I anticipated a pretty calorific feast when I attended a college friend's traditional Marwari wedding back home in India last weekend.
The vegetarian fare favoured by the merchants of the Marwar plateau of Rajasthan is known to be rich. Like any desert cuisine, milk rather than water is a preferred cooking medium so desi ghee (Indian clarified butter) plays a starring role in almost every dish. In addition, gur (jaggery) is an ever-present entity, both in sweets - which often arrive and are eaten along with the mains - and served in its raw form as a sort of condiment.
Needless to say, when it came to delicious excess, I wasn't disappointed :)
The wedding was held in a Rajasthani-themed village or dhani in the Central Indian city of Indore. The food was plenty... and it kept coming. From a sit-down thali-style lunch served on leaf plates, to sweet, milky chai and pakoras, every variety of tongue-curlingly tasty chaat you could imagine like aloo tikki, pani puri, Dilli chaat and dahi bhalle, hot phulkas and rotis, sweets swimming in rabdi and steaming saffron-scented milk at night - there were so many delicious dishes, we couldn't get round to tasting even half of them.
Still, there were a few that made a real impression - most from being first-time finds and others for their sheer artery-clogging capacity. Read on for my top five Marwari food memories (and click through the bonus photo gallery of some of the other yum stuff we tucked into at the wedding):
Malpua: These sweet milky pancakes drenched in sugar syrup are a specialty of the Rajasthani town of Pushkar. A rich batter made from reduced milk, sugar, flour and semolina is fried in ghee and then dunked in sugar syrup. Diabetics should probably stay away, but the rest should look out for the ones that are slightly caramelized around the edges for the tastiest sugar hit.
Cheela: These North Indian savoury pancakes are made from besan (gram) flour stuffed with different fillings. The ones we ate contained crumbled paneer (cottage cheese) and were spiked with green chillies. Sweet and sour tamarind sauce and sharp green chutney made the perfect accompaniments. Mmmmm...
Makki ki roti:
This ain't no ordinary roti. Made from corn flour, this roti is denser than the wheat version and is usually cooked on a tava, then smeared lavishly with ghee. The ones we ate were swimming - sorry drowning - in it! (Yes, that's melted ghee that this roti is being picked out from.) While most of my friends gave it a miss (granted it can't possibly be good for you!) I can testify that, along with some sarson ka saag, it was delicious. (Although in hindsight, eating it with the powdered gur it was served with was probably overkill.)
Imarti: A denser cousin of the jalebi, imarti is made from powdered urad dal rather than wheat flour and is a sort of sweet pretzel - coloured with saffron and
flavoured with cardamom - that is deep-fried in ghee and than soaked in sugar syrup. Imarti tastes less crispy, more juicy and slightly heavier than jalebi and though I'd probably pick the latter if I had to choose between the two, it's still
a great way to end a meal.
Meetha paan: I've always wanted to try sweet paan and finally got round to it at the wedding. The soft betel leaves are traditionally stuffed with areca nut scrapings (a mild narcotic that I skipped) along with a variety of sweet fillings
such as cardamom, rose petals, honey, candied fruit or anise, cherries, cloves,
coconut and mint, rolled into a little parcel, popped into the mouth and chewed. Meetha paan is used both as a mouth freshener and a digestive - exactly what
we needed after our evening of indulgence.
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