I can now identify the taste of concern, hospitality and pride that goes into Rajasthani food.
The trip to Rajasthan, aka the internship, was organised by an activist – a real bundle of energy named Radhika Ganesh. Along with me for the ride was my colleague Vinaya, and two gender studies students Kasturi Adhikari and Aabha Murlidharan.
A week into the month-long trip to different districts of the state, my three colleagues slowly went down one after the other. One to the common cold, another to a very high temperature, and the third was just very, very fatigued. The discomfort of having an illness during a road trip is not enviable.
As I watched them sleep or walk around in a haze, I decided that this could not happen to me. I would find a way to enjoy my work cum holiday to the fullest.
Just then I noticed that all the people we met during our field visits were hale and hearty irrespective of the weather. They were solid Rajasthanis who were hardened by the state's extreme temperatures.
That is when I decided... when in Rajasthan,
do eat as the Rajasthanis do!
At first, I attacked the ghee-laden, spicy, oily food with a vengeance, relishing each bite and convincing myself of the benefits to my health. The simple flavours and ingredients enhanced the taste and expanded my capacity to eat by at least three-fold. It was only a month later that the effects of the hearty eating hit me: a soft gut and a rounder face!
A bajra roti slathered with ghee. Image source: yummraj.com
Ghee-laden in a Rajasthan home means food that comes swimming in ghee, very likely home-made ghee. At one home in Ramgarh, in the arid, western part of Rajasthan, I was served a roti which was floating in ghee, accompanied by sweet khoya. This was served after a heavy breakfast of two types of eggs – omelette and bhurji, two types of roti – bajra and wheat, followed by a tall glass of buttermilk.
Chaach, cooling and filling. Image source: pradeshtoday.com
Living with Radhika meant learning the activist life. We ate when we had time, but more often than not, work took precedence over food. I was so focussed on the music and the musicians’ lives that I summarily dismissed hunger pangs. But when we stopped working or when we were travelling to a new destination, my stomach took centre-stage and wouldn’t let me think.
Bananas are beautiful. Image source: hiveminer.com
On one such 'only work' day, all I wanted was a banana: a quick sweet, yellow, snack that would hold me together for another 4-5 hours. I hadn’t had a morsel of food all day, and we finally sat down to our first and only meal at dinner time. Music and some beautiful photos of musician communities from the 60s had worked as fodder till then. I had my first 'by
candle mobile light' dinner that day in Barna village, Jaisalmer. I couldn’t see anything that I was eating, but it was delicious, oily and spicy. There were again two types of rotis – wheat and bajra, 2-3 vegetables, and a smooth halwa to round off the meal.
Of all the different foods I sampled during my internship, these were my favourites:
#1 Gatte ki sabzi
My favourite dish was the gatte ki sabzi made in kadhi that Choti Bhabhi, Kheta Khan Manganiyar’s wife, made for us in Jaisalmer. She deftly kneaded the dough, peeled garlic, pounded spices, and managed two pans on the stove. Meanwhile, I enthusiastically but laboriously imitated her moves: pounding one pepper seed at a time, cutting up the gatte into bite-sized pieces, and popping some into my mouth. I think the sabzi, eaten with roti, was tastier because I had watched it come to life.
Gatte ki sabzi. Image source: YouTube.com
Recipe a la Zarina, Choti Bhabi’s daughter:
- Food in Rajasthani homes is cooked as per taste, there are no definite measures that mothers use.
- One big katori besan (for two people)
- Add chilly and dhaniya powder, salt, turmeric, jeera, rai, crushed garlic, one teaspoon oil to besan
- Knead the mix with warm water to form a firm dough
- Make cylindrical rolls from the dough, and cut them up into bite-sized pieces.
- Deep fry pieces in oil. Gatte ready!
- For the masala, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pan
- Saute finely chopped onion and green chillies
- Then add red chilly powder, salt, turmeric
- Once the masala is cooked, add the gatte
- Cook for a few minutes
- Add curd, followed by about 1 cup warm water
- Bring to boil and then reduce flame
- Cook till gravy becomes thick
- Serve hot with roti!
#2 Sangri and Kumatke Halariye Sabji
The other dishes I really loved were made from the local vegetable found in Dhanao, Barmer. One dish was a combination of locally grown sangri and kumatke halariye, made on request by our hosts at the Tilonia Crafts Centre. The vegetables, plucked from the host's farms, were served with thick bajra rotis.
Sangri, beans from the khejri (Prosopis cineraria) tree, and kumatke halariye (I just cannot Google the English name) can be cooked fresh, or can be cooked after being boiled and dried. We had the dried variety.
Sangri tree. Image source: omashram.com
Recipe a la Premlata Didi:
- Add dried sangri and kumatke halariye to hot water
- Heat oil to make the masala
- Masala: turmeric, red chilly powder, salt, garlic, cumin seeds, onion
- When the masala is cooked, add the vegetables with the hot water
- Add more water if necessary
- Cook on a low flame
Sangri sabzi. Image source: hotelchitvan.com
#3 Jaisalmer Ki Pani Puri
If we go to a new place and come away without eating pani-puri, Vinaya and I consider the trip incomplete. Our two young musician friends in Jaisalmer, Zakir, 14, and Zahir, 11, took us to chaat street at Hanuman Chowk, where the pani in the pani-puri comes in five flavours. Five! Jaisalmer turned out to be pani-puri heaven. Each puri is filled with a new flavour – mint, garlic, jal jeera, hajma, and regular. A burst of flavour with each bite!
Pani puri. Image source: popdiaries.com
The most satisfying food experience was when I had mutton curry and baati (hard, unleaved bread the shape of a tennis ball). Not because the flavours were extraordinary, but because I’m a vegetarian by choice. For years, I have refused meat for ethical reasons. But when you’re a guest in a village, each item of food is prepared and offered with love. They make sure they give you the best they have. Being finicky in these conditions is difficult to me.
Baati being roasted for a wedding in Hamira
I had Vinaya-the-vegan’s example to go by; she just ate the ghee and drank the milk tea when there were no options or the people insisted out of sweet hospitality.
My acceptance this time stretched to the curry, and I am still not close to actually biting into meat.
Young boys prepare the meat for the mutton
It was only the second month of my storytelling journey when I reached Rajasthan. I had been enjoying local dishes prepared at simple roadside eateries while travelling before. But the long stretches of hunger followed by tastes that I had never experienced taught me to truly appreciate food. I quickly moulded myself to open up to new flavours. Though the weight is difficult to shake off at this moment, I can now identify the taste of concern, hospitality and pride that goes into the best local dishes.
And I bet it's done wonders for my immunity too.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Shatakshi Gawade