Eggs and Colonial India

There is a farm store in the town where I work that has tall ceilings, thick black and white stripes of paint on the wall, large glass cases of food and space to walk around. It has a British feel to it, and on certain days it isn’t uncommon to meet staff who speak with a thick British accent. One day in this store, the name tag of a dish in the large glass case filled with prepared foods stood out and made me smile. I smiled because it had been a long time since I’d seen that dish much less taste it. It was a childhood favorite, inseparable from a family scene filled with happy expressions towards a clearly non-traditional dish.

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Scotch eggs or hard-boiled eggs covered with minced meat is considered a traditional British dish. Interestingly, the nargisi kofta of Mughal Indian origin also involves hard-boiled eggs covered with meat, though any historical connection between the two egg dishes is unclear1.

Below is a simple method to make scotch eggs.

 

Eggs (to cook and for egg wash)

Minced or ground meat (preferably pork)

Flour

Bread crumbs

Seasoning for meat

Oil for deep-frying

 

Cook the eggs in boiling water to make either soft- or hard-boiled eggs. Once cooking is done transfer eggs to cold water and peel shell. Season meat with spices and herbs of choice. Set-up plates for the seasoned meat, cooked eggs, flour, breadcrumbs, and beaten raw eggs. Take a small amount of meat enough to flatten thinly on the palm of your hand. Place an egg in the center of this meat disk and bring the edges together to form a covered ball of meat. Roll the ball of meat to smoothen edges. After all eggs have been covered with meat, dredge each ball in flour, roll in egg wash, roll in bread-crumbs and place on a plate. Refrigerate the meat balls. Heat oil to 180-190˚C in a vessel, and fry the meat balls in batches for about four minutes or until golden brown and done. Drain the meatballs on a paper-lined plate before serving.

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Scotch eggs

I have listened to many passionate and patriotic discussions about the British rule in India, especially from the generation of family born before India gained independence. I’ve also seen this generation get together over scotch eggs and stories of delicious English food. Patriotism to one’s country and enjoyment of food from a different culture – even if it were from a former colonial ruler - seem to be distinct phenomenon. One does not seem to adversely affect the other. But, does it have a positive influence? In general, does experiencing food from a foreign culture predispose one to a more positive outlook of that culture? And if so, does it hold true even in light of negative history?

 

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Reference

  1. The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson

14 thoughts on “Eggs and Colonial India

    1. Bala

      Doug,

      I'm not sure why at the Renaissance Festivals but the Scotch eggs seem to go back many centuries in England.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Bala

      Reply
  1. Aruna Vedula

    Our cook before he came to us worked in an Army Officers Mess. I am talking about more than 50 years ago. He learned a lot of Anglo Indian dishes while he was in the Mess. One of his signature dishes was Nargisi Kabab. I remember them so well- they were out of this world. He used to make them at least once a month for us and we would devour them. I have never made them but reading your blog is inspiring me to do so. One of these days I will make them and have a cocktail in Pillai's name (our cook). Thanks for the memories.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Ms. Vedula,

      I had never heard of Nargisi Kabab until reading in preparation for this post.

      Your comment reminds me of my grandmother's story of growing up in a household that would on occasion have a cook from the local British club cook Anglo Indian dishes. Many of these dishes have joyfully passed through generations of people at the family table, I'm told. Thank you for sharing your lovely story of Pillai and his dish! Now, I want to prepare the Nargisi Kabob.

      Bala

      Reply
  2. Andrea Carpenter

    Thank you, Bala. It's cool that similar dishes "co-evolved."

    I had Scotch eggs just about every morning when I studied in London for several weeks in 1981. To my delight, a farm in Pittsboro (NC) sold them at the Carrboro Farmers' Market a few years ago.

    We were in Nassau (Bahamas) recently and ate at the Cricket Club, which featured an all-day British breakfast. Unfortunately Scotch eggs were not part of it. 🙁

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you for your comment, Andrea.

      Scotch eggs every morning for breakfast sounds like a great way to get the day started! It is lovely that the Carrboro Farmer's Market has these eggs - I remember you recommending this market in general when I was in Durham. Also, having a British breakfast at a Cricket Club sounds like fun - there are quite a few of these clubs in India as you would imagine.

      If, in fact, the two dishes co-evolved it is certainly interesting. It seems that Brazil (as José mentions in his comments) also has this tradition.

      Reply
  3. José Luiz

    Dear Bala, here they are called "bolovo". ovo is the portuguese word for egg and bol is the root of two words: ball and cake. There is a restaurant here that makes a small version with quail eggs.
    hugs,
    José Luiz

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Dear José,

      Interesting indeed to learn about the bolovo. Would you describe this dish as traditional Brazilian or one that is influenced by another culture?

      Thank you.

      Hugs,
      Bala

      Reply
  4. Bala

    Comments from Sachin Sankar posted through Facebook:

    My father believes that the story of civilisation is the story of the full that the people eat. And by looking at the cultural influences on the food one can understand how people met how they interacted. It is fascinating to think that people exchange food and friendship even in times of war and conflict.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing the thoughts of your father. I couldn't be intrigued more by this topic. I hope and look forward to engaging more with you two sometime.

      Reply
  5. Bala

    Another comment by Sachin Sankar posted on Facebook:

    The interesting thing about the scotch egg is that it was invented in 1738 by fortunum and mason of London (felicity cloake how to cook the perfect scotch egg)my source for the history and without doubt the best recipe for the scotch egg.
    Your blog made me think of the combination of boiled egg and meet my favourite egg in ahyderabadi lamb biryani and the next has to be boiled egg in fish pie

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you for your comment. I did read about Fortnum and Mason and the origin of the scotch egg in London, and now wonder how it tastes like, given your specific recommendation. There also seem to be suggestions (primarily based on a book called, A Caledonian Feast by Annette Hope) that the scotch egg could have evolved from the nargisi kabob in a manner similar to the mulligatawny soup and kedgeree.

      Reply
  6. nirmala

    Thanks for sharing history, the recipe and your childhood memories of scotch eggs shared with your family.It used to be a very popular dish at the Madras Gymkhana and your blog brings back pleasant memories.

    Reply
    1. Bala

      Thank you for your comment. I am sure the Madras Gymkhana Club had a delicious version of the scotch eggs.

      Reply

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