Eating Well in Rajasthan
A major part of Rajasthan is also known as Marwar (literally "the land of dead" because not much grows there), and traditional cuisine revolves around the robust plants of the desert and the scarcity of water.
The lack of fresh green vegetables led to the use of gram (chickpea) and millet flour and the development of dry, long-lasting foods, and because water was scarce, many dishes were cooked in ghee (clarified butter) or milk, making them quite rich. Food tends to be heavily spiced, too, perhaps for preservation. The area was predominantly Hindu and Jain—both vegetarian religions—but besides the restrictive but rich meat-free cuisine, the ruling Rajputs were avid hunters and contributed a variety of game dishes, many heavily influenced by the Mughals.
Tourist areas in Rajasthan—besides the better hotels—are a bit thin on authentic eating out options, especially for nonvegetarian fare, but thali meals (with a variety of different dishes) are usually available at casual eateries and offer a taste of Marwari home cooking. You'll also find a dazzling range of snacks and sweets.
There are several places In Udaipur and Jaipur, where travelers can pick up the basics of Rajasthani cooking: Spice Box (www.spicebox.co.in); Hotel Krishna Niwas (www.cookingclassesinudaipur.com); Shashi Cooking Classes (www.shashicookingclasses.blogspot.com); Jaipur Cooking Classes (www.jaipurcookingclasses.com).
A dish fit for Rajasthani royalty, laal maas (literally "red meat") is the state's best-known nonvegetarian entrée. This spicy dish is usually made with goat, marinated in ginger, garlic, and yogurt, then cooked in ghee with red chilli powder. It's sometimes confused with a similar dish called jungli maas (wild meat), which is more of a confit, and probably originated on hunting trips where only basic, nonperishable ingredients were available.
The yin to laal maas's yang, safed maas or "white" meat is another goat or lamb main dish—creamy white and wonderfully fragrant. The parboiled meat is massaged with yogurt before being sautéed in a fry-up of ghee, onion, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, white peppercorn, and red pepper seeds. The meat is then finished with a paste of poppy seeds, cashew, almond, milk solids (khoya), and a hint of saffron or rosewater.
A true desert dish, daal baati churma is a staple of Rajasthani cuisine. The rustic baati is a ball of unleavened bread made of wheat, semolina, and ghee. Traditionally, these are cooked on coals to form a firm, slightly squashed sphere, which may be stuffed with peas and other fillings. Baati is eaten with a hot mixed-lentil dal. Churma is a sweet accompaniment of ground-up whole-wheat baati or other bread mixed with ghee and melted jaggery (unrefined sugar).
Gatte ki sabzi
One of Rajasthan's vegetable substitutes, gatte are sausage-shape gram-flour dumplings that are spiced and then boiled. Gatte can be eaten in a variety of ways, but the most typical dish is gatte ki sabzi, in which the dumplings are fried before they're mixed into a curry of yogurt, with a little more gram flour for thickening, and some mild spices. If you like this, try curry dishes made from pappadams or mangodi (sundried ground-lentil dumplings).
One of the most eye-catching of Indian sweets, ghevar, which look like halved bagels with the cratered surface of an English muffin—can be seen stacked up on confectionary shelves, especially around the Teej festival in late summer. Crispy, with a slightly soft interior, the ghevar is made from batter that gets its riddled texture from the bubbling heat of the ghee in which it is deep-fried. The crisp golden disc is then soaked in sugar syrup flavored with the fresh-tasting screwpine flower essence (kewra) and sometimes topped with silver leaf, spice, and nuts.