A Gastronomical Journey Through Rajputana Cuisine For Kings

The sheer strength and pride of Rajputana glory can be seen in the stunning forts standing amongst the sandy dunes of Rajasthan and the beautiful armoury and weapons of erstwhile kings which flashed in battle. Once lovingly polished to a sheen and taking blows; they now stand in somber silence as if reminiscing their past quietly.

Jodhpur Mehrangarh Fort

Fierce honour coupled with brute strength made Rajputs formidable enemies on the battlefield. A glimpse of this is afforded by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s new extravaganza Padmaavat. Their ideology reflected in their actions – honour is placed high above everything else, even death – as hundreds of Rajput warriors rode forward into a lost battle and imminent death as all Rajput queens and women of the Royal household including Rani Padmavati leapt into flames and committed Jauhar to keep their honour intact from foreign physical and mental violation. The ferocity with which they fought is evidenced by the impressive stories that abound about the king of Mewar, Maharana Pratap. He stood towering above others at around 7 feet tall with a weight of about 110 kgs. There are many popular stories that chronicle the battle legends of Maharana Pratap. One such story tells us how the Rajput king had torn apart a Mughal soldier, who had tried to attack him from behind, along with his horse in a single sweep of his sword.

Maharana Pratap - Battle of Haldighati

Though now we can only assemble a vision of what the warrior class of Rajputs must have been like in all their fierce, raw power; folklore and art lovingly preserved through the generations help us by contributing to the gaps in our vision. Another art jealously guarded has been all the bold flavours of Rajputana cuisine.

It’s almost impossible to learn of recipes and cooking techniques from some of the Rajput household kitchens, especially those from the Rathore dynasties of Pali, Champawats family from Marwar or the ones from Jaipur and Udaipur royal families. (1) Rajput cuisine was characterized by a rustic style of cooking, with bold and hearty flavours used to enhance the natural taste of ingredients.

Ohris De Thali

Rajasthan was divided and sub-divided into erratic small and large kingdoms then and prestige of royals was based on the kind of mewa (dry fruits) allowance they had. (2) There were khansamas dedicated purely for some specific types of dishes, such as some were dedicated to making new lip-smacking dishes using the dry fruit allowance with their rich mineral and antioxidant properties, some were dedicated to making luscious desserts and yet others were encouraged to experiment and design new dishes with stuffed pig flesh, goat, peacock and game meat. It was customary to send forth at least ten dishes for breakfast, with five newly created dishes.

Though now, Rajasthani cuisine might emphasise more on the vegetarian elements of the cuisine, 90% of a royal meal consisted of meat, meaning a large intake of solid proteins which was probably responsible for their sturdy physique.

Rajput

Rajput kings were fond of hunting and were great game eaters. It was one thing to experiment with food in the royal kitchens but quite another to make delicious food with limited ingredients and game meat out in the open. Rajasthan consisting of vast tracts of arid, desolate land had little water to offer and so khansamas had to ration water supplies and make do with yogurt, garlic, chillies and pure skill to prepare appetizing meals. Hence, only the most talented khansamas were taken along with the king’s retinue.

As a result, a lot of cooking styles evolved which added to the flavour of the dishes. The khansamas used coals to cook which would lend the food a smoky, velvety touch. Another technique used to preserve the juicy and tender flavour of the meat was that of slow cooking. On long marches for battle, soldiers would hunt and catch game meat which the khansamas would skin, clean and coat with spices. The meat would then be encased in rolled out dough and placed in a pit. A fire made of smoldering coals would be placed above. The heat of the desert and the smoky fire above would cook the meat in its own natural juices making it spicy and tender. As Chef Sandeep Pande, Executive Chef of Renaissance Mumbai Convention Center says, “This khad style of cooking is still associated strongly with Rajasthani cuisine, though now, the game has given way to lamb and instead of slow cooking in a pit, chefs slow cook the meat overnight in the tandoor,” (3)

Tandoor

One of the spectacular dishes that came out of this style of slow cooking was from The Mewari Gharana – the fiery Laal Maas which will tantalise your senses and make you reach for a tissue because of its heat. The fiery red colour and heat comes from mathania chillies which were abundantly available in the region.

Mathania Chillies

The birth of Laal Maas involved a lot of tries to get right and has an interesting story behind it. After a hunt, the evidence of hunting was supposed to be wiped out as the smell of raw meat was considered a sin. Blood, feathers and the gamey odour of the meat was supposed to be wiped off. The King of Mewar in 10th century AD wanted a dish made of succulent meat which would be wholesome enough for his warriors. The initial version of Laal Maas was a simple dish with a curry made of yogurt and garlic which though proved to be an interesting curry, failed to mask the odour of the hunted deer. As a result, it was rejected and the khansamas rose to the challenge to make it appetizing. They discovered that the fiery mathiana chillies not only lent the dish its colour but also masked the smell of the deer. The pieces of meat were rubbed with spices and chillies and then basted in ghee to give it a sweetish tinge. It was then coated in a gravy made of garlic, yoghurt, chillies and spices and cooked for hours. A good Laal Maas is cooked for four to six hours. Incidentally, the cooking of Laal Maas was the domain of men and women were not allowed to cook or serve the dish. Some still preserve the traditional method of cooking Laal Maas such as Sriji of Mewar. (4, 5)

Laal Maas

Another version of this came from the House of Samode, who wanted a subtler version of the intense red, named Jungli Maas. In both Jungli Maas and Laal Maas, fresh ingredients are used to bring out its particular taste and smell. Spices are dipped in water or khatta chaas and then ground. (6) It is said that the Maharaja of Salwar came up with the luscious dish. Jungli Maas literally means wild meat. Meat caught from game was cleaned and rubbed with salt and cooked in ghee. The ghee and salt would preserve the meat, making it last longer. Some hot peppers were added later. Travelling Belly, Food Blogger Kalyan Karmakar Explains the meticulous process, “It consists of the succulent pieces of goat, first slow cooked in ghee and then finished in pan over an open flame with dry red chillies, salt and more ghee, making the dish all about the taste of meat rather than the heavy spices…The version with gravy is called salan and that non-salan, drier one, was what once preferred by the hunters and soldiers of the yore when they were on the move.” (7)

Maas

Safed Maas is another star dish from the cuisine albeit with a richer creamy texture. Owing to the paucity of water, curries were made with milk, dahi, buttermilk or cream. Safed Maas is an example of this creamy gravy based dish with a combination of milk, cream, and khoya, the fragrance of cardamom, along with the nuttiness of cashews, almonds and pistachios with a tinge of heat from chillies. (8)

Safed Maas

Along with meat based dishes, the royal chefs learned to make vegetarian dishes fit for royalty using the few vegetables available in the arid conditions. For example, Ker Sangri is made using Ker which is a berry found in the deserts along with sangria, a bean found on the Khejri tree. Gram flour indigenously found and rich in fiber, iron, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, vitamin B-6 and thiamine was added to Gatte ki Sabzi and the famed Dal Baati is a combination of dal and wheat cakes. Since rice is scarce, the chefs made do with breads made of millet which is known for its rich nutrients such as – magnesium, calcium, manganese, tryptophan, fibers and antioxidants. Other breads were made of wheat, chickpeas and rye as accompaniments to dishes.

Tuskers Ker Sangri Ki Subzi

Navigating through the Rajputana cuisine is a veritable gastronomical delight, ranging from rich curried meats to healthy vegetable options upholding the rich history of the people and their culture.

 

  1. Vinita Bhatia. (August, 2014). Fit For Kings, And Also Commoners. http://www.chefatlarge.in/columns/fit-kings-also-commoners-33944/

 

  1. Madhulika Dash. (October, 2014). Game Cuisine: A Rajput Legacy. Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/food-wine/game-cuisine-a-rajput-legacy/

 

  1. Vinita Bhatia. (August, 2014). Fit For Kings, And Also Commoners. http://www.chefatlarge.in/columns/fit-kings-also-commoners-33944/

 

  1. Madhulika Dash. (October, 2014). Game Cuisine: A Rajput Legacy. Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/food-wine/game-cuisine-a-rajput-legacy/

 

  1. Sushmita Sengupta. (August, 2017). A Rajput Legacy of Slow Cooked Game Meat And How the Tradition Originated. NDTV Food. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/a-rajput-legacy-of-slow-cooked-game-meat-and-how-the-tradition-originated-1732990

 

  1. Madhulika Dash. (October, 2014). Game Cuisine: A Rajput Legacy. Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/food-wine/game-cuisine-a-rajput-legacy/

 

  1. Sushmita Sengupta. (August, 2017). A Rajput Legacy of Slow Cooked Game Meat And How the Tradition Originated. NDTV Food. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/a-rajput-legacy-of-slow-cooked-game-meat-and-how-the-tradition-originated-1732990

 

  1. Sushmita Sengupta. (August, 2017). A Rajput Legacy of Slow Cooked Game Meat And How the Tradition Originated. NDTV Food. https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/a-rajput-legacy-of-slow-cooked-game-meat-and-how-the-tradition-originated-1732990