Marwar's Festival of Tastes | Travelogue
After immersing ourselves in the marvel of Mehrangarh fort, a deep and insatiable hunger overtook us. Out to savour authentic flavours of Rajasthan, we began the hunt for a suitable restaurant.
Finally, passing through a water-logged countryside after a pipe burst, we navigated along a vast, desolate street and finally the vehicle came to a stop in front of a restaurant. To our dismay, a signboard there too proclaimed it was ‘pure vegetarian’ which had made us sick. Regrettably, apart from these retail vegetarian cafes, there seemed to be a conspicuous absence of any other dining options.
Diverse Marwari Thali
Finally, we settled for something vegetarian, provided it offered an authentic taste of the local cuisine, and Veer gave us an assurance. It was a modest restaurant, boasting of no more than half a dozen tables and the ceiling was adorned with saris, an attempt to infuse an ethnic ambience. Perusing the menu card, we encountered a treasure trove of hitherto unheard items, alongside the regular North Indian staple of roti and dal. We asked the waiter for the house specialties, and he pointed to a few delectable but expensive options. However, he also suggested that we opt for a more economical Marwari thali, a platter that featured all these special dishes.
The thali was a sumptuous feast with Ker Sangari, Gatta Curry, Gulab Jamun Ki Sabji and Kadi Pakoda, besides staples like roti, papad, sweets, salad, raita dal and other customary North Indian accompaniments.
Ker Sangari transported us back to our encounter with the old tree seen earlier in the forest. For locals, the Khejri tree held a significance similar to that of the coconut palm in Kerala. The tree resembles acacia and sangari is the dal extracted from its bean-like pods. On the other hand, Ker is the fruit of a thorny desert plant. Ker Sangari is a unique combination of the two, an intriguing flavour for South Indian palates.
Gulab Jamun Ki Sabji bore a distant semblance to the grape-studded ‘pachadi’ often served in Kerala; a sweet and tangy curry that graces the leaves on the tables of weddings and special occasions. The sweet dessert Gulab Jamun was transformed into a savoury curry using a variety of vegetables and a medley of aromatic masalas. Intriguing was the visual transformation of the typical brown gulab jamun into a distinct dark yellow one.
Gatte ki khichdi is another unique dish of Jodhpur where small gram flour balls are soaked in a curd-infused gravy, lending it a strange flavour.
Ghevar has a pizza look but is sweet. On enquiry at a bakery where the shopkeeper who had once worked in Chennai and so could converse in Tamil, offered us a slice to taste and wrapped the remaining for us. However, dishes like Lal Maas and Junglee Maas, which had piqued our curiosity, continued to elude our taste buds.
At twilight, we made our way to Sardar Market, also known as Clocktown Market. The vibrant market, a testament of the regal era of the past, was bustling and boasted quite impeccable cleanliness. It has earned renown for an array of exquisite handlooms, handicrafts, traditionally woven carpets and more. As night enveloped the town, we moved on to a round about with a striking semblance to the ambience of Thrissur Swaraj Round, lined with stalls and eateries on both sides of the road. However, most of them bore the vegetarian label.
Finally, we stumbled upon a dish that resonated with our palates, resembling Kerala’s Kallappam. But sadly, as delightful as the taste was, the name of this unfamiliar dish slipped from our memory almost as quickly as we devoured it. All our persistent efforts to unearth its name were thwarted despite reaching out to locals and even searching in Google. Nonetheless, our gastronomic journey was not without rewards as we relished a diverse assortment of kachoris.
Finally, as night descended, we ‘discovered’ Lal Maas, a dish akin to mutton curry, but with a distinctive history. In fact, it was a curry prepared using deer meat, a favoured item during forest camps when kings went on hunting expeditions. According to a 10th-century legend, it originated in a culinary experiment by a cook when the king refused to eat deer meat cooked in a mixture of garlic and curd. To appease the royal palate, the chef turned to mathania chilies, imparting a rich red hue to the dish. Association with hunting feasts made Lal Maas an exclusive domain of menfolk.
Junglee Mass is another item that originated from hunting trips. In its earliest incarnation, it was cooked using the meat of the first animal hunted. Gradually, mutton became the preferred choice and the dish was traditionally slow-cooked in an earthen vessel, using minimal ingredients available in forests. Over time, it has evolved into multiple variations running up to at least seven, incorporating dried chilies and garlic.
Filled with the story of Junglee Maas and the fiery Lal Maas, and complemented with a refreshing lassi, it became evident that Rajasthan with its rich history of hunting traditions, may not be an accommodating destination for non-vegetarian enthusiasts. This history of hunting tradition creates an intriguing dichotomy with the tales the Bishnois mentioned earlier!
One aspect that appears to have relatively few constraints is the presence of wine shops where a wide spectrum of alcoholic beverages is available. From desi daru to imported libations, all are in hand reach under the same roof. An employee in a wine shop even humorously introduced the Ashok Ghelot brand, a Rajasthani counterpart to ‘Jawan’ commonly enjoyed in Kerala.
The return journey
By the time we started the walk back, the entire overbridge in front of Hari Mahal was spruced up with tri-colours as the next day was August 15.
The area served as a primary hub for autorickshaw drivers who came rushing if they spotted anyone standing at a distance. They would drive back nonchalantly if they did not get a passenger.
As we waited for the tea at a quaint roadside stall, we couldn’t help but feel the weight of the last night of our Jodhpur sojourn settling upon us. The memories of the myriad shades of the Blue City etched themselves deep within us, painting a vivid tapestry of experiences.
Part 2: Turbans mark castes in Jodhpur
Part 4: The Rajas of Rajputana
Part 5: Marwar's Festival of Tastes