Hailing from Mumbai, Chef Akshay Pandit was always inquisitive about the local food and culture of Rajasthan. Ever since he took the role of the Executive Chef at Crowne Plaza in 2019, along with his team of culinary experts, he has been exploring the lesser-known pockets of the state to move beyond the usual dal, bati and choorma that one often associates with Rajasthani food. In their quest to find out about the popular local delicacies of the region, the team has been on many a culinary excursion throughout Rajasthan. After a long hiatus owing to the pandemic, they have curated a 10-day food festival ‘Excursion Through Royal Shekhawat’at their Global Cuisine Restaurant, Socorro.
Talking about the idea behind the festival, Chef Akshay says: “The roots of the Shekhawati Food Festival go back to 2019 when we explored the Thar region of Rajasthan to bring to the fore local delicacies from the area. It involved going to the houses of the rural families there and learning from them the technique as well as the science behind their food. This time, owing to the Covid-19 protocols, we could not visit the houses of people. However, we visited the house of one of our team member in Sikar to personally experience the true flavours of the Shekhawati region.”
On being asked about his culinary observations of the Shekhawati region, he says: “There is extensive use of dairy products like curd, paneer and chenna. The gravies are thick and the ingredients are rich, suggesting a possible Mughal influence on the warrior-kings of the region. Locally grown beans like ‘fofaliya’ are a seasonal staple.”
Instead of the typical Ker Sangri Ki Sabzi one is bound to find at all Rajasthani food spreads, there is Sangri Ki Tuk on the starter menu. Made with a paste of Sangri, hung curd, dry fruits and mawa, it is a great option for vegetarians along with Kute Masale Ka Paneer. For non-vegetarians, the melt-in-your-mouth Sikari Maans Ke Sule are a must-have.
In the main course, dishes like Dahi Papad Ki Tarkari and Chene aur Makhane ki Sabzi stands out. The usual Aloo Mangodi has been given a skip for the Mangodi Saag. For non-vegetarians, Shekhawati Murg and Safed Maans are on the menu. These delicacies are paired with Kaki Sa Ki Rotiyaan. To add to the native taste and give a homely touch to the meal, three women from Jhunjhunu have especially come to Jaipur to man the bread counter at the fest. They have brought a variety of flours from their village to dish out piping hot Bajra, Bejad, Makka rotis and Tikkad laden with dollops of ghee.
However, dal baati lovers will not be disappointed as the quintessential bati, dal panchmel and the colourful spread of choormas too has been included in the menu. In fact, there is also Masala Baati from Sikar, Dry Fruit Baati from Jhunjhunu and Kaju Matar Ki Baati to sample. A wide variety of unique chutneys and pickles including karele ka achaar and kachhe kele ki chutney are on offer too. If you’re big on chaat, you can gorge on Khatte Meethe Makka Ki Chaat, Karari Bhindi Ki Chaat, Chana Chatkara et al. The Dhungari Chaach is a thoughtful addition to help gourmands wash down the rich and spicy main course.
To end the meal, the Khopre Ka Sheera, Badam Pista Shreekhand and Kaddu Ka Halwa are innovative options to try. The traditional Ghewar, Gujia, Soan Papdi, Kheer and Imarti are there too for those who aren’t too willing to experiment with their palate.
If you think Rajasthani food is just about Dal, Baati and Choorma, then this is a food curation you may like to explore. In addition to the food, you can also savour some soulful music from the state being rendered by folk musicians. The festival is on for dinner till 19 September at Socorro in Crowne Plaza.
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