Nature expeditions brings together, for the connoisseurs of cuisine, an exciting tour that weaves together History of North India with the delicacies of four different communities that have evolved over centuries to titillate the palate. There is absolutely no dearth of variety for a creative gourmet in this part of the country. The region is fortunate to be the hub of some of the most exotic styles of cooking. Many of which are renowned all over the world and regarded as the most developed and refined of all culinary arts.
NORTH INDIA CUISINE TOUR
With Pushkar festival
CUISINE OF DELHI
The food of India is a hybrid cuisine which has grown out of several traditions, techniques and flavours but its chief influences are the classical Mughal cuisine, born in the imperial kitchens; and the vegetarian food of the orthodox mercantile community. The British Raj added its own culinary influences, which helped popularise the ubiquitous ‘Indian curry’ in the West. Today, the tangy flavours of cuisine from all over India are on offer together with a range of South Asian and European dishes in top-end restaurants.
In Delhi one finds foods from all over India. Also in Delhi one sees a fusion of foods old and new; and the true melting of many cultures, people, and cuisines together. Of all the many communities living in Delhi, the food has been influenced most by the Muslim, Bania, Punjabi and the Kayastha communities. The traditional vegetarian cuisine of Delhi belongs to the trading Bania community and may be enjoyed only in the walled Old City of the Mughal dynasty; where as the other three communities enjoyed meat and fish just as much as they loved vegetables.
Shahjahanabad was the name of this city before it was called Delhi. The spirit of lavishness and living life like it may end tomorrow is still alive today, long after the Mughal rule. Street side vendors, tandoori stands, chaatwalas, and lavish dinners at home, are still a part of daily life in Delhi. Cocktails, the many tandoori appetisers that are now a part of every famous Indian restaurant are all somehow linked to this region. Delhi has played a very important role in the political and cultural growth of India; the food of Delhi is a fine testament to that very important role.
The most famous cuisine of this region is Mughlai, the cuisine of the mighty Mughals, and Delhi – the historic capital of India – is the place to enjoy this style in its best form. Known for their love for life and lavish styles, Mughals treated their gastronomic requirement with a lot of seriousness. They added a touch of royalty to the food and produced mouth watering taste; it consists of a superb mix of aromatic spices, exotic sausages, butter based curries, loads of dry fruits, and roasted meats cooked in earthen ovens called tandoors.
After Independence from the British Empire a large number of Hindu and Sikh migrants from the newly formed Pakistan arrived in India, and brought with them their food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and added another element to the existing cuisines of the capital city.
Food from Punjab needs little introduction as it is easily available in different avatars all over the city from roadside food stalls to luxury hotels. The very popular ‘Chhole Bhatoore’, steaming hot from the pot and eaten with sweet Lassi (a drink made from fresh curd) is consumed in tonnes each day all over the city. Another popular fare is the ‘Makki-di-roti’ (bread made from corn flour) with ‘Sarson-da-Saag’ (a dish made from mustard leaves ground into a coarse paste). Punjabis say that their food is prepared with dollops of love and they never turn away a guest without sharing their meal with him. Their food is rich in butter and ghee and contains lot of spices, and of course calories!
CUISINE OF AWADH
From Delhi we travel to Lucknow (formerly known as Awadh), the state capital of Uttar Pradesh and famous for music, dance, and courtly etiquette, and needless to say, its mouth-watering cuisine. The most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh also has the most exotic recipes of the country in its kitty. Once again the treats include typical vegetarian food of predominantly Hindu class and the royal repasts of the Nabobs of Awadh, known for the refinement of culture and lifestyle.
The Awadh style of cooking is as popular as Mughlai if not more, and has a large fan following. The trademark feature of Awadhi tradition is the ‘Dum Pukht’ an outstanding process of preparing food. In this unique style, food is sealed in a large cauldron called ‘handi’ and placed over slow fire, allowing the ingredients to be cooked in their own juices, under the strict supervision of royal bawarchis (chefs).
It took about 2-3 days to prepare the meal in this traditional manner, but these days owing to living life in the fast lane, the residents only use the dum pukht technique on special occasions. Mouth-watering aromas emanate on opening the lid of the handis, which are sealed with dough to prevent the steam from escaping. The final result is rich in taste and aroma; the very famous ‘Murg Mussallam’ and ‘Swami Kebabs’ are prepared with the dum process.
The skill of preparing the food is also apparent in the blending of the various spices in Awadhi cuisine, and presenting it in the ceremonial tradition of laying food on the table called ‘Dastarkhwan’. The experience of this nawabi tradition transcends a traditional cuisine into a fine art.
CUISINE OF RAJASTHAN
Culinary art of the princely state of Rajasthan is judged as the most majestic and royal by the connoisseurs of food. The royal families are known as the descendants of the sun god. The desert has made their lives very different from those of their other countrymen. The life they live is evolved after centuries of surviving the natural calamities of the desert.
Just as they have done with their folk arts and crafts, recipes have been passed down generations and have only become familiar to others recently. The many wars that have been fought here, and the scarce natural resources, have played a very important role in shaping the cuisine of this land. The truth is that the story of Rajasthan’s cuisine is a success story of the grim determination and struggle of the people of Rajasthan against all odds of nature.
It is matter worthy of appreciation that while surviving in the rough terrains of Rajasthan is difficult, people here have devised recipes (and a whole lot of them) emulated by all in the country. Ingredients in these recipes have been carefully selected, more out of hard geographical compulsion than out of fetish for the taste.
The food was prepared to nourish people that were fighting wars and were away from their homes for long periods. Nothing could be grown in the barren lands facing the hot and stormy sand-dunes, and communication was not developed in earlier times. Under such conditions the pre-requisite was to have food with high nutritional value. One that could provide sufficient aliment to bear not just the hardships imposed by the vast stretches of deserts, but also be suitable for the war-like lifestyles of the people. The recipes found here are thus able to keep long shelf lives. Also the desert climate has seen the evolution of recipes that call for minimum water.
Daunting tasks for the cooks was to think of recipes which required minimum use of water, could be stored for long period of time without requiring re-heating, and did not use great quantities of vegetables. Often one sees the use of yogurt, buttermilk, milk and ghee. The flavours that these people have shared with the rest of the country have taught lessons in seasoning. No matter what the adversities, these people never compromised on taste and flavour. The foods were cooked in accordance to what was available and that scarcity never changed the grandiose lifestyle of its people. They were able to change their adversity into strength.
Greater use of milk, butter milk and other milk products can be seen in Rajasthani cuisine. Crops like bajra (millet) and jowar (barley) are also used as they could be cultivated in parts of Rajasthan. Use of beans from locally grown plants like sangri, ker etc, besides dried lentils, is also popular here. Gram flour is also a major ingredient of the Rajasthani dishes. Most Rajasthani curries appear red in colour and seem to be very hot, but that is not so in taste. Pure ghee or butter is used as a medium of cooking. Chutneys from the locally available spices help to make the food even more interesting.
Khansamas (chefs) working in the kitchens of the royals generated some exotic recipes. These recipes have been carried forward through the descendants of these khansamas and have helped to add a regal dash to the Rajasthani cuisine.
ITINERARY 1 (with PUSHKAR Festival)
Duration : 16 days.
Area : Delhi, Lucknow, Agra, Jaipur & Pushkar.
Highlights : Indian cuisine, historical monuments, holy town, the Taj Mahal
Operational : the year round
Best time: October to March
Day 01, Delhi: Met upon arrival and transfer to pre-booked hotel. Morning free, afternoon sightseeing to Old Delhi and Chandni Chowk; evening talk on Delhi (Mughal Cuisine).
Day 02, Delhi: Cooking class/demo; try your hands at Indian cookery and enjoy the ‘results’ for lunch. Afternoon visit to Humayun’s Tomb, Lotus temple and the Qutub Minar.
Day 03, Delhi: Cooking class/demo. Afternoon visit to India Gate, Parliament Street, Birla Mandir and National museum. Later visit Chandni Chowk market.
Note : Red fort /National museum – Delhi are closed on Mondays.
Day 04, Delhi: Lucknow (train): After early breakfast, transfer to New Delhi railway station to board Swarn Shatabdi Express at 0615Hrs. Arrive Lucknow at 1230Hrs. Evening talk on the Awadhi cuisine of the Nawabs.
NOTE: This train runs every day, except Tuesdays
Day 05 : Lucknow: Morning cooking class/demo. Afternoon visit to Bara Imambara, Hussainabad Imambara, and Clock Tower. Later visit the food street in old town, famous for Kebabs, Biryani and Indian sweets.
Day 06, Lucknow: Cooking class/demo. Afternoon visit to Jami Masjid and local market.
Day 07, Lucknow – Agra (train): Cooking class/demo. Afternoon free to relax. Evening overnight train to Agra 2330Hrs. Overnight train.
Day 08, Agra: Arrive Agra at 0700Hrs; check into hotel. Morning free. Afternoon visit to Agra Fort, Sikandra and Itmad-ud-Daulah.
Day 09, Agra: Early morning visit to view the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Return to hotel for breakfast, followed by cooking class/demo (Mughal & Bania cuisine).
Note : Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.
Day 10, Agra – Jaipur (drive): Drive to Jaipur (about 260km/6hrs); en route visit Fatehpur Sikri. Evening talk on Rajasthani cuisine.
Day 11, Jaipur: Cooking class/demo. Afternoon visiting to the City palace, Palace of Wind and the Amber Fort. Visit the pottery and earthen utensil markets.
Day 12, Jaipur: Cooking class. Afternoon visit to the Jantar Mantar observatory and the colourful bazaars.
Day 13, Jaipur – Pushkar (drive): Drive to Pushkar (about 120km/3hrs). Afternoon visit to the world famous Camel & Cattle fair and in the evening dinner and cultural programme.
Day 14, Pushkar: Cooking class/demo. Afternoon visit to the Brahma temple and sacred lake. Evening, visit a resident family to see the local way of living and share a meal with them.
Day 15, Pushkar: Visit a tribal community and nomadic traders; chat with them and observe their food habits. Afternoon camel ride, to view the sunset.
Day 16, Pushkar – Delhi (train): Morning cooking class and a farewell talk about Indian history, culture and cuisine followed by a sumptuous lunch. Afternoon drive to Ajmer railway station about 12km, board train to Delhi at 1550Hrs.
Arrive Delhi at 2220Hrs; pick-up and straight transfer to international airport to board flight to home country.