Royal rendezvous at Udaipur

By Hoihnu Hauzel
Published: Sunday 07 June 2015

Hoihnu Hauzel witnesses an uncommon meeting of tradition and food

Hoihnu Hauzel I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I was excited when my husband asked me if I wanted to accompany him for a royal wedding in Rajasthan.  After all, it wasn’t going to be just any other wedding. And this, I was sure would be a grand display of royalty and culture.

And royal weddings have always fascinated me. I watched the entire live telecast of Prince Charles and late Lady Diana’s wedding on a Beltek television back then as a curious little girl.  And the thought of a royal wedding in Rajasthan was thrilling enough as I was driven by pure greed.

What came to mind immediately was the lavish Mewari platter that I would get to sample. I have heard of some special sweet dishes that are only served during occasions like weddings.

Like lapsi which is even said to be the food for goddess. It is usually made by villagers in Rajasthan for any household celebrations. Or the thought of other sweet dishes like Garam ghewar or Husn-e-ara simply watered my mouth. And who would forget the traditional laal maas? How many times have I been disappointed trying out laal maas at many restaurants in Delhi. Something was always missing in the dish.

The thought that I was going to have all that and more and witness the wedding of princess Baisa Padmaja Kumari Mewar, younger daughter of Maharana Shreeji Arvind Singh Mewar, with Khush Singh Parmar, son of Mahendra Singh Parmar of Santrampur Gujarat thrilled me enough.

The countdown to the event began with anticipation and excitement, perhaps the semi-invite or let’s says, an announcement letter, arrived months in advance with a request to block the dates. Just days before the D-day approached a thick red envelope that resembled a little booklet arrived. Inside were cards in rich red, yellow, lavender and maroon with attractive motifs on each of them. There were different cards for five days with description of the programmes.

And there I was in Udaipur for the first time ever. Charmed by the city, I began to slowly seep in the aroma of the place. Soon I began to understand why people referred to Udaipur as the Venice of the East. I set my heart on everything I saw. Be it the vibrantly dressed women in villages carrying shiny copper pitchers clutched to their waists to fetch water. And the sight of the city that sits delicately on the banks of Pichola Lake, seemed ethereal.

What added to the romantic appeal was being ferried by boats to the wedding venues on all days and nights. Boats in frilly laces and flowers would wait for guests and ferry them across to the venue. On the night of the engagement, we were ferried from our hotel to the venue at Jag Mandir Island. From a distance, the island looked nothing less than a house of emerald. On the wedding night, the City Palace, the venue of the function, looked like a ball of glittering diamond.

The wedding was the revival of culture and tradition that were perhaps not commonly practised in today's era. For instance, who would have imagined that men and women would be segregated and asked to sit in separate venues?

So, on the wedding night, many couples who walked in the red carpet hand-in-hand were duly told to part ways. The men folk assembled at the Manek Chowk or Mardana mahal of the City Palace.

The ladies made way to the Zenana Mahal of the palace. From atop the Zenana each lady tried hard to locate her man. I joined the rest of the women and craned my neck from the Zenana to see the barat which was riding on a big fat elephant.

Food and drinks have always been a part of royalty. There are tales of royal chefs or traditional cooks whose only job was to titillate the royal palate.

Perhaps, straight from the palace kitchen, the lavish spread or rather the authentic spread on all the days of celebration completed the grandeur. Mewari cuisine in combination with other Indian regional and international cuisine was an excuse to indulge as if there was no tomorrow.  High on spices, the protein-laden Mewari speciality laal maas was my first pick. I paired this rich traditional red meat curry with makki ki roti and it was delicious.

The cornmeal bread tasted so different because they were freshly made and roasted on a hot tawa by a group of womenfolk who were assigned to do that.  They also made an array of Rajasthani breads like bafla, sekwa, or even the stuffed ones. Of course, there was Khade masala ki safed murgi which is chicken cooked with whole species in white sauce. Pure ghee in added to the flavours.

The urad dal stew was a discovery as we have got so used to killing the original flavour of any food with an overdose of spices. This split lentil was a simple yet delicious stew with not much spices. The other counters had speciality from Punjab, Hyderabad and other regions.

Mithai or sweets like lapsi was there on all the days. But why is this called auspicious? Prepared with broken wheat and sautéed in pure ghee and sweetened, this is made only on special occasions in Rajasthan. Apparently, lapsi is also a special sweet for Gujaratis.

It is considered auspicious because some people believe that it is a food chosen by goddesses as their food. It is easy to prepare and often used as prasada (offerings) in some temples.

Daulat ki chaat another sweet dish made from milk froth and, more like jalebi, rabri or dal badaam ka halwa. I didn’t even bother to even check what the western counter had to offer even though I saw people queuing up for gelatos and all. The exotic range of paan at the end of the meal interested me too. The taste of the paan lingered on for many hours.

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