Perhaps it stems from childhood memories, feeling unbridled awe, right from my very first encounter with the land of kings and queens, the land of forts and havelis, deserts and mountains, soldiers and legends, kathputlis (wooden puppets) and bright colours. I remember feeling the mixed feelings of a child on seeing the formidable traditional Rajasthani moustache from close quarters and veiled women wearing shellac bangles over the length of their arms.
For the warmth it evokes in me, its architecture, traditions and all its historic splendour, my fascination for Rajasthan is unending.
As a child I was not particularly fond of the ‘regular’ vegetarian meal and wild horses could not drive me to have lauki (green gourd). But one fine day, over lunch at an entrusted cook’s household in a village in Udaipur, I asked for a second helping of a mashed vegetable preparation cooked in ghee with spices. It was the green gourd.
Without knowing it, I was hooked to it.
Turning every disadvantage into an advantage, the cuisine of Rajasthan is characteristically full-bodied and rich. Ingenious culinary ideas have been known to be applied to all that the barren and rocky provenance provides. To compensate for the lack of water, food is cooked in milk and ghee (clarified butter). Lentils substitute fresh vegetables, which when available are dehydrated and preserved to be soaked and cooked later. The Maheshwaris, a clan belonging to Mewar, are known to have inculcated the use of Amchur (powdered raw mango) instead of tomato as a souring agent.
While in college, on one of my visits to Rajasthan, a group of friends and I ventured out with the intention of having laal maas for dinner. All of us ended up having a pure vegetarian meal at a Vaishnava food joint that night. I was a tad surprised back then.
Most households in Rajasthan, I learned, are predominantly vegetarian and will serve you specialties like dal baati churma, ker sangri and gattey ki sabzi. In the culinary circles though, laal maas, maas ka soola and safeid maas are the much discussed meat preparations from Rajasthan. As is the case with all Indian warrior clans, the Rajasthani cuisine boasts a formidable repertoire of the finest meat preparations developed in royal thikanas.
Having tasted bhunao-ed laal maas cooked in traditional style and maas ka soola – meat off the back of a goat leg, with ladlefuls of ghee, roasted and smoked over an open charcoal fire, I have only the highest regard for the royal kitchens of Rajasthan.
On second thoughts, allow me to rephrase. Having tasted food from Rajasthan, I have only the highest regard for the kitchens of Rajasthan.