INDIA. Bikaner, Rajasthan: Bhujia was first introduced to Rajasthan by Maharaja Shri Dungar Singh in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner founded by Rao Bika in 1486. Besides bhujia, this fourth largest city in Rajasthan has been luring tourists since ancient times for its forts, sand desserts, culture, kaleidoscopic colourful costumes, and colourful food.
Bhujia and Papad are traditional Rajasthani condiments that are prepared in almost every Bikaneri household since the days of joint families and extended families living together, where the work was done by the womenfolk of the house.
This savoury delight has put Bikaner on the world map of amazing foods of the world. Bhujia industry is a multimillion-dollar industry today with the credit of packaging this savoury delight in packets and taking it to the world going primarily to Haldiram, whose factory now makes over 15,000 kgs of Bhujia every day. It was Haldiram’s factory that adapted the noodle-making machine into a gadget that could triple the bhujia output and reduce labour.
Bikaner’s signature dish
Since its introduction, bhujia has become a signature of this laid back city’s food culture and also a synonym of Bikaner. In fact, this particular dish is the calling card of the city which is famous for a lot of other delights too. For a visitor, it simply appears that Bikaner is a city where one half of the population is occupied with making this savoury delight and the other half with eating it.
Bhujia is made all over India, but unlike other places, its Bikaneri counterpart is not made from gram flour (besan) but from ground Moth lentils, a crop that grows in the deserts of Bikaner and Jodhpur. This factor, along with the desert air, gives the bhujia a unique crispness and extraordinarily long shelf life, making it easy to market.
But still, you must be asking a question – there must be something that makes this bhujia from Bikaner different from others.
So, what is this secret ingredient? And it is a fistful of good, clean desert sand mixed into the dough. Well, sounds like a joke, isn’t it? But that’s a fact; they do mix sand in their dough which is responsible for the unique taste. Also, the special sweet character of water from deep wells in Bikaner along with sand is responsible for the uniqueness of Bikaneri Bhujia.
The daily routine at the Bhujia Bazar kicks off at 4.00 a.m. in the early morning. The dough is mixed and the fires are started and the bazaar gets filled up with a spicy haze of smoke. Scores of halwais fry up mountains of bhujia and produce a beyond belief 25000 kg of bhujia every day; 15000 kgs coming in from local factories making the total quantity to 40000 kgs.
More than 2.5 million people are employed in the cottage industries producing Bhujia in Bikaner. The creation of this wonderful snack is not an easy task. It is prepared from a dough made of Moth Dal Besan, Chana Dal, Asafetida, powdered cellulose, salt, red chili powder, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, and groundnut oil.
The ubiquitous odour of deep-frying envelopes the whole town, but no one is bothered as almost everyone is busy either making, buying or eating namkeen and mithai – not just bhujia but also kachoris, jalebies, ghewar, gulab jamun and over-spicy Mirchi pakoras which explode in your mouth and you douse the fire with some dessert.
What do you think a foodie like me will do in such a food bastion? What else guys, I kept on walking, enjoying the aroma, and sampled bhujias by the fistful from shop to shop, and justify my visit to the land of this venerable dish. I guess a visit to Bikaner is a must for a foodie; it in fact is a sort of pilgrimage that is easy on the stomach.