All of India’s states have their own unique cooking styles and techniques – many of which have been passed down through many generations. The climate of the country also plays its part in the food that is eaten and how it is prepared. Rajasthan’s climate is hot and dry and the landscape is arid so you would be forgiven for thinking that the food of the state was reflective of that environment, but it’s not. Instead, the cuisine of this desert state is colourful, vibrant and unique.
Rajasthan is often thought of as one of India’s vegetarian states, but this is not true. The royals who lived in the state were great lovers of meat and enjoyed consuming lamb and poultry. Today, the bright red Rajasthani curries are made using a range of meats. In fact, it is only those eating Marwari cuisine who follow a strictly vegetarian diet.
So what is Marwari cooking? It originated in the Marwar (an area also known as Jodhpur), which is located in the south-western part of Rajasthan. This region is populated by the Marwaris, a community of trading people. With its climate, the region is not one that produces an abundance of fruit and vegetables, so Marwari cuisine has been innovative in its use of certain ingredients. One of these ingredients is gram flour, which is made into small dumplings called gatte ki sabzi and included in recipes to recreate dishes not dissimilar to vegetable curries.
Vegetables that are found in Rajasthan and used in Marwari cuisine include potatoes, mooli (white radish), cucumber, sangri and gwarphali (also known as cluster beans). Of that list, some vegetables are familiar while others are not. Sangri, for example, is essentially a weed that grows in the desert and is used in the region’s cooking. The seeds of the evergreen, thorny sangri tree are harvested, dried and their skins removed. Sangri needs to be soaked or parboiled before being used in recipes. Gwarphali is another plant that grows in the desert and the beans can be used in the same way we use runner beans.
Popular dishes that are part of the Marwari culinary culture include mirchi bhajiya (large green chillies stuffed with spicy potato dipped in batter and deep fried), aloo ke sooley (spicy potatoes that are baked) and dal samosa (samosas filled with spicy dal).
Also popular with Marwari are the Marwari Bhojnalaya – small, independently-owned restaurants catering for Marwari merchants. The word bhojnalaya generally means simple vegetarian food that is not expensive. To that end, restaurants such as Jain Bhojnalaya are also in India, catering to the strict diet of the Jain population. Traditionally, there were wooden patiyas on the floor of marwari bhojnalayas for diners to sit on. These days however, that is less common and diners eat their meal at tables seated on chairs.
If you are after a more refined dining experience, with food that is just as authentic and tasty, you should head to one of London’s famous fine-dining Indian restaurants. Serving food from many of India’s regions you can be sure of a taste of the country’s rich culinary heritage.