Born in 1912 in Punjab, Mrs Balbir Singh is widely regarded as one of India’s most important teachers and writers of the art of Indian cookery. Her cooking and homemaking classes in Delhi flourished for decades from the mid-1900s. She was also the first cookery expert to be commissioned by India’s national television network to present a series of cooking segments. In 1961 she penned what went on to become her enduring legacy to India’s culinary heritage, Mrs. Balbir Singh’s Indian Cookery. This original grande dame remains one of India’s most iconic, well-loved and respected cookbook authors. A true national treasure, the award-winning Mrs Balbir Singh has inspired generations of homemakers, chefs, and cookery writers alike.
Born on the 12th of December to a family of landowners headed by her father S. Ram Singh, in the erstwhile state of Punjab in Undivided India under the British rule of Emperor George V.
Generations of cooking excellence start to filter down as she observes and also helps in the family kitchen, where many of the North Indian classics are prepared.
Graduates from Punjab University in 1936, one of the oldest public universities in India, established in 1882 as The University of the Panjab, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree.
She marries Dr Balbir Singh, who she had met at University.
When her husband is called overseas to serve King George VI in His Majesty's Indian Land Forces, Mrs Singh who was with child moves to the hill station of Shimla, the Summer Capital of British India. Where, in August of that year, she has their only child Deepak Singh.
The London Years Begin
Soon after experiencing the Partition of India and division of their home state of Punjab, the family relocate from India for a short time to England as a result of a research fellowship offered to Dr Singh in the treatment of tuberculosis at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in West London. Mrs Singh studied domestic science on Regent Street near Piccadilly Circus while their son Deepak attended a local grammar school. Eager to pass on her knowledge of Indian cookery, Mrs Singh never passed up the opportunity to teach authentic dishes to British and Indian families who missed a taste of India.
Mrs Singh graduates in English Domestic Science at a college on Regent Street, while also finding time to attend afternoon and evening classes in a variety of homemaking skills. Although thousands of miles from home, Mrs Singh embraced the opportunity to combine this formal cookery training with the culinary arts passed down the generations in her family of exceptional cooks.
A Year at the Presidential Estate
On their return to India from London, Mrs Balbir Singh and family spend a year living at Rashtrapati Bhavan (the Indian President's House formerly known as Viceroy's House) in New Delhi, where her brother was Comptroller General of the President's household.
Mrs Singh teaches Food Technology, Home Science and Nutrition at Lady Irwin College on Sikandra Road, New Delhi. The family lives on nearby Rouse Avenue, between Minto (now Shivaji) Bridge and the famous Hardinge (now Tilak) Bridge, where in 1957 Mrs Singh also begins regularly holding her increasingly popular cookery classes.
Mrs Balbir Singh received the Indian Council of Agricultural Research's Award for having set the trend in home preservation. Her efforts where recognised in the numerous medals and prizes she won over the years.
The family spend some time in the inspirational hill station of Mussoorie in the foothills of the Himalayas, in order for Mrs Singh to compile and edit her lasting legacy to India's culinary heritage. It is in this quaint town, known as the ‘Queen of Hills’ with its amazing views of the Doon Valley and Shiwalik ranges, that many of the finishing touches to her first and very famous book, Mrs Balbir Singh's Indian Cookery take place.
Mrs Balbir Singh's Indian Cookery is First Published.
Mrs. Balbir Singh’s Indian Cookery was the first of its kind in the English language for housewives and became an instant classic. The book went on to become her enduring legacy to India’s culinary heritage. An acclaimed cookbook which quickly became the centre point of all or much, authentic Indian cooking for subsequent generations of homemakers and chefs alike. This most cherished of Indian cookbooks went on to sell internationally, through several editions, recipe additions and reprints over time.
Mrs Balbir Singh won the prestigious Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung award. Known as the IKA or the International Exhibition of Culinary Art, and is regarded the world over as the Culinary Olympics.
The Nineteen-Sixties and Seventies
Long before other dames of Indian cookery emerged (some of whom learned their trade at Mrs Singh's classes) and the more recently known television and celebrity chefs, Mrs Balbir Singh had pioneered a path previously untrodden as the Indian cookery guru of the 1960s and 70s. She started a revolution which, which along with the others that followed in Mumbai and other parts of India, shaped the taste buds of both post-Partition India and many of the global Indian diaspora. There are many people to this day decades later either thanking or acknowledging her for their inspirations and successes in the culinary world.
Mrs Balbir Singh combined her decades of experience with the then new desire of Indians for international cookery. Without making a departure from the traditional, and always mindful to utilise produce and ingredients available in local markets, she presents more than 300 recipes in her Continental Cookery for Indian Homes.
This labour of love served not only as a kitchen companion to her book on Indian cuisine, but also added to her culinary legacy, as a reference and roadmap to Indian households wishing to broaden their everyday food horizons. An acknowledgements excerpt from Mrs Singh reads: "My granddaughter, Pallavi, a new bride, kept us all focussed so that this would be her first wedding gift."
Research on the Origins of Chicken Tikka Masala
Ethnic food historians and authors Peter & Colleen Grove discuss various origin claims of Chicken Tikka Masala in their book Flavours of History, in which one of their main conclusions suggests that "The shape of things to come may have been a recipe for Shahi Chicken Masala in Mrs. Balbir Singh’s ‘Indian Cookery’ published in 1961".
Our website store launches almost 105 years to the day since Mrs Balbir Singh's birth, and nearly 60 years after the formal establishing of her famous cookery classes. Through our website, recipes and products you will be able to experience a mouthwatering selection of authentic dishes from one of the world's great cuisines that represents nearly 1/6th of the global population. All made to the original recipes and incorporating the generations of spice expertise perfected by this icon of the culinary world.
Mrs Balbir Singh's recipes have truly stood the test of time, and are brought to you lovingly by her family and are suitable for every occasion from family meals to dinner parties and celebratory feasts. Her dishes continue to be experienced and enjoyed by lovers of authentic Indian food around the world, from food bloggers and the international food cognoscenti through to royalty. We very much hope that we can help you do the same.