The Brief History of the Mughal Culinary Art That Was ‘Shahi Tukra’

The ‘Shahi’ in Shahi Tukra points towards the Persian adjective ‘shāhī’ denoting royal, which traces its origin in India to the beginning of Mughal rule during the sixteenth century.

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The Mughals brought an array of culture to the Indian subcontinent spread out evenly from state to state which offers a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the Mughal emperors and the intricate culinary traditions they fostered.From the Galouti Kebabs of Lucknow to the variations of Biryani in Hyderabad, Kolkata and Lucknow, the Mughlai cuisine was one of the primary sources of decadent indulgence in the Mughal India besides a love for gambling and sheesha. This opulence was topped off with one of their most enjoyed quintessential desserts called ‘Shahi Tukra’ which literally translates into ‘Royal piece’ which epitomizes the grandeur of India’s culinary heritage. The story of the sources of its origin is also very varied. Some believe that it was introduced by Babur in the 16th century while some associate it with the Egyptian cook Umm Ali.

The ‘Shahi’ in Shahi Tukra points towards the Persian adjective ‘shāhī’ denoting royal, which traces its origin in India to the beginning of Mughal rule during the sixteenth century. The Mughal rulers were known for their patronage of the arts, architecture, and notably their extravagance in their cuisines. Their cuisine had its roots in Persian, Turkish and even Indian culinary traditions. And this culinary manifestation can be seen beautifully in the Awadh with their delectable Mughal dessert. It was served in special occasions and grand feasts was meticulously prepared with the finest ingredients in the royal kitchen. It was prepared by spreading freshly prepared thick creamy reduced milk or rabri on top of golden coloured deep-fried bread often flavoured with saffron (which was also an ingredient signifying decadence) and cardamom, garnished with dried fruits and nuts.

The preparation involves several steps, each requiring careful attention to detail. Traditionally, flat bread was used, whilesome variations incorporated brioche or other rich, dense bread. But there is also a theory laid down by the expert on the heritage of Lucknow, Ahmad Irfan, according to whom, it was prepared on Sheermal (a saffron coloured sweetish flatbread popular in Awadh).


The bread slices are first fried in ghee until they achieve a crispy, golden-brown texture. Meanwhile, milk is simmered slowly until it thickens to form rabri, a creamy concoction that is sweetened with sugar and infused with saffron and cardamom.  The fried bread slices are then soaked in sugar syrup before being layered with the thickened milk. The dessert is finished with a garnish of slivered almonds, pistachios, and sometimes silver leaf, which adds to its regal appearance. While the traditional recipe remains popular, modern variations of Shahi Tukra have emerged, reflecting regional tastes and contemporary culinary trends. Some versions include the use of condensed milk for a richer texture, while others experiment with different spices and flavours, such as rose water or kewra essence. There are also baked versions that serve as healthier alternatives to the original recipe.

Culturally, it is often prepared during special occasions and during festivals like Eid and Diwali have become staple favourites in Indian households over the centuries. In many regions, it is also associated with the end of Ramadan or the month-long fast which ends with Eid-ul-Fitr. The melt-in-the-mouth texture of the rabri makes it a symbol of indulgence and celebrations. While Shahi Tukra was popularised in the Awadh, it also had its cousin in Hyderabad called ‘Double ka Meetha’ which differs from the former only in the thickness of the bread.

The timelessness of the sweet lies in its culinary genius and how it is the perfect end to a perfect Mughlai meal. It not only delights the palate but also evokes a sense of nostalgia for the taste of historical Mughal culinary tradition and is a beautiful reminder of its intricate work of art.


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