Looking for the best street food in Jaipur? Want to know the best Rajasthan hotels for foodies? Head on a foodie road trip through the north Indian state, stopping off at street food stalls, roadside restaurants and remote home stays.
Best street food in Jaipur
The grid-patterned capital of Rajasthan was created in 1727 by Maharajah Jai Singh II when the population outgrew hilltop Amber. It was the Prince of Wales who dubbed Jaipur the Pink City after it was given a lick of salmon-hued paint to welcome him in 1876. Today its ochre walls cradle an intoxicating warren of historic havelis (courtyard townhouses) and bustling bazaars. It’s home to the spellbinding 18th-century City Palace and Observatory, and ornate five-storey façade of the Hawa Mahal (or Palace of the Winds). Amber Fort, the Rajput capital for more than 700 years, is a short drive away, a magical ridge-top complex of palaces, temples and courtyard gardens.
Jagannath ki Pakodi
On an evening street-food tour, our guide, Madhav, steers us towards Jaipur’s best pakora maker. A crowd gathers around fourth-generation Jagannath ki Pakodi’s stall, the tiny deep-fried chickpea flour and vegetable parcels fished out of a huge vat of bubbling oil and served in paper cones with a sour tamarind chutney.
At the next stop, puri maker Sanjay feeds 5,000 people a day. We scoop up chola ki sabji (chickpea curry) with moreish puri (small deep-fried, puffed flatbreads) and fiery green chillies. We snake down what was once the pickle street – now there’s just one trader left, sitting cross-legged at the front of his 180-year-old shop. Huge glass jars and earthenware pots are filled with every kind of pickle and chutney, from sweet lemon to jackfruit and ginger. He ladles out a spoonful of syrupy mango and we lick our sticky fingers, its spicy sweetness tinged with fire.
Ramchandra Kulfi Wala
India has a famously sweet tooth and, down another alley, stalls are piled high with mounds of crystallised, granulated and icing sugar. At Ramchandra Kulfi Wala we bite into kulfi on a stick – frozen condensed milk and sugar with chunky pistachio nuts and cardamom.
Baba Ramdev Snacks
Many of the sweets in India are made from mawa, milk reduced to a curd and sold in round metal tubs. At Ramdev’s famous sweet shop the turbaned owner plies me with unctuous syrupy balls of gulab jamun.
Try a clay cup of lassi, a tangy yogurt drink from Lassiwala. And, to finish, a stand where a paan wallah smears edible paan leaves with betel nut, lime paste and spices to aid digestion.
Where to eat in Jodhpur
Jodhpur is also known as the blue city (the brahmin houses are painted periwinkle hues), the majestic Mehrangarh Fort towering high above. The city was founded in 1459 on the trading route between Gujarat and Delhi. At the Sardah market our guide takes us to a famous Jodhpur pit stop: Mishrilal. Since 1927 they have been concocting makhaniya lassi here, more a dessert than the Jaipur drink, it has a cloying, sherbet-lemon sweetness.
Where to stay in Rajasthan
Rohet Garh hotel
Head south of Jaipur to Rohet Garh, a 17th-century fortified heritage hotel outside Jodhpur, the gateway to the Thar Desert. For 15 generations the Singh family has called this home and its rooms, decorated in traditional Rajput style, are sprinkled with family photographs. Ornate gates open on to manicured lawns, framed by pretty pavilions where you can lounge among preening peacocks while sipping a gin and tonic.
One of the previous owners, the late Jayendra Kumari, was renowned for her cooking and compiled a recipe book. Anyone taking one of the hotel’s culinary workshops is given a copy.
It’s not all old-world decadence; the family supports nearby village communities and offers excursions to see a Bishnoi village, and protected Blackbuck antelope herds, in the acacia-pricked desert.
Dera Mandawa homestay
The bread is baking in a mound of smoking cow dung. Small balls of dough are bedded into the hot ash while dhal is stirred over the flickering flames and chunks of masala-marinated mutton sizzle on a spit. It might not sound like the most glamorous introduction to Rajasthan’s cuisine, but nomadic romance is woven through this vast, sun-seared desert state, and its history of maharajahs, Mughal emperors and hardy camel herders. This is not the desert, however, but the courtyard garden of the Dera Mandawa, Durga Singh’s ancestral home and now a heritage homestay in Jaipur. Host, agriculturalist and eco-warrior, Durga is passionate about rural Rajasthani cooking. He has a farm a few hours from the city but keeps a few cows in Jaipur. Their dung, along with leftover food, is fed into Dera Mandawa’s bio-gas plant to produce the methane gas used in the kitchen.
The skewered meat has been marinated in yogurt, turmeric, ginger, coriander, chilli and wild cucumber. It’s not mutton at all, it turns out, but kid goat. “If you fed me mutton I’d be offended,” laughs Durga. In Rajasthan most mutton dishes are the far more tender baby goat. It has a fragrant, tangy taste, while the bread rolls are smeared with ghee.
In India, ghee is a national obsession. Durga is in full flow. “Is the crumble laughing or crying?” He rubs his hands together at my look of bewilderment. “It’s a typical Rajasthani saying meaning how much ghee has been used. If your picnic is crying it’s dripping ghee, if it’s laughing the host has been mean.”
Dairy products play a crucial role in Rajasthani cooking. In this arid region, water has always been scarce so butter, buttermilk and milk are used instead. Although the area is largely vegetarian, the influence of red-blooded Rajput warriors can be seen in Rajasthan’s signature dish, laal maas – a rich mutton curry.
Durga and his wife, Usha, also offer traditional Rajasthani cookery classes. Lesson one: how to rustle up baingan bharta (roast an aubergine over a naked flame, to give it a smoky flavour, then mix with chopped tomato and onion, chilli and cumin seeds) and various flatbreads, from roti to chapati.
For dessert we heat a pan of milk then add a few drops of lime juice to curdle it. The whey is drained, and honey and cardamom seeds mixed into the resulting chenna (cottage cheese).
Dev Shree homestay
From Jodhpur we drive through the mist-cloaked pinnacles of the Aravalli Hills to elegant rural homestay Dev Shree on the edge of Deogarh. Shatrunjai Singh and Bhavna Kumari’s home is set in sweeping gardens on the shore of Ragho Sagar lake with views of hilltop Gokul Fort.
The USP here is the home-style Mewari dishes that you won’t find on restaurant menus – and one of the warmest welcomes in Rajasthan. They grow a lot of the vegetables in their kitchen garden and farm. Bhavna gives us a cookery workshop on the veranda. We start with fresh corn pakoras, sprinkled with dried mango powder and a zesty squeeze of fresh lime as they emerge from sizzling oil.
Lauki, meanwhile, is made from four green vegetables: green tomatoes, beans, squash and chillies fried together with mustard seeds, cumin, garlic and turmeric. For dessert, lapsi is a dish of cracked wheat cooked in melted ghee until it softens, sweetened with large chunks of jaggery.
Another highlight for guests is the rural train journey from Khamblighat to Phulad. The train dates back to 1923 and descends 1,000m from the plateau in a giant switchback, crossing vertiginous viaducts straddling deep gorges and screeching to a halt for picnicking passengers to clamber off and feed the monkeys.
Ranakpur Camel Lodge
From Dev Shree homestay it’s a three-hour drive through the hills to Ranakpur Camel Lodge, part of the LPPS Camel Conservation Centre set up by Hanwant Singh Rathore and Ilse Köhler-Rollefson. With the arrival of trucks and tractors, the Raika camel herders lost their livelihoods, so the project is helping them diversify into camel milk and camel-milk soap production.
Milking is done early and the milk is then pasteurised and bottled at the lodge’s small dairy, and sent to cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. In a clearing Goparam and Babulal are milling among the herd. A calf suckles one teat and the herder squeezes another, the milk spurting into a bowl. Cross-legged on camel wool mats we sip the milk. It’s sweet and frothy like a cappuccino.
“Food produced by pastoralists is so much healthier than conventional farming. There are no pesticides and the camels graze on around 36 medicinal plants,” Ilse tells us.
Sitting on the veranda, back at the lodge, she brings out bowls of camel’s milk cream cheese: coriander and garlic, green pepper and black pepper; and panchkuta, a traditional camel herder’s lunch made from desert fruits, ker, gunda and kachri, and seed pods, sangri and kumptia, foraged and dried by the nomads. It’s dark and woody, like spiced undergrowth. “People think the herders are poor but the desert has its own bounty,” says Ilse. For dessert she brings out a camel’s-milk cheesecake made with lime and honey, and no sugar.
Jagat Niwas Palace
Zigzagging downhill to Udaipur’s Pichola Lake we leave the dust of the desert for lush lakeside and the heritage hotel Jagat Niwas Palace. It’s a magical setting.
We head up on the rooftop for our final Rajasthani dinner, the lights twinkling across the water as we order a laal maas. Scooping up mouthfuls of rich mutton masala, the sauce is a deep chilli red, the meat so tender it’s falling apart. But then, of course, it could well have been goat.
How to travel in Rajasthan
Tailor-made culinary journeys through Rajasthan cost from £3,450 per person for 13 nights, including accommodation, private car and driver, sightseeing with local English-speaking guides, street-food tours in Delhi and Jaipur, a heritage walk in Udaipur, cooking lessons in Jaipur, Rohet, Deogarh and Udaipur, and an overnight stay at the Camel Conservation Centre in Ranakpur (pettitts.co.uk).
The price also includes return flights with Jet Airways, which flies daily from Heathrow to Jaipur via Mumbai or Delhi from £559 (jetairways.com).
More info: tourism.rajasthan.gov.in. Follow Lucy on Instagram and Twitter @lucygillmore, #olivetravels.