Egg Pancake, Lobster Pickle and More: The Secrets within Sarabhendra Pakasastra

The singular and age-old cook book comes loaded with quaint recipes from Thanjavur Maratha Cuisine.

Shraddha Varma

The memories of the delicious badam halwa our grandmothers made lingers way beyond childhoods. Although I missed the opportunity to taste my grandma’s cooking, she passed away too soon, I know all about how food evokes nostalgia among people, thanks to conversations and a small pile of books.

Some of these books, compiled decades ago, serve as a window to an era bygone and the culinary brilliance. One such book is Sarabhendra Pakasastra. Published in the year 1988, the book is anthology of appetisers, mains and dessert recipes from the kitchen of Raja Serfoji II—one of the Maratha kings who ruled Thanjavur—that has been painstakingly edited by A Krishnaswamy Raje Mahadik, a decendent of the Thanjavur Royal Family.

Cook books are an interesting way to understand people, their families, and communities. Not just that, but also regions and religions.
Sarabhendra Pakasastra, offered the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the Thanjavur Maratha community. The city itself has been a centre of culture, art, and literature. The Cholas, Nayaks, and Marathas, who ruled the city at different points of history, can be credited for its remarkable legacy. 

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The Marathas—the Bhonsle dynasty, to be precise—ruled Thanjavur between the 17th and 19th century. Among the Maratha rulers, Raja Serfoji II ruled the region from 1798 to 1832. He was an eminent scholar, with great interest in medicines, astronomy, and food, and a patron of the fine arts. One can catch a glimpse of his notable works such as Mohinimahesa Parinaya, Ganesavisvewara Parinaya, and several others at the Sarasvati Mahal Library at his palace in Thanjavur.

The Sarabhendra Pakasastra is a compilation of two manuscripts, written in Marathi, compiled in 1816 AD and 1825 AD from an oral statements and records by Raja Serfoji’s cooks Narayana Ayya, Chimnu Appa, and butler Venkataswamy. “Serfoji maintained 3 kinds of a kitchen—one purely non-vegetarian (Marati type), a Brahminical kitchen (vegetarian type) and an Angriji (English kitchen) where European style of delicacies were cooked. Non-vegetarian or Marati kitchen mostly prepared meat dishes of exquisite and tempting to the palate of the most discriminating connoisseurs of food. This section of Marathi kitchen prepared rarest food items unknown in Maratha country and of purely Thanjavuri type of food,” (sic) reads the introduction setting the tone of the book.

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The book starts off with meat-based curries, sauces, biranjis (rice preparations), and pickles followed by recipes using local vegetables and more biranjis. The extensive collection of omelettes, roasts, seafood pickles, jellies, and puffs in the English section is very impressive. The recipes have been translated into Tamil and English, apart from keeping the original Marathi text. 

As I pored over the pages of Sarabhendra Pakasastra, I realised that some of the recipes such as tamarind rice, yakhni pulao, and mango pickle were familiar, while others, completely unheard of. At the same time, if you are expecting a Marathi cook book, you will be sorely disappointed. The book is about the culinary heritage of the Marathas who over generations integrated with local Tamil populace. Sarabhendra Pakasastra belonged to the south, precisely Tamil Nadu, from ingredients to cooking methods. A simple example of this was the Thanjavur Marathas use tamarind, while the Maharashtrians swear by kokum. 

Here’s one of the Sesame Rice (Ellu Sadam) recipe from the Thanjavur Maratha royal repertoire, from the book:


Approx 2 kgs rice
100 gms white sesame seeds (roasted and powdered)
225 gms ghee
200 gms urad dal
45 gms mustard seeds
20 gms curry leaves
25 gms asafoetida
4 red chillies Salt as per taste

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- Cook the rice, spread it on a broad plate, and make a pit in the centre.

- Place the sesame powder, and salt in the rice pit and mix properly.

- Saute the rice mixture in a frying pan and in a separate frying pan, add ghee and temper urad dal, mustard, curry leaves, asafoetida, and red chillies in it.

- Once the 'tadka' is ready, add the rice and mix well. 

- Sesame rice is ready to serve.

Watch LF host Rakesh Raghunathan prepare this recipe on the latest episode of Dakshin Diaries


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