Monday, November 26, 2007

Jaipur

Last weekend I got to visit Jaipur on work. Now, we live close to Jaipur, so we have visited it on various occasions. I remember once, years back when A and I were in the same ad agency, we had gone on an office trip to Sariska, the wildlife resort. Of course, we didn't get to see any wildlife apart from Nilgai and a lonely Iguana. But we did hear leopards at night, and the guide came and scared us by saying that sometimes leopards climb into the trees surrounding the place where we were staying and drop into the grounds for a nocturnal prowl. The bonfire suddenly felt a lot colder, I can tell you.

One of the highlights of the trip was the amazing Rajasthani food we got. The place really laid out a spread for each meal, with puris and aloo ki sabzi, dal baati churma for lunch and so on. Ever since then, it has become a strange obsession for A and me to try and have some authentic Rajasthani food on our jaunts to Jaipur.

I have had plenty of Marwari food over the years thanks to a couple of close Maaru friends - gatte ki sabzi, ker sangri, suhaalis and what not, and have learnt to cook quite a few traditional dishes too. Interestingly, a couple of Marwari/ Rajasthani dishes are found all the way down in Karnataka as well - aambodey ( dal wadas) is one of them, and the other is pheni - no, not the cashew liquor but a lovely, lacey cobweb of flour and ghee, eaten with powdered sugar and cardamom and a glass of warm badaam milk. This is typically served at kannadiga weddings and is one of the signature dishes. Imagine my surprise at finding it in Rajasthani cuisine too!

Much to our disappointment, on our last several trips to Jaipur, we hadn't been able to find a place that served good authentic Rajasthani cuisine. The Rambagh Palace serves things like laal maas - authentic, I'm sure, but no good to veggie me. Everyone in Jaipur will tell you helpfully, when you ask about authentic food, "Go to LMB". LMB = Lakshmi Mishthaan Bhandaar. So to LMB we went the last time, full of anticipation, mouths watering and all that. Only to find a menu full of chholey bhaturey, paneer and maa ki daal. The only remotely Rajasthani thing they had was a ker sangri ki sabzi. How annoying!

Actually this is part of a trend I'm seeing in many of our cities, where the authentic cuisine of the place is reserved for home cooking, and all you get at restaurants is what the locals like to eat, i.e. Punjabi, italian, south Indian and what not. Some years back you couldn't get a good Maharashtrian meal in Bombay, short of breaking into someone's kitchen, except for the vada pau and Zunka-bhakr at railway stations. It wasn't until Vimla Patil of Femina fame opened Viva Paschim in the late 90s that one got a feel for the regional cuisine. And now Oh Calcutta by Anjan Chatterjee is promising to do the same thing for Bengali food. This is a trick I feel Indian restaurants are missing out on, in their quest for the exotic. You get Japanese, Greek, Korean and Russian, but where's the authentic regional cuisine of India? Chettinad or Assamese food would be as exotic for the Delhi-ite as sushi, surely.

Anyway, to recommence where I had trailed off...this time too, I bet that I would only get to eat bloody paneer and makhani daal, and was bracing myself. I reacted with shock and disbelief when I saw that LMB had announced a Rajasthani Thaal - yes, with the words daal baati churma boldly mentioned. I promptly took myself off to LMB in hope and anticipation, even while the part of me that cringes when food expectations are let down was getting ready to start yelling its head off. LMB is a rather upmarket restaurant for the Jaipur local, though the prices are very reasonable ( the thaal is Rs. 250). It's bang in the heart of the Hawa Mahal market ( tip to visitors - enjoy the view of the Hawa Mahal but do not go inside - it's disappointing, to say the least!) - which I would classify as India's traditional version of a mall. The market is built out of characteristic and lovely red sandstone, and is in an H shape, with traditional gates at the start and the finish. The shops are laid out along the length of the H and each section specialises in merchandise - one has jewelry, another has clothes, a third has seeds ( why?) and so on.

The service at LMB is wonderfully warm and attentive - you do not have to wait long to be seated or served. The Thaal started with a spicy papad soup, which I'm going to have to try out at home. It also had bits of dried vadis floating inside and was richly peppery. The food included missi rotis and rice, daal ( bland moong dal, unfortunately, not the spicy, garlicky one my tastebuds remembered from nearly fourteen years ago), baati - dough balls fried and full of ghee, one of which was stuffed with peas and cashews, 2 kinds of churma, which is wheat flour wellroasted in ghee and served with fine sugar blended in, ker sangri, gatte ki sabzi, Rajasthani kadhi, roasted papad and a wonderful sweet-spicy vegetable which I didn't recognise but relished. I was thankful I had had a light lunch of a few pieces of hara kebab, as this meal required a fairly gargantuan appetite to be done justice to. Unfortunately the host who had lent me his car needed it back for an emergency so I had to rush through the meal rather than savour it. But I came away triumphant in my quest to at last have authentic Rajasthani food in Rajasthan - and of course with a packet of kachoris and pheni in tow!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just read your post on Jaipur.Even I visited Jaipur a month ago and had a meal in LMB, the Rajasthani thaal.As I was reading your post I remembered each and every dish in the thaal, Delicious.
You know there are 2 options in thal, one with onion and garlic and the other without.The one with onions is the spicy one and you get garlic chutney with it.But since no one guided me I got to eat the bland one.The sweet tangy veg is methi seeds with raisins.The dal had urad and chana dal.

That one huge thali was enough to fill my tummy.If you remember they also served namkin also with the thali.I liked the soup too.
I was eying the onion kachoris too.Next time have the dahi wadas, they were ok.The dahi could have been better.
I don't mind visiting the place again for food.
While returning I saw a board on the outskirts Chokhi Dhani eating place.Supposed to be good.Thanks for reviving my Jaipur memories again :)

Asha said...

I have yet to see the North, Jaipur sounds and looks so beautiful!:))

NC said...

I am from Jaipur...the next time you go there, try Chokhi Dhaani...they really do have typical rajasthani food. Apart from that my other favorite place to eat good food are the road side dhabas (Sharma Bhojnalaya and such) on the bus stand. Their daal baati thaalis are very good, although a little spicey. Also try the Kachori at Rawat Sweets & namkeens, again very close to the bus stand.
At LMB the thing to try is Ghewar...I think they make that the best. Its a sweet dish and they have a malai version that you can eat fresh and a dry version that can be brought home, soaked in sugar syrup and eaten (I am missing all this food soo much that my eyes are welling now )
anyways...also try Raaj Kachori if you get it somewhere in Jaipur. But definitely for traditional food, chokhi dhaani is a must try atleast once.

vimmi said...

My hubby and i had been to rajasthan some yrs back and the foood was amazing. We visited Udaipur, Jaipur, and Mount Abu. We ate in small hotels which offered unlimited food and the food was amazing.
UR ARTICLE HAS BROUGHT BACK A LOT OF MEMORIES























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bird's eye view said...

Hey, anonymous, no one told me about any options. I wonder which one I had? It was probably the one sans onion and garlic, going by the moong daal - and I didn't get any garlic chutney either! You're right, they did serve namkeen. Will try the dahi wadas next time. I dunno if Chokhi dhani has improved - we were there about 4 years ago and it was a real disappointment. But I did hear about a new place called aapro jaipur/ rajasthan which serves traditional food, accompanied by folk art performances.

Asha,

You must visit Rajasthan - it's lovely, and one gets a real sense of history - Alauddin khilji and so on.

NC,

I had heard from some people that the bus stand was the best place to get authentic food, but since I was on my own, didn't want to venture there. I have had LMB Ghewar several times, and I love it - though it's tremendously heavy. The pheni I got back this time is superb too - we top it with powdered sugar+ cardamom and pour hot plain milk on top - it also tastes good just eaten with the sugar mix.

Vimmi,

My trip has inspired a desire to do a driving tour of Rajasthan with family - hopefully within the next year. i'm looking forward to eating at all these chutku restaurants...:)