Breakfast in British India
In 1810 Captain Thomas Williamson, a retired Bengal Army officer, published The East India Vade-Mecum; or complete guide to gentlemen intended for the civil, military or, naval service of the East India Company. It is a fascinating book to dip into and this caught my eye:
’A breakfast in India bears a strong resemblance to the same meal in Scotland, with the exception of whiskey; the introduction of which, (if to be had,) or of any other spirits would be considered both nauseous and vulgar’.
After this surprising revelation about Scottish breakfasts, Williamson moves on to detail the bill of fare. Breakfast for Europeans in Williamson’s India was generally a substantial meal: tea, coffee, toast, bread, butter, eggs, rice, salt-fish, kitcheree (kedgeree), sweetmeats, orange marmalade, and honey. Sometimes, following hunting and shooting expeditions, cold meat and accompaniments were served.
'The Breakfast' from William Tayler, Sketches illustrating the manner and customs of the Indians and the Anglo-Indians (London, 1842) British Library shelfmark X42 Images Online
European gentlemen rose at daybreak and, before breakfast, either went on parade or to their ‘field diversions’, or rode on horses or elephants, enjoying the cool morning air. Williamson recommended wearing the clothes worn on the previous evening for exercise and then changing into a clean suit on return, sitting down to breakfast in comfort.
Williamson cautioned against eating eggs at breakfast, believing that they aggravated bilious conditions. Eggs were ‘innocent’ in the climate of England for people with a robust constitution, but in Asia, ‘where relaxation weakens the powers of digestion, they are a pernicious article of diet’. He also believed that salt-fish should be banned from the breakfast table, as eating it caused ’thirst, heat, and uneasiness’.
Calcutta Gazette 3 February 1785 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast
In the late 18th century it had been customary for the Governor General and members of Council to have weekly public breakfasts: ‘persons of all characters mixed promiscuously, and good and bad were to be seen around the same tea-pot’. The breakfast was considered as ‘merely the preface to a levee’. When Lord Cornwallis arrived, these public breakfasts were replaced by open levees.
Lead Curator, East India Company Records
Thomas Williamson, The East India Vade-Mecum; or complete guide to gentlemen intended for the civil, military or, naval service of the East India Company (London, 1810)
Owain Edwards,’ Captain Thomas Williamson of India’, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 14, No. 4 (1980), pp. 673-682
In the mid-19th century, there was a selection of marmalades available in India. As well as orange marmalade, there was mango, citron, lemon, and ginger.
Bombay Gazette 3 February 1863 British Newspaper Archive - also available via Findmypast
What would Paddington Bear think of that?