Shortage of water, uncultivable barren land, resultant lack of vegetables and extreme weather pose unique challenges in creating cuisines in the arid state of Rajasthan, unlike greener states like West Bengal and all of the South. But, we make up with innovative use of different flours – wheat, bajra, besan, jowar, jow among others; generous dollops of ghee to enhance taste – since milk is available in excess; and lots of sugar or red chillies – for what we lack in green vegetables. The basic potatoes, onion, and garlic are used ingeniously to transform potential lack-luster food. That explains our besan-gatta, daal-baati-churma, the unique ker-saangri and the famous laal-maas – which is FIERY.
While the royal Rajasthani cuisine is gaining respect alongside the ubiquitous Mughlai and Southern cuisines, its street food has still a long way to go to gain the popularity of an idli or a dosa. We are still thought to be the poor cousins of Uttar Pradesh in chaats but we do have our delightful versions of samosa and kachoris! Very few know that the substantial samosa from Rajasthan tastes nothing like the Bengali shingara with its delicate shell and kaalo-jeere seasoned phool-gobhi (cauliflower) with potatoes and peas, or the Punjabi version with paneer and dry fruits. Ours is just this flavourful potato masala stuffed in a crisp crust, dunked in either hot tamarind-garlic chutney or had with aloo ki sabzi. Similarly, our kachoris are stuffed with daal or onions and potatoes in the case of pyaaz kachori. The former is served with steaming kadhi. The curd-based kadhi balances out the rich kachori. And the daal stuffing ensures a long shelf life to combat the soaring temperatures of the state.
Alwar, a small town in Rajasthan, is the mecca of a variety of street foods like the Rajasthan version of samosa, kachoris, bread-pakoras, daal-pakora, mirchi-badas and a number of milk-based desserts. While many haven’t heard of Alwar, they are familiar with Alwar ka kalakand! When the successive lockdowns temporarily put paid to eating-out, somehow it was street-food which people missed the most. Now, with the unlock underway, these takeaways joints and shops are baby stepping into reopening businesses, the stocked shelves are a welcome change to the shuttered, desolate sights.
“However, people are still wary of outside food” says Abhishek Taneja, co-owner of the famous Thakur Das Kalakand store in the kalakand market. Available across the country now, Baba Thakur Das is the pioneer who first made Alwar kalakand or ‘milk-cake’ in 1947, when he came here from Pakistan during the Partition. Mr Taneja recounts that the largely vegetarian locals suspected that the rich brown centre of the kalakand brick came from the brown food colour used in making mutton or chicken. This could have been the death-knell for the unique sweet but it was averted when Baba Thakur Das got the brainwave of making the kalakand in front of the doubters to assuage their suspicions. The famous kalakand was thus literally born on the streets. When asked how he got the rich brown centre without using any food colour, he answered “Yehi toh kala hai” and that is how, apparently, the moniker kala-kand came into being and stuck.
Another jewel among the many vendors of savory snacks is Hajarilaal Chaat Bhandaar. The enterprise began as a thela (pushcart) which Hajarilaal would take to the main market for 15 years, till he bought a tiny shop in 1995. The shop now is a mandatory stop for the local and state buses, as well as the residents of Alwar, for their brunch of samosa, kachori served with generous helpings of aloo ki sabji, kadhi or garlic-tamarindchutney. Though the shop is now manned by the elder son, Raajkumar, Mr Hajarilaal gets up at 4 am to prepare the masala for the samose, rather than depending on his helpers. No wonder the deliciousness never varies!
While Hajari’s are daal-kachoris, the city boasts of the pyaaz kachori too, a typical Rajasthani specialty. Mr Mahesh Rajpurohit and his family brought these secrets from Jodhpur to open the first establishment in Alwar that serves pyaaz kachori, mirchi bada and mawa kachori, all the natives from Jodhpur. Much like Alwar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner, and Pali are some of the cities which offer a wide range of mouth-watering delicacies. Be it tiny thelas or no-frills restaurants like the Rawat Bhandar of Jaipur; the namkeens or Bikaneri rasagulla of Chotu-Motu Joshi of Bikaner, one hopes their enterprises will be back on their feet soon. One admirable commonality among these simple folks is acceptance, they seem to have taken the halving of the businesses in their stride and as they adapt to the new normal of masks, gloves, and social distancing, they are fairly confident that all will be well. Soon.
Text by Madhumita Gupta