After my graduate studies I decided to take some time off to explore some of the cuisines of Northern India. When I visited Jaipur, also popularly know as ‘The Pink City’ because of its pink coloured architecture, I had signed up for a food walk with ‘Jaipur Walks’ with Vineet Sharma who was highly recommended by the owners of the boutique hotel I was staying at called Dera Mandawa (I highly recommend this hotel which is an ancestral property converted into a hotel. The owners who are the original landlords are very hospitable and treat guests as they would in their home. Not to mention the food served at Dera Mandawa is sublime!).
Vineet asked me to wait at one the gates of the old city quarters of Jaipur at 7.30am in the morning. I had an early start to my day and all I could think about was my food walk that morning, very excited of what was to come! I caught an auto rickshaw (India’s famous 3 wheeler taxi) and as I came to my stop it was a little awkward standing alone so early in the morning and I hoping that Vineet would be on time! After a couple of minutes (that felt very long!) I see a little man with round spectacles, simple and demure in looks rolling down the windows and giving me a warm smile. Yes! That was my guide alright ;) I got into the van and our first destination was one of the oldest and religious parts of the city. As I approached the area I could immediately sense how pious the people of this part of the city were. My guide mentioned that the rulers of Jaipur had placed temples at all vantage points of the city especially near the main entry (the old city of Jaipur is surrounded by a Jaipur city wall which has 7 gates as entry points into the Pink City). Initially, when the city was planned there were over 400 hundred temples within the walled city which has now grown to over 4000 temples! Even at such an early hour, the temples were filled with people; some onlookers and some so involved in the worship. It was quite fascinating to see how religion plays a vital role in the social threads of people’s lives. As I continued to stroll, Vineet mentioned I would witness the various temples belonging to different Hindu sects such as Ramanandis, Balanandis, Gaudias and Shaivs. Each of these sects have their own set of rituals, beliefs and history behind their origins.
Our next part of the walk was to witness the early morning food that gets cooked behind narrow winding alleys. So in between all my dodging between water puddles and cows (mind you, many many cows!), at about 8.30am I was honestly expecting to see the street vendors cooking some hot breakfast items but instead it was sweetmeats that was in the making! The sight was a real treat: big karahis (an Indian-style wok used for deep frying made out of cast iron) over flaming fires and strong men busy stirring milk in preparation of the traditional Rajasthani milk-cake sweets.
Adjacent to these sweetmakers was a famous savoury item in the making: Kachori, a popular spicy snack in North India. In the words of Wikipedia, Kachori is usually a round flattened ball made of fine flour filled with a stuffing of baked mixture of yellow moong dal (de-husked green gram) or urad dal (de-husked black gram), besan (crushed and washed gram flour), black pepper, red chili powder, salt and other spices. Unlike the other places where I’ve eaten Kachoris, apparently in Rajasthan it is served with yoghurt. I’m glad it did as the yoghurt definitely toned down the spices from the Kachori stuffing!
Our next stop were at the brassmakers workshops. A skill passed down from generations, small workshops along the side of the streets boast proudly of their hand-made skilled brass work creations. From fancy light shades to kitchen items, these men can do it all at the skill of their tools.
A little further ahead we stop at a Jalebi vendor. You can’t help but notice his shy looks as I enthusiastically watch him make some Jalebis for Vineet and I. Jalebis are made by deep-frying wheat flour batter into circular shapes (watch the video!) and are then dipped in sugar syrup. Bliss is all I can say! Nothing like eating hot Jalebis ;) Not particularly my preferred breakfast item but hey! I’m on a culinary tour :)
Surrounding the Jalebi-wallah (wallah in Hindi is someone who specializes in a particular task) were wholesalers for the Puris (fried Indian flatbreads) for Panipuri! As my trusted source Wikipedia explains it, “panipuris are round, hollow puris, fried crisp and filled with a mixture of water (in Hindi said as Pani) mixed with tamarind, chili, chaat masala, potato, onion and chickpeas. It is small enough to fit completely into one’s mouth. It is a popular street food dish in Mumbai, Karachi, Lahore, Dhaka, Kolkata and Chittagong.” Also, referred to as Gol Gappa. The name gol gappa refers to the crisp sphere (gol) that is placed in the mouth and eaten (gappa) one at a time.
As I walked onto the main street, Vineet took me the best Chai-wallah in town. Apparently, people from near and far come to this particular Chai-wallah. I was so surpised because the place could hardly hold 6-7 people but there was such a rush in the morning! I'm sure his chai recipe is surely a goldmine!
As I was in Jaipur closer to the spring festival Holi – the festival of colours, shops were selling coloured powder that are used when playing and dancing to Holi music.
As I parted ways with Vineet and thanked him for his excellent tour and hospitality I was pointed in the direction of Namkeen-wallah gali and trust me, if you're someone who enjoys spicy and savoury snacks then tread with caution! It's a whole street filled on either sides with snack vendors. I stopped at one such shop and was totally confused what to pick up and after a couple of stares from the shopkeeper as I couldn't make up my mind I chose some snacks to sample randomly (obviously I picked the ones that I didn't want to choose but I was under pressure!!).
My tour ended at about 9.30am and as I returning to my hotel and snacking upon on my ‘not-my-choice-but-I'll-eat-it-anyways’ savouries, I found my mind trailing back to all that I'd seen since early morning on my culinary and cultural walk through the historical streets of Jaipur city“ all that I not expected but at the same time pleasantly surprised as well!
Recommended stay in Jaipur – Dera Mandawa http://www.deramandawa.com/
Jaipur Walks: Mr Vineet Sharma, 0091 98 29071784 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel guide (probably one of the best I’ve come across for India): Love Jaipur, Rajasthan from the The Love Travel Guide series by Fiona Caulfield