– Contributed by Hrishikesh Thakkar
The royals of Rajasthan are known for their regal demeanor even in the face of danger, and their fiery tempers, which often started wars for imagined slights. These attributes were extended to their kitchens as well, where the food had to be presented in a regal fashion and had to have a fiery punch; or heads would roll!
Between Mewar and Marwar, the latter was even more known for an elaborate spread of dishes as well as liberal use of the regional mathania chilies in their preparation. When Renaissance Mumbai Convention Center decided to hold a Marwar-centric food festival between 20th to 30th June, 2014, Executive Chef Sandeep Pande got recipes from these royal kitchens, but then proceeded to tweak them, keeping the hotel’s clientele in mind.
The festival’s set menu had three parts, a Mix and Match section priced at INR 3500, as well as separate vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. We decided to try out the Mix and Match version, lured by the lobster included in it!
When we entered Nawab Saheb, where the festival was hosted, we were greeted by the sight of a chef preparing mini ghevars. We began our royal feast with Mirch Khilma, big green chilies filled with a curious mixture of undercooked-boiled lentils, covered with a Bengal gram batter and deep fried. The coating could have used some more moisture as it was so dry it left the chilli like the unfortunate offspring of the farthest branch of a royal family.
Marwar cuisine uses local berries called ker, dried and then used in various preparations. Chef Sandeep’s variation on this trademark ingredient is quite innovative, as he offers Ker Sangri Ki Seekh, which is delightfully tasty, albeit a little dry. The Paneer Ke Sholey were reminiscent of a spring roll – cottage cheese marinated in yoghurt and cooked in a tandoor and then mixed with Indian spices, red chilies and pomegranate.
A REGAL OFFERING FOR MEAT LOVERS
Meat-lovers will especially rejoice at the offerings in this imperial feast. Including Ajwaini Lobster in a Marwar food festival might justify surprised looks, since it is probably as alien to this region as an Australian Barramundi. The infusion of Indian spices in this delicate meat was a revelation, and a pleasant one at that.
The Mehrangarh Ki Angari Pasliyan turned out to be the star dish of the evening. The meat of these lamb chops was so tender it literally fell off the bone to sit happily on our plates. We later learnt the meat was marinated twice before being grilled – the first time with some tenderizer, salt and pepper and after 8 odd hours, tossed in the final marinade. This ensured that the marinade of peela mirchi, amchur powder, mathania chilli paste and yoghurt seeped all the way to the bone and infused the meat uniformly with the spices.
The mains flew in before we could gather up an appetite for the next culinary onslaught. The Lalgarh Ka Murg presented tender chicken pieces that were very juicy, while the cream cheese marinade gave it a rich and intense flavor, without making it too heavy to eat. The lamb once again exceeded expectations with Marwar Ka Maas and Achaari Maas. The lamb for the festival has been procured from Jaipur, and we found out why all the lamb preparations featured extremely succulent chunks of the meat – all the cuts came from under a year old calves.
THE VEGETARIANS LOST OUT
The vegetarian fare wasn’t short on offerings though if compared with the meat preparations, they seemed to be at the losing end. Ker and Sangri made their obligatory presence felt, as did the Gatte ki Sabzi and Daal Baati Churma. While both the latter offerings were pretty flavor-packed, Daal Baati Churma stole the march. Keeping in mind diet conscious customers’ preferences, the festival offered two versions of the baati – one prepared in pure ghee, and the other in regular oil. The daal made from a mix of various lentils had a thick texture and once you put in the baati it turns into a casserole of sorts. There were three varieties of churma – Rose (with crushed rose petals), Mango (with dehydrated mango pieces) and the regular churma.
It slowly dawned on us that our appetites could not take much more of this royal fare, and we realized we needed to make space for desserts. And seeing how big the dessert counter was, we realized we need a second stomach to do justice to it! The Kulfi Falooda surprisingly came without any milk, but with lots of rabri. After deliberation, Petha Paan and Chandramukhi were our pick of the elaborate list. While the former was heavy on gulkand and dried fruits, the latter showed more of mango-ey goodness.
If you ever wondered why the royal families always sported wide smiles and bellies (apart from immense wealth, of course), you now know the secret. The way to a royal’s heart is through elaborately prepared, gut-busting food, with the right amount of desserts to keep them from reaching for the deadly swords in their scabbards!