The finest cuisine in India was derived from the Mughals and, along with European cooking, influenced the royal kitchens of India. But in Rajasthan, the common man’s kitchen remained untouched. Cooking here has its own unique flavor and the simplest ingredients go into preparing most dishes. Scarcity of water and fresh green vegetables have had their impact on the cooking in the desert areas of Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Barmer. Instead of water the women prefer to use milk, buttermilk and clarified butter. Dried lentils and beans from indigenous plants are used liberally. Gram flour is a major ingredient and is used to make delicacies like ‘Khata’, ‘Ghatta Ki Sabzi’ and ‘Pakodi’. Bajra and corn, the staple grains, are used to make ‘Rotis’, ‘Rabdi’ and ‘Kheechdi’; and various chutneys are made from locally available spices like turmeric, coriander, mint and garlic.
Local Rajasthani Food – ‘Dal-Baati’ (dumplings with a filling, roasted among hot coals) and ‘Choorma’ (dry, flaky, sweet crumb pudding) are the universal favorites. The non-vegetarian dishes include ‘Soola’ or barbecued meats, marinated with a local vegetable. But it is the sweets that the Rajasthanis freak out on. Each part of the State has its own speciality – so Jodhpur and Jaisalmer are famous for their ‘Laddoos’, Pushkar for its ‘Malpuas’, Bikaner for its ‘rasgullas’, Udaipur for its ‘Dil Jani’, Jaipur for its ‘Mishri Mawa’ and ‘Ghevar’, Ajmer for its ‘Sohan Halwa’; and mouth watering ‘jalebis’ can be found in all cities. It is difficult to explain the merits of each of these sweets, so whichever city you are in just ask for the local speciality and enjoy it. Most hotels have excellent restaurants that serve a selection of Rajasthani dishes as well as international favourites.
The war-like life style of the people of Rajasthan, necessitated food stuffs that could last several days. This resulted in a large variety of savoury snacks being developed – ‘bhujia’, ‘mathri’, ‘khatta-meetha sev’, ‘daal-moth’, etc. These popular ready-to-eat munchies are now available in attractive, well-sealed packaging, all over North India – ideal for on-the-move snacking.
Picnic Food – Jaipur may be known the world over for its impressive Hawa Mahal and the fortified old city of Amber, but connoisseurs recognize it for another speciality daal-bati-choorma. This cuisine owes its origin to the Jaipuri penchant for picnicking in the rainy season when the surrounding hills turn lush. On such occasions, the picnic meal almost invariably consisted of dall-bati-choorma, usually cooked on site rather than carried in a hamper. The dall consists of a lentil curry; bati is a round ball of bread baked in a charcoal fire with clarified butter concealed within; choorma is a sweet dish made with bread bruised with jaggery or sugar and ghee. A variety of dalls may be cooked for the purpose, the bati could be made with wheat flour or millet or even a mix of maize and wheat flour (misi), and choorma came in an astonishing variety, several of which could be served together- the bread with which it was made again consisting of wheat or maize or millet, and combined with desiccated coconut, khoya, or even raisins and dry fruits. The taste, overall, is mild, with sweet and salty alternates, no chillies, but its fat content making it extremely calorific.
Regional Specialities – If Jaipur has its specialty, none of the other princely states have lagged behind. Bikaner has its savouries, especially bhujiya, which has accounted for its fame, and the quality of its papads and badi remains unrivalled. The lean mutton of the desert goats of this region too is considered the most favourable. Jodhpur has its kachoris, puffed breads with stuffing- those with mawa being extraordinarily sweet, while others have biting hot green chillies laced with a masala that is also intended to singe the palate. In Bharatpur, milk sweets, rarely commercially available, occupy a niche by themselves. One such sweet has milk boiled over hours to a consistency when it can be folded into little pancakes that, quite literally, melt in the mouth. A Rajasthani delicacy, linked with the monsoon festival of Teej, is called ghevar, consisting of round cakes of white flour over which sweetened syrup is poured. Today, variations include lacings with cream and khoya, making it a delightful concoction. Muslim food has also occupied a place in the overall cuisine of the state, not just in pockets such as Tonk and Loharu, but also in Jaipur where the Muslim craftsmen have been known to celebrate Eid with great quantities of kebabs and pasandas, and with sevaiyan so fine, it cannot be rolled elsewhere.
Chok Dhani – To get a feel of rural Rajasthan, you must, absolutely must, visit Chokhi Dhani, 20 km from Jaipur. Every evening the complex comes alive with a myriad lanterns, street acrobats, young women tirelessly pirouetting to the steps of the ‘ghoomar’ dance, puppeteers pulling strings, monkeys and bears dancing and performing acrobatics.
There is an endless variety of typical rustic entertainment and, to top it all, a meal fit for a king. The food is served by Rajasthani men wearing their traditional dress, and a mind boggling variety of dishes keeps appearing from the kitchen. Visitors sit on low stools and eat a genuine Rajasthani meal out of ‘pattals’ (leaf plates). The service is excellent and the hospitality traditional, as you are persuaded to have another helping of every dish. Do not miss a visit to Chokhi Dhani.