WORDS: AURELIA FERNANDES
PHOTOGRAPHS: JEREMIAH CHRISTANAND RAO
GREAT FROM: Jaipur, New Delhi
GREAT FOR: All things sweet
There’s something about the Indian heat that effectively drains your energy and kills your appetite. You’d rather drown in a vat of ice-cold nimbu paani than even consider eating. But, there’s something about the smell of freshly-roasted jeera and sugary chashni that is bound to draw you to Bikaner’s food scene.
Located 334km from Jaipur, Bikaner is a curious mix of sandstone monuments, modern buildings and, of course, a large number of havelis. Among all this, the never-ending trail of kachoriwalas is sure to follow you everywhere you go. While there is constant debate over who serves the best kachoris in town, just follow the crowd and you won’t go wrong. If you’re still unconvinced, seek a bit of divine intervention and stop by the Jain Bhanda Shah Temple, and then visit Pawan Kachoriwala, located right outside. Sink your teeth into some classic, crispy golden kachoris or cool down with some dahi kachori, topped off with yoghurt, green chutney, tamarind sauce and just the right amount of chilli powder. Since this humble food cart has a massive local fan following, you’re probably not going to get much to eat post noon, so be sure to pay your respects at the temple first thing in the morning and grab a bite soon after. It’s highly likely that the pundit will tag along for the crispy breakfast.
Bikaner’s historical monuments boast extreme grandeur, perfectly suited for you to live out your royal fantasies. The Laxmi Niwas Palace lets those daydreams unfold at the heritage hotel’s many restaurants. The maharaja thali, which includes a wide range of delicacies ranging from local specialties like Bikaneri rasgullas to Rajasthani favourites like laal maas, is the perfect way to taste Bikaner. Take on this feast if you can eat like a beast. There are high chances that you’ll be staring at the hotel’s stunning wooden carved ceiling panels long after you’re done, trying to recover from a glorious food coma.
And, if by some miracle, you find the will to move, and find an appetite for (more) dessert, head to Manka Maharaj Rabri Wale, located deep in the bylanes of Old Bikaner. Set in the crevice of a haveli, the rabri here may look like mush, but the first bite will convince you that looks can be rather deceiving.
Walking around Bikaner will ensure that your hunger returns, and the endless number of namkeen shops on Station Road will come to the rescue. Hit up Chappan Bhog for some rajbhog and pineapple rabri, a pleasant change from Bikaner’s standard rabri-rasgulla combo. If you can’t handle the sugar rush, seek out Shri Bikaner Mishthan Bhandar, for some spicy mirchi boda, complete with yoghurt and green chutney. While you’re here, also try the mawa kachori, because there’s no such thing as too much dessert or too many kachoris.
Food in Bikaner is all about age-old classics done right, but there is an absolute wildcard that you must include on your food trail, the ICAR – National Research Centre on Camel. Whether or not you like those humped creatures, the centre is worth a visit because it houses a dairy with a peculiar set of offerings – camel milk products. Beat the Rajasthani heat with a camel milk kulfi, which tastes as weirdly wonderful as it sounds. But, if camel milk isn’t your cup of tea, end your food trail in the sweetest way possible, with more rabri, of course!