The Mughal emperors had rich and varied tables. But did these sultans dine on dog meat?

There has been rampant speculation on social media about the dietary habits of Mughal emperors. But what did they really eat?

Yaser Muhammad Faisal Jubayer
Published : 9 March 2023, 01:30 PM
Updated : 9 March 2023, 01:30 PM

Recently, social media has been in a heated discussion about the dining habits of the sultans, with some wondering if the diets of the Mughal emperors of Bengal included dogs and cats. 

Mughlai cuisine is, of course, famous in Bangladesh and is part of the menu of the many, many restaurants and roadside stalls that sell biriyani, kebabs and samosas.

The cuisine is diverse and varied, known for its breadth of flavours and wide range of confections and desserts. 

Much of this variety is due to how the cuisine came together under the empire’s founder. Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, known as Babur (the tiger), was born in Andijan, now in Uzbekistan. A descendant of the Mongol and Timurid Empires, he was destined to conquer much of South Asia after being ousted from his homeland.

Babur was a gourmet who loved the foods of his hometown, especially its fruit. In his memoirs, The Babur Nama, he waxes poetic about its abundance of delicious fruit - grapes, melons, apricots, and pomegranates.

“Better than the Adijan nashpati melon, there is none,” he wrote.

Growing up in Uzbekistan, Babur loved Persian cuisine, and when he moved east to conquer northern India, he brought Persian cooks with him. Perhaps it was for the best because he did not enjoy the food of Hindustan much. The fruit, especially, was a disappointment. 

“Hindustan is a country of few charms…” he wrote. “No grapes, no musk-melons or first-rate fruits.”

Though, he did eventually develop an appreciation for mangoes.

“Mangoes, when good, are very good, but, as many as are eaten, few are first rate… All in all, the mango is the best fruit of Hindustan.”

Babur’s particular palate meant that his table mainly consisted of Persian food made with local Indian ingredients. The specific combination was the dawn of Mughlai cuisine, which unified the Middle Eastern non-vegetarian diet with the rich gravies of India. 

Naturally, rice was the staple, with several varieties, including basmati, gaining prominence in the court. But Babur also loved bread and so wheat, barley, and other grains were eaten too.

The pulaos and biriyanis that grace every major gathering and dining event in Bangladesh also draw on Mughlai cuisine. Their rice and many other sweet and savoury dishes, was adorned with almonds, pistachios, cashews, and raisins to add creaminess, texture, and sweetness.  

The emperors’ rice would often be cooked with or accompanied by meat. Beef, mutton, and all manner of fowl were popular among the emperors. They also ate game meat like wild boar and venison. There is a tradition of consuming dog meat in some tribal communities in northeast India, but it is unlikely that Babur ate it regularly. His autobiography shows that he was particularly fond of both dogs and horses. 

The meat was prepared in several ways, often spiced or with yoghurt. The variety of kebabs in the Indian subcontinent and the dish’s particular popularity in northern India is due to the prominence of the Mughal court in the region. 

The Mughals ate quite a lot of fish too, including tilapia, catfish, carp, mudfish, and shellfish like prawn and crab. 

Though Babur himself wasn’t too fond of India’s agricultural produce, his descendants ate a broad range of fruit and vegetables with notable preferences for mango, jackfruit, coconut, cauliflower, potato, eggplant, and okra. 

Spices were a core part of the taste of Mughlai cuisine, too, incorporating cardamom, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Of course, these flavours are now integral to the daily meals of Bangladesh. 

Dairy goods like yoghurt and cheese were also part of these sultans’ diets. Tea, coffee, and sherbet were among the popular beverages. 

Though a dedicated Muslim, Babur drank wine quite regularly in his younger years. He hosted elaborate parties catered with wide varieties of kebabs and wine. Even when he grew older and gave up alcohol in line with his religion, he still loved to attend lavish gatherings where the wine flowed freely.  

And there were the sweetmeats like halwa and jalebi that grew popular in the court. Even the concept of dessert, ending a meal on a sweet note, comes to the Indian subcontinent largely through the Arabian influences of the Mughals. 

Mughal cuisine is inextricable from our country's food culture, which is to be expected. Mughal Bengal made up the largest subdivision of the Mughal Empire and Dhaka even became its capital in 1610. Babur’s palate continues to fashion the dishes consumed by millions of Bangladeshis.

Though, if his autobiography is anything to go by, he would prefer that we did not taint ours with dog meat. 


“The Cuisine of the Sultanate - Mughal Cuisine”. The House of Ud. 2019.

“Samosas of Mughal India”. Tasting History with Max Miller. 2022. 

“The Babur Nama”. Babur. Everyman Library. 2020.

“Feasts and Fasts: A History of Food in India”. Colleen Taylor Sen. Reaktion Books. 2015.

"Indian Food: A Historical Companion". KT Achaya. Oxford India Paperbacks. 1998.

This article is part of Stripe,'s special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.