‘Maharaj’ Durga Singh steers a royal feast at JW Marriott’s Rajasthani Food Festival

Jagmeeta Thind Joy

The monsoon seems to be playing truant and has delayed its arrival in the city. While the pakoras and piping hot chai will have to wait, here’s something to cheer you up. The Cafe@JW, the all-day diner at JW Marriott Chandigarh has rustled up a Rajasthani Food Festival which promises to take you on royal culinary journey.

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But first, a quick recap. When it comes to Rajasthani fare in the city, there isn’t a standalone restaurant that we know of that specialises in desert fare. But many of us still remember Rajasthali, the first Rajasthani restaurant that opened more than a decade ago in DT Mall, now known as DLF City Centre Chandigarh. We loved the all-vegetarian and unlimited spread. The memory of dollops of ghee lovingly poured over a dal baati churma still makes me salivate.

While the restaurant closed shop after a successful run, one can now relish a true Rajasthani meal only at a food festival. And it’s after quite a gap that we have seen one being held in Chandigarh. To make it an authentic spread, JW Marriott has invited ‘Maharaj’ Durga Singh to take over their kitchens. The tall chef has indeed done so with confidence and charm.

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Incidentally, Singh tells us his forefathers worked in the royal kitchens of Jodhpur and he has done the same in the early part of his career. “I have always been passionate about cooking. While I am lucky to have access to some of the royal recipes, over the years I have started to experiment with flavours and make my own alterations to suit the modern Indian palate,” Singh tells us as we arrive for lunch.

“Rajasthani cuisine has evolved over the years, bearing influence of the battle-hardened Rajput aristocracy, the trader Marwari community and the neighbouring states of Sindh, Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab, while adapting to challenges like lack of water and limited choice of ingredients, which has helped give the cuisine a distinct identity,” he shares.

To make it an interesting mix in the food festival, the chef has culled popular dishes from four regions of Rajasthan. “Each of the regions has its own style of cooking and using ingredients. There’s Mewar, Marwad, Bikaner and Shekhawat. To incorporate a bit of everything, I have put together cyclic menus,” informs the chef.

So what’s on offer?

It’s a well-balanced mix of starters, main course and dessert. In fact, even though it is summer and you would love to savour a thandai, don’t give the soups a miss. The ‘Papad Aur Dhania Shorba’ and ‘Nalli Ka Shorba’ are flavoursome and perfect appetisers.

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“While game meat is an intrinsic part of royal Rajasthani cuisine, I have used lamb and chicken,” says Singh. But he has taken care to keep the ‘veg and non-veg’ equal in the number of offerings. He’s also brought in lesser known fare like the ‘Chakki ki Sabzi’ which involves a multi-step and patient process of cooking. The kneaded dough is ‘washed’ until only gluten-rich dough is left. This is followed by steaming or frying small bits or ‘chakki’ made from the dough. The fried bits are then added to a rich and spicy ‘chaas’ based curry, with the bits of ‘chakki’ absorbing the flavour of the ‘chaas’.

Also leading the way in the vegetarian menu is the quintessential Rajasthani favourite Dal-Bati-Churma. Do try the ‘Ker-Sangri’, a vegetable dish than won us over with its achaari flavour along with ‘Methi Kismish’ that balanced out the tanginess with sweetness. There’s also ‘Gulab Jamun Ki Sabzi’ which isn’t as decadent as it sounds. The gulab jamuns, in this case, aren’t dipped in sugary syrup. Instead, they have been made like a sabzi. Also on the menu are ‘Papad-Mangodi’, ‘Jodhpuri Gatta Curry’, ‘Adraki Chaamp’, ‘Pittod’ and ‘Lapsi’, to list a few.

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“In the royal kitchens, meat dishes were classified into Lal Maans (red meat) or Safed Maans (white meat). While Laal Maans was prepared in a rich gravy of tomatoes and spices, the white meat was stuffed with dry fruits like raisins and pistachio and slow cooked in a gravy of cashew, cream, coconut and blanched almonds and laced with powdered spices such as cardamom and cinnamon,” Singh explains.

If you like to dig into succulent meats, you will relish Rajasthani specials like Lal Maans, Jungali Maans and Maans ke Sulle. Our pick was the ‘Rai Ki Machhli’. The mustard was spot on.

One of the things we noticed about the food was the fact that it wasn’t overly greasy or heavy. “That’s something I have been working on. People are very health conscious these days and don’t like oily food. While I have cooked all the meals in ghee, I have made sure it’s not too much,” says Singh. Proving this well is the ‘Daal ki Kachori’. The outer layer was a cracker and far from oily.

The meals more than fill you up but you must save up space for the desserts. There’s malpua, Mohan Thaal (a kind of barfi), Misri Mava, Balu Shahi and Ghevar to choose from. The rains might have disappointed but not this Ghevar. It made us reach for a third helping.

You can savour these delicious meals for dinner from 7:30 pm to 11:30 pm at The Café@JW at JW Marriott Chandigarh. The vegetarian and non-vegetarian buffets are priced at Rs 1,699 per person (exclusive of taxes). You can call at 0172-3955555 or +91 998 889 8309 to reserve your table.

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