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Home to historical kingdoms and empires aplenty, and edged by the natural beauty of the Aravalli Mountains and Thar Desert, Northeast India’s Rajasthan state has a handful of distinctive local signature platters. Here are five that regularly please its population of over 70 million, as well as the palates of visitors.
Literally meaning “red meat,” a misconception here is that this mutton dish gets its name from the vibrant hues of the red chilli peppers that lend it their specific fiery heat and depth of flavour. But research shows this dish has been prepared in Rajasthan since before chillies even made their way to the Indian subcontinent in the sixteenth century. The name actually refers to the freshness of the meat in earliest versions of this beloved staple.
Traditionally prepared by slow-cooking mutton with a sauce of garlic, mustard oil, a range of spices, and local Mathania chillies, versions of this Rajasthani favourite are on menus across northern and central India. But the specific Mathania village chillies and fresh sour kachri melon (कचरी; a cucumber species native to Rajasthan) distinguish the flavour in its place of origin.
This second recommendation is another of a huge variety of special non-veggie gravies across Rajasthan, many of which are hard to find elsewhere. Safed maas (सफेद मांस; a Rajasthani mutton-based gravy) was nearly lost with the decline of the country’s royal courts and other noble households, where it was once a staple. A chef-led revival of interest in many of those royal specialities sparked a resurgence.
The dish is made with either mutton or chicken, cooked in a creamy, gravy of cashew nut, almond paste, yoghurt, and cream. Spiced with locally-sourced varieties of clove, cardamom pods, bay leaves, and cinnamon, this luxuriant dish has a moreish rich flavour. Enjoy it with roti flatbread to soak up every last bit.
Dal—a stew of lentils or other split pulses—is an India-wide staple in cuisine, yet there are so many versions. Some are spicy, some salty, some light. It can be eaten with any meal or—with rice or flatbread—it can be one in itself. Dal bukhara (दाल बुखारा) is thick, rich, dark, and earthy red-brown stew with roots in the northwest frontier shared with Pakistan, and it’s become a signature at ITC Mughal luxury hotels across India.
Holding true to the bold spice profiles that are a hallmark of Rajasthani dishes, it is not so spicy but bursts with flavour. Deceptively simple sounding, it is made by combining black urad lentils with tomato purée, garlic, ginger, ghee, and cream. But the magic lies in the eight-hour preparation time needed to get the right smooth consistency.
An extremely popular street snack of hollow bread stuffed with one of several fillings—most commonly a mixture of onion and potato and generous amounts of blended spices. Its best vendors have devotees that line up for this dish that’s served throughout the day. Originating in Jodhpur—Rajasthan’s second-largest city, after Jaipur—but now found throughout the state, sometimes it’s served on leaves has been for centuries. For an added layer of flavour, try it with tangy tamarind chutney.
The Rajasthani sweet treat called imarti (इमरती) looks and tastes a little like a doughnut. Made by deep frying lentil-flour batter in a circular floral shape, it is then soaked in syrup that is not over-sweet—often by street vendors, but also in restaurants. This is not to be confused with the very sweet jalebi (जलेबी), which—while not strictly Rajasthani in origin—is a sweet snack or dessert that is also very popular in the state and often served as a breakfast food. Both use syrups infused with flavouring such as saffron, cardamom, and rose essence.