Falling in love with Jaipur again…Chawla’s, Niros, Kanji Vada at Badi Choupar

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What is it that makes you fall in love in love with a place?

For me it is the food of course. The people too. Strangers on the street who envelop you with their warmth. Or locals who took charge of you as they show you around. A bit of colour and a touch of sepia helps.

Jaipur qualifies on all counts.

Which is why I jumped when I get a chance to visit it for the third time recently.

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The Social Media Manthan

I was in Jaipur for the Social Media Manthan organised by the very driven and dynamic Gaurav Hajela of Pathfynder. He was my compass in Jaipur the last time I was here.

The meet was fascinating and very different from the average conference. My co-speakers included a doctor using social media to fend the threat of corporates, a gentleman in the internet maps space, a social media marketer who quit his job to become a wildlife photographer, a charming lady who was in the social media PR space and now works with start ups.  The audience consisted of folks very keen on figuring out how to use social media and included at least two people working on history walks in Jaipur. Very different from the average corporate meet one goes to.

No jargons. No cred presentations. No theories.

No models were discussed.

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@Roflindian…the bad Bong Boy

Talking of models, earlier that afternoon @RoflIndian and I did discuss Pariniti Chopra.

He said that she had recently shot in Jaipur. I tried to place who she was.

@Roflindian needs no introduction to those on twitter. A twitter celebrity, who has 22,000 followers and counting, he is also a doctor who has done about 25,000 endoscopies.

Not on the same people.

Though, as he points out, the twitter number is bigger since he started in 2010 while he has done endoscopies since 2000.

He saw me tweet about landing in Jaipur and decided to take me under his wings. This is the first time we had met in the ‘real’ world.

Rofl (which is what we will call him here) is a Bengali from Rajasthan. he has learnt Bengali from his mom. A diction that at times I found a bit too pedantic or technical. As they say, cultures are often preserved in their purest form by emigrants.

Being a Bong meant that doc that had a strong point of view on food and where I should eat. The day I landed I planned to go to Handi’s for lunch after the great time I had there last time.

“Handi’s has slipped now…we will go Niro’s” said the doc with a cherubic smile when we met. He picked me up and drove me to Niro’s and then to various parts of the city to show off the city he is so rightfully proud off. The conversation engrossing…ranging from our social media experiences, to our travels, food preferences, Calcutta connections. Occasionally words such such as ‘duodenum’ and ‘pancreas’ would slip in but then what do you expect with two Bengalis and one gastroenterologist talking about things that matter in life?

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Ad man Piyush Pandey had recommended Niros to me the last time I was headed to Rajasthan so I silently toasted him with a thick, creamy lassi. I later learnt that there is a famous ‘lassiwallah’ just opposite Niro’s.

For lunch I ordered rotis and the Rajasthani equivalent of butter chicken in a Punjabi restaurant, or sushi in a Japanese, laal maas. Laal or red maas refers to a goat meat dish cooked in red chillies. Meant for bellies that have been hardened in the heat of the desert. The version at Niro’s was tempered down for outsider. More a garlic hit than chilli. The meat incredibly soft and cuddly like a camel’s cheek.

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Doc drove me around  after lunch too…often showing me the proper angle to shoot something from…turned out we were Canon 550 eos twins. I did occasionally doze off under my shades thanks to the lovely meat and the early morning flight.

If the good doc heard me snore, he didn’t say anything.

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Doc’s choice for dinner was Chawla’s, a part of the Delhi based franchise. Everyone raised their eyebrows when doc told them that he was taking me to Chawla’s. Even I wondered why were going to a Punjabi place in Rajasthan.

‘It’s the tangdi kebab. Trust me’ The doc held his ground.

And he was right. It was difficult to say what was creamier.

The thick full fat lassi at Chawla’s or the luscious, cuddly, very adult tangdi kebabs (drumsticks) there. Meat so soft, juicy and plump …  just the sort of temptation your mother had warned you about but that night we were two bad Bengali boys.

Never before in the history of mankind had chicken given such sinful pleasure as the tangdi kebabs at Chawla’s gave us that night.

It was even stuffed with minced meat…don’t ask me why.

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I remembered some rather creamy and ghee soaked food from a Chawla’s in Delhi from many years back. The memory of that made me call for a butter chicken here.

The butter chicken at Jaipur’s Chawla’s was different from the over sweet, near dessert like butter chickens that I have had in Mumbai. The one at Chawla’s here had a slight kick of heat to it. Our waiter explained that the touch of heat was a testimony to the Rajasthani predilection for chillies.

Well, as Pankaj Mishra pointed out in his book ‘Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, no two butter chickens are the same.

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Junket meals

Apart from the doc’s lovely dinner treat, I had a couple of ‘sponsored’ meals at Rajasthan thanks to hoteliers who met/ saw me at the conference.

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I had been put up by the organisers at Om Niwas, a smart, small, yet grand service apartment.

The owner, Chetan, invited me to his other place, Arya Niwas, for breakfast. Sitting on the lawns under the winter sun and having a lovely alu paratha. robust Kerala bean coffee and in-house organic brown bread with honey was a pleasantly surreal Jaipur winter experience so far removed from Muggy Mumbai.

I was quite impressed by the chutneys and jam, that like the honey, were sourced from Himachal Pradesh. Bought quite a few jars and some of the lovely pista cookies to give to folks as gifts.

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The other place that we stopped at was Forresta in Khassi Chowk, as guests of Maniesh the owner. The restaurant had a modern, clean, urban chic design which stood out amongst the ponderous architecture of Jaipur. This was a lot lighter.

Maniesh had no qualms about saying that the cooking techniques didn’t always stick to the traditional way. So the ker sangri (a dish of dessert shrubs and berries) is not cooked over a smoky oven over hours here…in absolute terms tasted good to me though I have not had the original. I quite like the haloumi like paneer kasturi and the ethereal hung curd dahi kebabs. The junglee maas here, a nice tender bhuna gosht, but I missed the simplicity of the junglee maas one gets in Handi.

Overall, a pretty place to eat in.

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Kanji vada…desert rose

The taste discovery of the trip for happened, as always, on the streets.

I went out in an auto, shopping after the breakfast at Arya Nivas. The auto guys in Jaipur are very passionate and lament the state of the roads and are generally quite peeved with the government about it. My first stop was Rajasthali where I quickly bought a stole and a kurta and left much to the chagrin of some very enthusiastic salesmen. In fact you never see this sort of sales aggression in a food shop. Shopping in the carpet shops of the bazars of Istanbul or in the clothes stores of Jaipur require nerves of steel.

I then stopped for a piyaz kachori break at Rawat’s. The auto guy stormed of when I held my ground and went to Rawat’s and not Kanji or to LMB.

So I got into another auto and headed towards Badi Choupar in the main city. My destination, shop no 56 at Johri Bazar recommended by Gaurav for handicrafts.

On the way we passed autos, groom on a horse, bullock carts, camels, elephants and every other possible Incredible India cliche. And Rajasthali!

That’s when I realised that I had been a part of the great Indian tourist scam…Jaipur Version. On asking, auto guy number 3 explained that auto guy no 2 had taken me to the ‘praibhet’ Rajasthali and not the ‘gobhernment’ one.

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Well, at least the folks I got the stuff for from ‘Rajashtali’ were happy.

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As was I with my shopping at shop no 56 at Johri Bazar

Go there if you are looking for handicrafts and dropping Gaurav Hajela’s name. I also dropped into LMB or Laxmi Mishtanna Bhandar. Shot some gevar and took some biscuits for the folks at work which were quite liked.

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The food discovery?

Oh yes. I got down from auto no 3 at Badi Choupar. Deflated and angsty after the Rajasthali scam discovery.

I tried to tweet. each time discovering that what I thought was a pavement was the pathway for buses. The traffic’s crazy here.

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That’s when I noticed a guy selling something which looked like dahi vadas floating on a rasgulla sugar syrup from a bucket in a cart. A young couple had just ordered some and some other folks were eating these out of cones made with used newspapers.

On asking I was told that this was ‘kanji vada’.

Moong daal vada soaked in a water infused with mustard and chillies and tamarind…called kanji.

‘Pet saaf hota hai, liver ke liye achha’.

Detoxes your system and is good for the liver said the cart guys. Something our good doctor later vouched for.

After taking photographs I asked for a serving.

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A five Rupee pop of bliss, refreshment, rejuvenation, exhilaration, gourmet hedonism

The pairing of the spongy moong daal vadas with the tantalising cold, piquant, tangy water…a work of art.

Yes Jaipur. I am addicted.

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