Food Fetish: Flavours of Rajasthan

422706809_aefcbc1038.jpgWith the Mehrangarh fort and the Umaid Palace adding wonders to the Jodhpur skyline, with the Lake Palace sitting in the pristine waters of Udaipur, it is no wonder that the cuisines of Rajasthan bear resemblance to the rich cultural heritage of this place. But before we go any further, let me warn you, that you must prepare yourself for a complete calorie catastrophe, for this is a place which believes that “the more ghee”, the merrier.

The most fascinating quality of Rajasthani food is that it is heavily influenced by the region’s demography and climate. Preservation of food was one of the main criteria as food would perish soon, but that hardly reflected in its richness or flavour. Another influencing factor was the scarcity of water, which led to the extensive use of milk and refined butter in preparation of the daily meal. This becomes conspicuous from the local delicacies of the desert regions of Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner.

Besides the main course food, Rajasthan is known better for its delectable street food. The famous ‘mirchi bada’ is a favourite amongst the locals. Prepared by cocooning a spicy green chili with a layer of spiced potato and vegetables, it is then deep fried in ‘desi ghee’, to leave it crisp and golden on the outside and soft on the inside. It gains even more popularity during the rainy season, when an unending queue in front of the local ‘mithaiwaala’ is a common sight. Then there is the famous ‘daal baati choorma’, which is a combination of lentils, baked wheat balls and ‘churma’, which is a powdered sweetened cereal.

Rajasthanis too, like most of the Indians, have a great liking for sweet food. The ‘mewa kachori ’, which would be a calorie counting nightmare, resembles a normal ‘kachori’ but is filled with ‘mewa’, dry fruits and spices, which is then deep fried and dipped in hot ‘chaashni’, to leave everyone’s mouth watering. It is an interesting combination of sweet and spice and clearly contradicts the general idea which everyone has of a ‘kachori’. If that wasn’t enough, one could go for the ‘paneer ki jalebi’s’, which obviously made from paneer is another favourite amongst the locals. But what steals the show is the ‘pyaaz ki kachori’. It is an interesting variation of the original kachori but only more spicy and tangy. The craze for ‘rasgullas’ in this part of the country would leave any tourist totally confused. The rasgullas of Bikaner are world renowned for their size and ‘sponginess’, to put it very blatantly. With millions of tins being exported world wide annually, the Bikaneri ‘rasgulla’ has found equal popularity amongst the masses. ‘Mishri maawa’, ‘kalakand’ and ‘ghevar’ of Jaipur also require special mention in this context.

But what actually adds that zing to these delicacies are the locally available spices, like turmeric which is also treated as a vegetable in this part of the country. Personally, I feel that the ayurvedic reasons for which turmeric is so famous, loses all its greatness when prepared with generous dollops of ghee. But this ‘vegetable’ has found its way into the staple food of all Rajasthanis, also because of its long shelf life. Sangri, another vegetable only found locally is stir fried and spiced up to tease any diner’s taste buds.

From street food, the focus may now be shifted to the Royal cuisines of Rajasthan. In the Royal kitchens , food is very serious business and has been raised to the level of an art-form. ’Laal mans’ or Red meat is eaten during festivities and special occasions. It is prepared using red chilies which adds to the meat a fiery, scalding flavour and is eaten with a rich gravy of tomatoes and spices. Then there is ‘safed mans’ or White meat which is stuffed with dry fruits such as raisins and pistachio and slow cooked in a gravy of cashew, cream, coconut and blanched almonds and laced with powdered spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. The Rajasthani platter is undoubtedly, a gastronomic delight and has now become an intricate part of all major food festivals. Each region of Rajasthan has its trademark dish. Jaipur for its ‘ghevar’, Jodhpur for its ‘mirchi badas’,’pyaaz and mawa kachori’s’, Bikaner for its spicy ‘aloo bhujiya’, ‘papads’ and ‘rasgulla’ and the region of Mewar or Udaipur is believed to have come up with two forms of barbecue called ‘sooley’ and ‘dil jani’.

Undoubtedly, the cuisines of this region speak (or taste) volumes of the amount of effort which goes into preparing the final meal. The fame of Rajasthani food in the global food arena has done wonders for its tourism. The streets lined with savouring treats and the palaces with Royal cuisines have food fit for one and all, be it Liz Hurley or Manikchand. Rajasthan’s food incorporates the richness of its heritage. With every morsel reflecting its years of history, one truly gets a bite into Rajasthan’s rich, colourful and ‘flavoured’ culture.

Amanjit Singh Khanna

[Image Courtesy sharmski]