One of the best Rajasthani dishes is dal-baati. You’ll never see a Rajasthani who does not swear by his daal-baati! And understandably so. Balls of wheat are roasted in the oven, and dipped into ghee, to form ‘baatis’. They are then placed in spicy, mouthwatering dal to make a hearty dish. The baatis are also crushed with jaggery or sugar, and nuts to make the ‘churma’ which serves a sweet accompaniment to this dish. This dish is the epitome of Marwari cuisine – devoid of vegetables and fresh produce, it displays the creativity and tenacity of the Rajasthani people. One of my favourite dishes is Gatte ki sabzi. Long cylindrical shapes of gram flour, spiced with fenugreek leaves, turmeric, salt, and yogurt, is poached in salted water. These scrumptious pieces are then served in a yellow gravy, made from yoghurt.
Many dishes in Rajasthan are made from milk, buttermilk, yogurt and related dairy products. The overall usage of water in the dishes is less as compared to dishes from other cuisines. ‘Kadhi’ is a wonderful curry, made from gram flour in buttermilk. It is spicy, and serves as a wonderful accompaniment to the traditional rice dishes.
Missi roti is a renowned bread from Rajasthan. It is prepared by kneading onions and green chillies in gram flour. These rotis are amazing in taste – subtly spicy, and very flavourful. Roti is served with different types of vegetables. Owing to the scarcity of water in Rajasthan, the people have replaced green vegetables with other things, like papads and sev. One of the specialities of Rajasthan is papad ki subzi. Papads are thin discs, which can either be fried in oil, or are roasted and served with meals. In Rajasthani cuisine, however, they are made into a yummy curry.
Rajasthani cuisine has a lot of snacks akin to papads, which are called farsan. I especially like alu bhujia. It is a crunchy snack, made from cooked and mashed potatoes in besan. A hint of mint is added to enhance its flavour. It is served best along with tea in the afternoons! Bikaner is the best place in Rajasthan to buy farsan. Recently, Bikaneri bhujia was awarded the geographical indications rights and patent.
Like its rich and varied vegetarian dishes, Rajasthan also has many meat based dishes. They generally have an origin in the warrior heritage of the state. Lal Maas, whose name literally translates as red meat, was once a dish cooked for Rajput hunters in the wild. The meat is cooked in pure ghee, which gives it a rich flavour. The dish uses garlic extensively. In many restaurants, the authentic version of this dish is not served. This is perhaps because the royal cooks, or khansamas, had kept the recipes close to their chests, but now, in many fine restaurants, the authentic fare is being served. The red-hot colour of Lal maas comes from chillies, but many people substitute half the amount with Kashmiri chilies, which add the colour, without the heat. Another beautiful non-vegetarian dish from Rajasthan is maas ke sooley. While the common perception is that kebabs are best eaten in Punjab and Lucknow, the reality is far different. Rajasthan’s own version of kebabs is maas ke sooley. In this delectable dish, mutton escalopes, which have been marinated in hung curd and chilli are grilled on a hot plate.
Sweets don’t get any better than in Rajasthan. Unlike desserts, which are served after the meal, sweets are served along with the primary courses in Rajasthani cuisine. One of the best sweets from Rajasthan is imarti. It is curly and circular shaped sweet, made from deep frying batter and soaking it in sugar syrup. Its bright orange colour is ideally not a product of any artificial colour, but rather from the kesar that has been added. It was originally one of the items on the food menu of the Royals. Imarti is often garnished with crushed green cardamom or black pepper.
Ghevar is an epitome of Rajasthani sweets. It is usually prepared in January, for the festival of Makar Sankranti, in March or April for the festival of Gangaur, and in August for the Teej festival. But really, it is the sweet of all seasons, and is apparently, a bit complicated to make. Circular cakes of wheat flour are first fried, and then dipped in sugar syrup. This gives it a unique texture and flavour – it appears crunchy from the outside, but in the inside, it is pleasantly sweet and soft.
It is my absolutely favourite dessert. Perhaps the best ghevar is found in Jaipur. Laxmi Misthan Bhandar is the most popular sweet shop, which serves unbelievably delicious ghevar that just melt in one’s mouth.
I am absolutely in love with food from Rajasthan! Hence I am usually found at my Rajasthani friends’ houses, around dinner time. The cuisine from this hot, arid state is delicious, and once you like it, you will invariably fall in love with it. Though it may seem spicy to the people who are new to the world of Indian cooking, over all, it has quite balanced flavours. For international tourists, it might be a good idea to sample Rajasthani cuisine in fine dining restaurants, where the spiciness of the dishes has been adjusted to accommodate the uninitiated palates. Of course, the desserts can be tried by one and all, the only condition being, be prepared to be dazzled!
In the next post, we will take a trip down the coast, to Konkan, where food is more than a three meal ritual, and happiness is a way of life.
Image credits: awesomecuisine.com, cuminandcardamamon.blogspot.com, David Kerkhoff (via Wikimedia commons), Rajcuilnary.blogspot.com, rajdhani.com