Exploring the cuisine and culture of the Pink City
by Karen Anand
Jaipur is fast becoming an international hotspot. Everything from the now famous Jaipur Literary Festival (known popularly as JLF) to luxury designer boutiques to top notch hotels – all attracting the thinking world traveller with deep enough pockets and a sense of curiosity. It is not uncommon to hear three European languages and several English accents at any given moment at lunch time at the gorgeous little Anokhi café.
Jewellery designers now spend the winter here putting together their summer creations at less than a third of the cost it would cost them back home. Those in garment export have a field day with the exquisite embroidery.
The Jaipur Literary Fest, the largest and most popular literary festival in the world, attracting thousands upon thousands of people from across India to listen to a celebrated line up of international literary stars.
Foodwise, Jaipur caters to the quinoa chomping health freak, those in search of meaty Rajput delicacies like Lal Maas (my chef friends tell me that the best mutton in the country comes from Jaipur) and delicious and sometimes hygiene wise dodgy street food. Who can resist a lassi or a garam garam kachori?
As a tourist destination Jaipur has much to offer – palaces, forts and lakes and pink facades; busy bazaars and bright colours, a tolerable amount of heat and dust (you must avoid summer though); some spectacular hotels – the Rambagh Palace, the Raj Vilas, the new Sujan Raj Mahal Palace and the Fairmont which brush shoulders with exquisite affordable little guesthouses like Loharu House, Barwara Kothi and the newest to the brigade and my home for 3 nights, 28 Kothi.
The guest houses are mainly in Civil Lines, a quiet and centrally located residential neighbourhood where many erstwhile royal and noble families of Jaipur own properties. Some of these have been converted to chic little B&Bs that offer a much more ‘real’ feel of life in India than a luxury hotel and are consequently hugely popular with long stay foreign guests. Service in these guesthouses is personalised, rooms are quietly comfortable and food is home style. 28 Kothi has the added advantage of a recently opened café serving a simple International style vegetarian menu from a mezze platter to quinoa biryani. Whether it’s a traditional moong dal chilla or English scrambled eggs for breakfast, everything is perfect for the international traveller who is mindful about sourcing of ingredients and attention to detail. They also serve a traditional vegetarian Rajasthani thali in the evenings and are happy to organise wine, beer with spirit.
I commend a little establishment like 28 Kothi to come up with creative and delicious dishes which many chefs in bigger establishments and with bigger reputations and budgets simply haven’t been able to do. The team at Kothi is English speaking and are happy to hand hold throughout your stay and organise everything from yoga classes to exclusive shopping trips.
So this is my pick of must do’s while you are in the Pink City. Let’s start with shopping which is one of the two things we Indians love to do. The other is of course eating!
If like me you love pashmina, you must visit Andraab in the shopping complex of Narain Niwas. Started by three sophisticated brothers 20 years ago, Andraab shawls are worn by celebs like Cameron Diaz, Judi Dench, Richard Gere and have also featured in Oprah’s ‘O’ magazine.
Kashmir Loom started by British textile expert Jenny Housego and Asif Ali is another fabulous experience with pashmina – shawls, stoles, scarves and capes. Kashmir Loom is in the new Raj Mahal hotel complex and right next to the Raj Mahal outdoor cafe which makes shopping there a lovely experience.
Saurashtra Impex is on a completely different level which is on the way to Amer Fort. The owner Kishor presides over 3 floors of Rajasthani wares – everything from rugs to shawls, cushion covers and souvenirs at unbelievable prices. A great buy are the pashmina / wool blankets.
The flagship Anokhi store is well known. It is a beautiful 2 floor space with a cafe, serving mainly European style food, salads, with vegetables that are all grown organically and generally a good place for a coffee and a piece of cake.
What most people don’t know is the Anokhi museum of hand printing which is a definite must do and is located in a magnificently restored Haveli.
On this trip my dear friend and great textile designer Gitto, took me to RASA, a shop with the most beautifully designed clothes, bed linen and cushion covers. It’s a little off the beaten track but believe me, it’s worth exploring.
Jaipur Modern was conceptualised and started by Bombay based entrepreneur Yash Aga. The store is beautifully designed, well curated but a tad expensive. However, their little restaurant is definitely worth trying especially their quinoa dishes which they grow themselves organically.
And jewellery…well Jaipur is the home to some of the top names in jewellery in the country – Amrapali and Gem palace but do explore the semi precious stones and some of the smaller lesser known designers like Tholia’s Kuber for something exquisite and quite different. They are the preferred jeweller for most of Jaipur’s oldest families.
On the food and drink front, much has been said about the very blue bar Palladio in the grounds of the hotel Narain Niwas Palace. The decor is a cross between Venice and Jaipur with hand painted interiors and a very international bunch of guests. Despite having a Swedish/Italian owner, the food isn’t’ worth writing home about. Neither are the cocktails. However the vibe is energising and it is a fabulous address for a night out with friends or a lazy Sunday afternoon in winter.
If you’re looking for spicy Rajput fare then Spice Court is your address. It’s a large space which looks like an old Bombay club. But if you are worried about the level of spice, please tell them to go easy on the Rajasthani red chillis they add to the famous lal maas and junglee maas. Mop up all the gravy with soft buttery naans or missi roti.
Last but by no means least, is my old favourite, the Polo Bar at the Taj Rambagh Palace. What’s not to love about a bar with a fountain in the middle and the aura of an elegant past? Peacocks on the lawn while you saunter your way in, soola kababs washed down with a glass of whisky on a cold winter evening? Could you ask for anything more.
Chef Prasad Metrani’s recipe for Lal Maas from Sikar
1 kg lamb (lamb shanks cut into pieces)
1/2 cup mustard oil
2 tbs refined oil
600g onion sliced
60g ginger garlic paste
Red chilli paste (mathana or kashmiri red chilli)
250g whisked yoghurt
4 garlic cloves sliced
2 nos mathania red chilli whole
3/4 tsp clove powder
25 ml ghee (to sauté garlic and red chilli
NOTE: Mathania chilies are best bought from in Johari Bazaar, Jaipur as these as best ones for Laal Maans. For Mathania chilli paste soak and boil the 500gms of deseeded dried red chilies in water (we use Mathana chilies), strain and grind the red chilies to smooth paste.
1 In a heavy bottomed handi heat mustard oil till it starts smoking and then remove the handi from heat and keep it by side, till the oil cools down (this process will remove the bitterness of mustard oil).
2 Now put the handi back on the stove and add refined oil, to this add sliced onion and fry till light golden brown.
3 Now add ginger and garlic paste and cook for 2-4 mins.
4 Now add lamb shank pieces cut in to 30-40g each and add salt as per taste and keep stirring for 15-20 mins.
5 To this, add a cup of water (the water should cover the lamb pieces.)
6 Cover the handi with the lid and let it simmer on a slow flame for about 45 mins to 1hr (the lamb should be 80% cooked)
7 Now add whisked yoghurt and after 5 mins add the red chilli paste.
8 Cook till the meat is tender.
9 In a separate pan, heat ghee, add sliced garlic and whole red chilies and cook till the garlic is golden brown.
10 Add the garlic and chilies to the cooked lamb; add cloves powder.
11 Just before serving take a burning charcoal in a katori and add the clove powder and a spoon of ghee. Put the bowl inside the handi and cover for 1 min.
12 This process is called dhungar or smoking, remove the Katori and discard the coal. Serve hot with steamed rice.