Jaipur’s really growing on me.
And I say this on a day when I have only eaten vegetarian food. This included some home cooked food which was part of the work I came for and will not be spoken about. And a humble lunch which matched last night’s meat fest bite to bite. By the way talking of vegetarian food here, they seem to share the Bengali's love for potatoes. Potatoes are the kings here.
A newspaper report today suggested that Rajasthan is India’s most popular tourist destination. It was not hard to imagine why. A futuristic airport to match the best in India. Smooth roads and highways. A tourist jamboree at the unbelievable price of USD 10 with a meal thrown in but not travel. And most importantly, I ate at a bare bones place last night and a very grunge place this afternoon. In both cases, the waiters answered my questions on what went into the food and how one should eat it with adeptness, even though in Hindi. Leagues ahead of Mumbai. I saw a road over bridge which had escalators. You don’t get that in Mumbai. The cops here have a kind look on their face and often havea point of view on where to eat. And then there was Govind, our cabbie today, who kept pointing out the sights to me as we cut across the city on work. He took us to the super fantastic, very nondescript, yet local legend, Santosh Bhojanalay for the Rajasthani flagship vegetarian dish. Daal Baati Churma.
There were two shops beside each other. Santosh and Sharma. The gentleman with the mooch at the rather empty Sharma called out to us. But Govind pointed us to Santosh so we headed there even though Mr Big Mooch of Sharma sportingly posed for me later.
We skipped the desolate AC section, the crowded ground floor and went up to the balmy first floor. Then began our daal baati churma education courtesy yet another Mr Sigh, our waiter here.
Baati are these balls of baked wheat flour. These are crushed and you add ghee to this much to the chagrin of big city girls who might be eating here. Then there is a daal – black udad. You pour this on the crushed baati.
With this we had a potato curry and a rather hot and very memorable beans curry. A besan kadi or sauce which was beautifully flavoured with a touch of tart. This was to be had with rice. And you end this with the sweet powdered churma, a mix of semolina, wheat and bajra (millets?), ghee, sugar and dry fruits.
All of which was explained by the smiling Mr Singh. The cost of the dish with unlimited fills for those who had the appetite for it was all of Rs 60 (1.5 USD).
The experience at the 45 year old Santosh Bhojanalaya was inversely proportionate to its humble appearance. The experience, though vegetarian, rivalled the meat fest of the previous night at Handi. Santosh’s edge lay in the complexity and yet synchronicity of the flavours and textures of the food which were way evolved in comparison to the one-dimensional taste metre of the meat dishes of laal maas and junglee mass.
Wow, does that sound geeky or not?
My top feel is that while you get meat at Rajasthan, their heart is really into vegetarian food. And they have developed vegetarian food to a level which I have not come across in at Mumbai.
If Santosh charmed with its honesty and simplicity then dinner was at exactly the sort of honey trap that I avoid when I travel abroad. The evenings of the ‘traditional dinner and local dance’ variety.
Except in this case, Chokhi Daani came at the princely cost of Rs 400 per person without travel. The concept of a recreated village rather new in India. And I had company. Two enthusiastic little girls from work who I thought would have been dead beat at the end of the day but were keen to go. So off we went with Govind down the 30 km stretch.
Chokhi Daani is an artificial Rajasthani village created for tourists and has accommodation facilities too. You can go in the evening, buy a ticket, enjoy the carnival – dances, magic shows, astrology, elephant, camel and bullock cart rides at a nominal extra and eat. Reports suggested that it ‘would be fun and the food would not be memorable’. Which summed it up for me. Two hours there is all I can take. With some energetic, but not overly so, company to give me company.
Remember those museums where exhibits come to life and do their thing as you walk by?
Well it was the same at Chokhi Daani. Except that the exhibits were human. So as you walked by people blew trumpets to welcome you, groaned if they were old, or danced and sang … without any warning. leaving you with an uncomfortable feeling that the ‘tipping is not encouraged’ sign was not meant to be observed in spirit.
We ended our time there with dinner. Closing time was 11 pm. Dinner was served by an enthusiastic set of servers. They made a big fanfare of lavishing you with Rajasthani ‘khatirdari’ (hospitality) and they insisted on dousing your food with ghee …much to the irritation of my colleagues. They dished out food with witticisms that flew like the ghee and added to the razzmatazz.
All the famous Rajasthani dishes were there – rotis with various grain, gathe ke sabzi, khichro, kadi, desi ghee jalebi ..waves of food… a lot of it wasted. There was too much to take in and the experience left a blur in your mouth.
Some kulfis outside were how the girls chose to detox
The taste and experience nowhere as distinctive as in Santosh in the afternoon. But then people go to Santosh Bhojanalya to eat.
Not to ride a camel over a distance of ten feet.