who migrated from Burma brought the recipe to the Indian shores. Food Critic Bikramjeet Ray sees a lot of similarities between the Mughlai paratha and the Arabic or Lebanese breads, where you find a square-shaped and deep fried bread or wrap stuffed with meat.
Where to find the best Mughlai Paratha?
In Kolkata, Anandir Cabin's Mughlai Paratha in Central Calcutta is renowned for its delicious parathas. According to Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, the best Mughlai Paratha he has had was, "At a street food thella, in front of a shop named Dadu's cutlet in C.R Park."