How to Hold a Mughal Feast

After sampling the wares of the caterer who would supply the feast for the Golf Club dance, Grace remains hesitant.

from Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Helen Simonson

"I wonder if it might be a little spicy for the main course," said Grace, cupping her hand around her mouth as if making a small megaphone. "What do you think major?"

"Anyone who doesn't find this delicious is a fool," said the Major. He nodded his head fiercely at Mrs. Rasool and Mrs. Ali. "However. . . ." He was not sure how to express his firm conviction that the golf club crowd would throw a fit if served a rice-based main course instead of a hearty slab of congealing meat. Mrs. Rasool raised an eyebrow at him.

"However, it is perhaps not foolproof, so to speak?" she asked. The Major could only smile in vague apology.

"I understand perfectly," said Mrs. Rasool. She waved her hand and a waiter hurried into the kitchen. The band stopped abruptly as if the wave included them. They followed the waiter out of the room.

"It's certainly a very interesting flavor," said Grace. "We don't want to be difficult."

"Of course not," said Mrs. Rasool. "I'm sure you will approve of our more popular alternative." The waiter returned at a run with a silver slaver that held a perfectly shaped individual Yorkshire pudding containing a fragrant slice of pinkish beef. It sat on a pool of burgundy gravy and was accompanied by a dollop of cumin-scented yellow potatoes and a lettuce leaf holding slice of tomato, red onion, and star fruit. A wisp of steam rose from the beef as they contemplated it in astonished silence.

"It's quite perfect," breathed Grace. "Are the potatoes spicy?" The elder Mr. Rasool muttered something to his son. Mrs. Rassol gave a sharp laugh that was almost a hiss.

"Not at all. I will give you picture to take back with you," she said. "I think we have agreed on the chicken skewers, samosas, and chicken wings as passed hors d'oeuvres, and then the beef, and I suggest trifle for dessert."

"Trifle?" said the Major. He had been hoping for some samples of dessert.

"One of the more agreeable traditions that you left us," said Mrs. Rasool. "We spice ours with tamarind jam."

"Roast beef and trifle," said Grace in a daze of food and punch. "And all authentically Mughal, you say?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Rasool. "Everyone will be happy to dine like the Emperor Shah Jehan and no one will find it too spicy."

I leave it to the prospective reader to discover what the musical and decorative accompaniment to this evening of authentic Mughal entertainment shall be.

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