Rajasthan’s cuisine is as rich, colourful and diverse as its people and traditions. The delicacies of this desert state will delight your taste buds with a flavourful spread of gastronomic delights. Renowned for its spicy curries, the arid climate of this state allows for the growth of domestic Indian spices which are used generously, along with lentils, pulses, legumes, milk products and even milk, to produce delicious dishes. Rajasthani cuisine was influenced by both the war-like lifestyles of its inhabitants and the availability of ingredients in this arid region. Rajasthan, the land of Maharajas, is famous for its rich culture. But what makes the state distinctive and popular is its cuisine. Rajasthanis love their food and it is evident in their preparations.
Rajasthani cuisine is also influenced by the Rajputs, who are predominantly non-vegetarians. The natives of the Rajputi areas have a wide variety of chutneys made of turmeric, garlic, mint and coriander. It is a tradition in Rajasthan that game animals and birds are cooked and eaten by hunting parties. And since royals went on shikar fairly often, wild boar, hare and fowl found their way to the Rajbhog. Khud Khargosh, made of rabbit meat, was typically prepared during summer. The skinned animal would be stuffed with spices, enveloped in dough and soaked in layers of mud-soaked cloth, before being cooked. Wild boar spare ribs (bhansla) are used to make sula, a preparation of morsels of meat marinated in gravy containing yoghurt, spices and sour berries. Wild boar meat is also pickled to make saanth ro achaar. From the Mughals, Rajputs adopted the technique of cooking meat in curd. Known as safed maans, it remains popular, especially among Western tourists. It is usually served with almonds, cashew nuts and coconut.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Rajasthani cuisine is the combination of seemingly incongruous ingredients to make gravy dishes. Cooked in pure ghee, and fashioned from an innovative blend of ingredients, typical Rajasthani fare can often be a gustatory experiment that takes some getting used to. The personal preferences of the people about food are very much varied. The Rajput warrior was not averse to hunting, killing game to put in his pot at night. The Vaishnavas, followers of Krishna, were vegetarian, and strictly so, as were the Bishnois, a community known for their passion to conserve both animal and plant life. Even among Rajputs, there were enough royal kitchens where nothing other than vegetarian meals were cooked. The Marwaris of course, were vegetarian too, but their cuisine, though not too different from the Rajputs, was richer in its method of preparation. And then there were the Jains too, who were not only vegetarians, but also the ones who would not eat after sundown, and whose food had to be devoid of garlic and onions which were, otherwise, important ingredients in the Rajasthani pot.
What you should NOT miss
Whatever gastronomic delights you indulge in, in Rajasthan, there are four dishes you shouldn’t skip – ker sangri, kadhi, lassi and kulfi
Ker sangri is possibly the tastiest dish one could conjure up from two ingredients – desert berries and beans. Apparently, a terrible famine struck Jaisalmer and Barmer hundreds of years ago, and these were the only two plants to survive it. Whats more, the people who stumbled upon them found that the spicy dish made out of these legumes went with just about everything, from rice to roti to yoghurt to pickle. Ker sangri is a staple at weddings even today.
Typical of the Marwar region, kadhi – locally known as khatta – is an essential component of most meals in a Rajasthani household. It sounds simple enough – besan dumplings in a yoghurt base. But the dumplings can’t be defined by a single flavour – made as they are from several varieties of seeds (fenugreek, coriander, fennel and cumin), spices (ginger, cinnamon, chillies and cloves) and crushed curry leaves. This dish is best eaten hot with plain rice, to truly savour its taste. The Rajasthani version is different from the kadhi served in other parts of North India, and in Pakistan. Here, it tastes a little sweeter and thinner.
Punjab may stake its claim on lassi, but the sweet lassi of Rajasthan is a blessing in the unforgiving summer. The creamy saffron-flavoured version is popular in Jodhpur, and the more adventurous may want to opt for the bhang lassi or bhang thandai in Jaisalmer, which has a ‘government authorised’ licensed shop that offers mild and medium versions for women, and medium and strong for men.
The creamy kulfi of Jaipur is a must-have. If you don’t care for sticky hands and a race against time to eat your melting kulfi in the hot sun, you should probably opt for thick wads of the dessert on a plate, rather than lick it off a stick. The fact that it is served on Palmyra palm leaves adds to its charm, and seemingly to its taste.
If you want a tasty souvenir from your trip, the ideal snack to carry back home to friends and family is aloo bhujia from Bikaner.. It is a popular crispy snack prepared by using moth beans and besan (gram flour) and spices, originating from, Bikaner, a town in the western state of Rajasthan in India. Light yellow in colour it is famously known to have been first prepared in Bikaner, and over the years has not just become a characteristic product of Bikaner, but also a generic name.
A journey to Rajasthan is incomplete without a taste of its traditional flavors and recipes.