Cookery Book Author, Culinary Historian and Independent Food Consultant and Trainer in Anglo-Indian Cuisine

May 30, 2008

“Mulligatawny” or good old Anglo-Indian Pepperwater?

What would you prefer? Mulligatawny Soup or just plain A. I. Pepperwater? Mulligatawny Soup was actually the anglicized version of […]

What would you prefer? Mulligatawny Soup or just plain A. I. Pepperwater? Mulligatawny Soup was actually the anglicized version of the Tamil “Melligu -Thani”. (“Melligu” meaning pepper and “Thanir” meaning water). As the name suggests it was originally just pepper in a watery soup.The original Mulligatawny Soup can be traced back to the early days of the East India Company in Madras to around the 18th century. It was originally a soup made with chicken or mutton/lamb stock. Mulligatawny Soup had no history in India before the British Raj. Supposedly, it was simply an invention to satisfy the Britishers, who demanded a soup course for dinner from a cuisine that had never produced one till then. The Tamil servants in those days concocted a stew like dish, that contained pepper and water on the lines of their local “Rasam” or “Melligu –Thanir. It was an interesting mix of East meets West, and was the nearest thing to soup in the cuisine of Colonial India. In course of time a lot of other ingredients such meat, chicken, coconut, turmeric and other spices were added to give it a completely different flavour. A variety of “Mulligatawnies”, then came into existence which quickly became popular throughout the Common Wealth. Recipes for mulligatawny were quickly brought back to England by the British and its popularity spread through out the country. It has made a lasting impression on British cuisine right down to the present day, though it has undergone many changes. It is still an excellent “Comfort” dish on a cold rainy day and will surely lift the spirits when one is down in the dumps. Mulligatawny Soup is now firmly entrenched not just in cookbooks but history books as well as a thick, spicy meat soup which is a wholesome meal in itself served with bread or rice. It has remained popular in the United Kingdom and is now available even in cans in some stores. The Mulligatawny Soup of today bears little resemblance to the original “MELLIGU -THANI”. And despite the name, pepper itself is not an important ingredient in the dish. Though purported to be a classic Anglo-Indian dish since it came into existence during the Colonial Era, and was very popular then, Mulligatawny is not a typical Anglo-Indian dish. The real dish we Anglo-Indians call “Pepper water” is actually closer to the Tamil Rasam than Mulligatawny. Mulligatawny ultimately culminated into our very own Breast Bone pepperwater and various other variations such Shrimp Pepperwater, Dal Pepperwater, Horsegram pepperwater, etc. Here’s a recipe for Chicken Mulligatwany as well as our good old Pepper Water. Enjoy!!!!!!!


Serves 6 Preparation time 45 minutes

½ kg chicken chopped into medium size pieces

1-teaspoon chilly powder 2-teaspoons pepper powder

1-teaspoon cumin powder 1-teaspoon coriander powder

1-teaspoon crushed garlic 2 big onions sliced

1 cup coconut paste or coconut milk Salt to taste

2 cloves 2 small pieces cinnamon

2 cardamoms 1 tablespoon oil or butter

Cook the chicken and all the ingredients with 6 to 8 cups of water in a large vessel on high heat till it reaches boiling point. Lower the heat and simmer for at least one hour till the soup is nice and thick. Garnish with mint leaves. Serve with bread or rice.

(Mutton or Lamb could be substituted for chicken)


Serves 6 Preparation Time 20 minutes

2 large tomatoes chopped or 2 tablespoons tomato puree

1-teaspoon pepper powder 1-teaspoon chilly powder

1-teaspoon cumin powder ½- teaspoon turmeric powder

½- teaspoon coriander powder Salt to taste

½- cup tamarind juice extracted from a small ball of tamarind or 2 teaspoons tamarind paste

Cook all the above with 3 or 4 cups of water in a vessel on high heat till it boils. Reduce the heat and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Season with a small onion sliced , 2 red chilies broken into bits, 3 pods garlic crushed roughly, ½ teaspoon mustard seeds, a few curry leaves and 2 teaspoons oil Note The pepper water can be prepared by using fresh red chilies cumin seeds coriander seeds, peppercorns ground in a mixer instead of the powders.

Article written by Bridget White-Kumar
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