INDIA: “Padharo Mhare Desh,” meaning “Welcome to my home”, has been an age-old slogan from my home state Rajasthan. The western state in India has been luring outsiders since ancient times for its forts, sand desserts, costumes, culture, and colourful food. The Marwari food, rich in ghee and spices is amazingly tasty and easy on the stomach. A visit to the land of this esteemed food heavens is a sort of a pilgrimage and a must for every foodie.
Recently we were at Bikaner, the fourth largest city in Rajasthan, which was founded Rao Bika in 1486. The city is notably famous for its savory snack Bhujia and other lip-smacking delicacies; both sweet and namkeen.
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Walking through the narrow lanes of Bhujia Bazar, our nose was already working overtime and made us hungry. And we rushed to experience the grandeur of Marwari food, aka the traditional Bikaneri Marwari Thali lunch at the famous haveli of Rampurias, Bhanwar Niwas. It is one of the grandest Havelis in the walled streets of Bikaner, owned by Sunil Rampuria, and is a tribute and testimony to the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans of Bikaner. The haveli, a fascinating mix of Indian and European styles houses rooms designed and decorated by Mr. Rampuria himself, and serves delicious, lip-smacking vegetarian food; both Indian and multi-cuisine at their magnificent dining hall on the first floor.
The dining hall at Bhanwar Niwas was huge and beautifully decorated in colonial art-deco style. Soft painted walls, vintage chandeliers, and long dining tables were a perfect example of art and opulence confluence. We were welcomed by the ever-smiling staff; known for their flawless hospitality with an organic Bela flower flavoured sherbet and gave us an indication of the royal Rajasthani foodie lifestyle that we were going to experience.
The Marwari Thali when served left me stunned; it was huge and had thirteen small bowls all around with Bajre ki Roti and papad made with moth ki daal and saji (natural citric acid) at the center. Marwari cuisine uses a lot of grains and cereals like bajra, moth, kair and sangari, etc. because of its location in an arid zone which allows only robust and earthy crops like Bajra, moth, etc.
Also, Marwaris don’t eat any meat and in some homes, even onions and garlic are prohibited. But still, the cuisine is high on taste and presentations. And this was evident in the Thali which was all vegetarian and looked interesting and yummy. It was as if the rainbow in the sky has come down on our tables.
The most captivating dish was the Gawar Patha ki sabji (Aloe Vera sabji), made with methi (fenugreek), gur (jaggery), and others. This dish certainly was the king of all the dishes in the thali. Savouring the sabji with bajre ki roti was absolutely divine and all I could do was silently enjoy the food.
The thali also had Mirch ka Pakoda, Kanji ka Vada, Gatte ki sabji, Tawe ki chapatti, Khichda (Khichadi made with Bajra (millets) cooked to softness with seasonings), Imlayana (sweet tamarind water), Rasgulla, Gatta pulao, Kachri ki Sabji, Fali ki sabji, achar, and raita.
Mr Rampuria also enjoyed his lunch with us, and showed us the way to eat the khichada and imlayana. Khichada mixed with tamarind water was delicious with the sweetened tamarind adding flavours to the taste as well as helping to keep the digestive system cool. The dishes in the thali complimented each other with matching colours, aroma and taste. The food looked heavily rich but didn’t really make us feel heavy.
I am a Marwari myself, and we don’t go without a dessert in any of our meals. Here also, the story was the same; we first had rosewater infused Rasgulla, a delicacy made with khoya and followed it up with a Bikaneri Kesari rabri kulfi.
It was time now to move on and do many other things in Bikaner, but the authentic Marwari Thali certainly is going to be etched in our memories for a long.