From the stoic beauty of Amer Fort to the enchanting splendor of heritage institutions such as Gem Palace, my recent visit to Jaipur was a whistle-stop tour of the city’s most enduring landmarks. Of course, it was the local food culture which proved the peak richness of The Pink City…
Rooted in recipes dating back to the royal kitchens and inherently adapted to the arid climate, Rajasthani cuisine is famously unbridled in its use of desi ghee (clarified butter), milk and yogurt… and with unapologetically decadent results! Think refreshingly cool lassis topped with fresh malai (cream); and daal-baati churma cooked with a diet-destroying dose of ghee. A complete meal still takes shape in the form of a traditional thaali, trimmed by slow-cooked curries singed with spices.
While many local haunts remain well-trodden for such regional specialties, recent years have seen a number of contemporary cafés, eateries and bars establish themselves as vibrant additions to the city’s rich culinary tapestry.
Here are my top picks for where and what to eat, when you find yourself in Jaipur…
… Starting with fuss-free favourites such as Rawat Mishtan Bhandar, which churns out the best pyaaz and dal kachoris you can hope to find in India. Diabolically deep-fried until crisp yet flaky, each golden kachori is stuffed with browned onions or lentils sizzling with a medley of masalas.
Their shelves are neatly stacked with the full range of local sweets too, from sugar-soaked ghewar to kalakand (a fudgey sweet made with just condensed milk, paneer and cardamom), but for the real deal you could also head to Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar (LMB). Situated right around the bustling corner of Johari Bazaar, the heritage sweets shop has a history dating back almost 300 years!
Of course for Jaipurites, nothing compares to the pleasures of a refreshingly-lush kulhad of lassi – disposable terracotta cups filled to the brim with fresh buttermilk, a generous layer of malai (cream) added for a final flourish.
While MI Road’s clangorous thoroughfare is lined with several lassiwallas, Kishan Lal Govind Naraian Agarwal is the one to swing by, having been in operation since 1944. My best advice would be to go early on in the day, as lassis are quintessentially a morning drink in Jaipur and this particular lassiwalla has been known to sell out by mid-afternoon!
Kishan Lal Govind Naraian Agarwal, Panch Batti, MI Road, Jaipur
Early evenings are best reserved for tea at Tapri Central , a gregarious rooftop café which is as popular with locals as it is with tourists. Served with a nostalgia-evoking pack of Parle G biscuits, the masala chai here has a reviving kick to it; while the kitschy home-style menu majors in dishes from Tadka Maggi to pesto khakra pizzas!
Caffeine fiends could also find their way to Curious Life Coffee for freshly-roasted coffee. Situated nearby (within C scheme), the café is one of the few (if not the only) spot in Jaipur offering the option to choose the origin of the coffee beans!
Curious Life Coffee Roasters, P 25, Yudhisthir Marg, C Scheme, Jaipur
In fact, Jaipur’s café culture has never been more exciting, bolstered by a host of fresh and avant-garde concepts.
At Jaipur Modern, shopping for homewares and fashion apparel – hand-crafted by local artisans – is inevitably followed by a bite in the Mediterannean-inspired café. Championing local sustainable agriculture, Jaipur Modern Kitchen is particularly known for its versatile use of locally-grown quinoa, among other organic produce.
Also offering a taste of something different is Meraaki Kitchen, which is helmed by a MasterChef India finalist Neha Deepak Shah and entrepreneur Shivika Kothari. Influenced by elements of nature, the all-vegetarian restaurant specialises in fusion fare, including the likes of biryani arancini and Hong Kong-style waffles.
Mearaki Kitchen, 27, Madrampura, Ajmer Road, Civil Lines, Jaipur
A Regal Touch
Of course, since the city’s picturesque palaces are reason alone to hop on a flight to Jaipur – you wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to dine within these landmark settings. As such, Baradari at the royal residence – City Palace – is a must-visit during your trip.
Fashioned by maverick architect Ambrish Arora (of the AD50 firm Studio Lotus), the contemporary design of the al fresco courtyard makes for a striking juxtaposition against the backdrop of one of Jaipur’s oldest and most spectacular landmarks.
That Baradari refers to a pavilion with 12 doors – designed to facilitate the free flow of air – gains credence with Arora’s fascinating focus on pillars, constructed in backlit translucent marble and glass. The details are dizzyingly intricate (right down to the traditional thikri – mirror work – in the design patterns), while a sculptural waterfall is as fascinating as it is calmly tranquil.
Speaking with co-founder Samir Kasliwal (the charming half-Italian heir to the city’s heritage jewellery house, Gem Palace), I learn that the restaurant has been borne out of the desire to create something that is both unique and dramatic… A vision that is faithfully fulfilled with a menu best described as modern Indian. The edgy take on popular street foods (such as mozarella or brie kachoris) is particularly compelling, as is the inviting aura surrounding the shaded bar…
Meanwhile SUJÁN Rajmahal Palace’s new Italian is set against an inviting terrace peppered with mood-lifting pops of colour. Although wonderfully-understated, Rajmahal Café doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to serving up fabulously-fresh and impeccably-plated dishes – many of which are formed by organic produce grown on-site at the palace.
Of course the luxury hotel’s pretty-in-pink restaurant and turquoise-toned Colonnade are dining destinations in their own right, while the Polo Bar remains a popular watering hole come nightfall… Read the full review, here.
Then there’s that institution among royal institutions, Rambagh Palace – now helmed by the Taj Group.
Afternoon tea here is a suitably decadent affair, regally laden across solid silver tiers. Choose from the Victorian Splendour (a traditional Indian spread), the Maharaja’s Sojourn (an Indian twist to this quintessential British pastime) or opt for both… lingering in the Verandah after for cocktails which are as ceremoniously presented as befitting of the grandiose surrounds. Full review, here.
Speaking of cocktails, do make sure to wash up at Bar Palladio – a buzz-worthy bolthole at the colour crush-evoking Narain Niwas Palace.
Swathed in peacock-blue hues, the interiors here draw imaginative inspiration from Harry’s Bar Venice, married with wistfully-ornate touches reminiscent of the Mughal era. The harmonious match is unsurprising considering that Barbara Miolini, the Swiss-Italian owner, worked at Villa Cipriani before making the move to Jaipur ten years ago, to set up an embroidery factory!
With cosily-stylish corners a-plenty and a wonderfully languid tone, is it any wonder that this is the sort of bar that you wish you lived down the street from?
Although there’s no time to visit on my recent trip, I bookmark the sister restaurant Café Palladio, for the future – having heard convincing stories of this equally stylish hotspot. Not to mention, 1135 AD, the regally resplendent restaurant within Amer Fort, specialising in Mughlai, Rajasthani and North Indian cuisine!
To be continued…
More from my Jaipur Diaries, here.