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Since Hindustan didn't have a tradition of garden-keeping that impressed him, Babur brought over the geometric Central Asian tradition. He also initiated the cultivation of melons and elevated the status of the imperial kitchen. Image: From 16 C painting showing Babur supervising garden works.

Since Hindustan lacked any tradition of garden-keeping that impressed him, Babur brought over the geometric Central Asian tradition. He also initiated the cultivation of melons and elevated the status of the imperial kitchen. Image: From a 16th Century painting showing Babur supervising garden works.

WHILE THE DELHI SULTANATES would have already set in place a proper city/town culture with thriving markets and a tradition of food stalls, Babur extended and re-articulated the same. Even so, considering that the city and towns in the imperial zones were almost completely abandoned by former residents after the defeat of Ibrahim Lodi, the imprint made by Babur and his retinue were really on a blank state.

In reflective moments, Babur often wondered how he would be remembered; he had doubts about his popularity in Hindustan, but here are reasons for some gold stars against his name:

  • Cities and their markets become markedly cosmopolitan – bazaars begin to wear the colours of Herat and Samarkhand;
  • Markets geared to supply his favourite Central Asian fruits, saffron, grapes and nuts brought in from over the mountains;
  • Markets get bakeries turning out fresh bread;
  • Relatively novel meats such as rabbit (Babur’s favourite) and fowl premier in markets;
  • Techniques of grilling and roasting become prevalent;
  • The Imperial Kitchen Brigade is raised in rank; there is more emphasis on food safety;
  • The Imperial Kitchen, in keeping with tradition of the preceding Sultans, makes liberal use of local inputs: ghee, rice, turmeric and sugarcane;
  • At Imperial meals, pickles are generally served first and the main meal liberally informed by brinjals, pumpkins, gourds and plantain – many of which the Central Asian are encountering for the very first time;
  • Soups, stews and broths make their mark in cuisine;
  • Babur encourages the cultivation of his favourite melons;
  • Babur brings the Central Asian style of gardens (the charbagh) to Hindustan;
  • Although not one for throwing lavish parties, Babur understands their importance. Such feasts project imperial power and impress visitors; the feast described sets the tone for the sophistication of Mughal feasts in successive generations;
  • If Babur is today celebrated as a poet in his home country of Uzbekistan, there is every reason for it. He read widely, sought out the company of those with literary tastes and is credited with being the first leader from the region to pen his biography – the Baburnama.
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