Restaurant reviews, food thoughts and travel stories
India: Day 9- Cooking Class at Dera Mandawa
Learning to cook traditional Rajastani food. Written by Jordan.
On our second night at the Dera Mandawa in Jaipur we took part in a cooking class which is run by the owners. We were given two options, either to start the class early and take a tour of the local spice shops and vegetable market or begin little later and just cook. As is ever the case we opted to take a tour of the local shops and market, for this part of the evening our enigmatic host Mr Singh was our guide, we trailed behind him as he drifted through traffic with an air of grace telling us stories, showing us the items on sale and explaining some of the differences in cultures. It’s always great to wander around a market and get a feel of it with someone local but I honestly think we had the best guide there could be. He was fun and informative, we still talk now about how majestic and engaging he was. We kind of loved him. He shared his views on the important things to hold on to, the importance of buying local, the trust that customers and sellers have between each other and how critical it was to hold on to tradition. We witnessed a great example, a man pulled up on a scooter laden with milk jugs and an old lady came out of her house with a plastic jug and he filled it up. The lady didn’t measure how much milk he was pouring or check that he was giving her the type of milk she had asked for. This was a daily transaction, some times the milk might be a little short, sometimes there might be a little extra. They trust each other to do the right thing, she paid him and he rode off- he didn’t stop to check that she had given him the right money, he didn’t need to.
First stop was a busy road to the south side of the pink city. We looked at the different stalls where you could buy whole spices, grains and vegetables. Mr. Singh explained the different elements that make a chai tea as we watched a market seller prepare it for a waiting customer and give us a demo of exactly what went into the pot. First it was milk followed by water, then a good mound of sugar followed by cardamon and ginger. After the tea demonstration we moved down the busy street to the local miller and learnt that you buy your whole grains at other shops and come here to have them ground to order to whatever granularity you require, all in the matter of minutes.
Around the corner we saw a lady making puri fresh to order for what we assumed was a restaurant order and then walked past a spice grinding shop, similar to the miller but only spices are ground here. After the spice tour we were asked if we wanted to go back or hit the main market. Obviously we went for the market as this is what we would choose wherever we are, its suprising how much time we spend on holiday just looking at food let alone eating.
On arrival, after weaving past cars, bikes and other traffic we stood to one side and Mr. Singh told us a story about the goat stood in the corner next to us. Nearly every vegetable seller at the market takes a goat with them, it a pet but the goat is also there to eat any veg that cannot be sold rather than throw it in the bin. It is important that all produce goes to use and also ensures the goat (which would eventually become someone’s dinner) ate well. The goats follow people to the market and seemed very happy with the task in hand. Mr Singh explained that each day the retailers, which are normally individual families go to the wholesale market at around 4am to pick stock for the day with the aim to sell everything they have purchased on that day.
Typically all produce is picked/butchered/produced and eaten within 48 hrs, no freezing is involved. Mrs Singh later told us that many people can tell the difference between a curry paste made in the morning and left for a few hours versus one made there and then.
Mr Singh fears however that in a few years large supermarkets might emerge which would see the end of this way of living and put many of the sellers out of business. He talked passionately about this and what it would mean for local people. We discussed his views on the election that had taken place the day before and a whole host of subjects. I would very much like to have dinner with him!
After the market we hailed a tuktuk and it was explained to the driver that we as ‘special guests’ should be afforded the luxury of a really slow ride back to the hotel and not the usual going round a corner on two wheels at speed approach that is normal here, he explained how he likes the fact that in India you speak in a direct manner but with an element of humour.It’s very honest. We were dropped back at the hotel and ready for the cooking part of the class.
When we arrived back at the hotel we had a seat and were given a recipe pack to take away that included everything that we would be cooking for the evening. We both had a G&T (included in the class price) and Mr Singh began explaining how two of the dishes would be cooked using the traditional fuel of dried water buffalo dung. These would be goat (marinated and cooked inside a coconut in the middle of the fire) and Batti, a type of bread. We hadn’t considered cooking in a coconut before but its certainly going on the barbeque this year!
From this point we were handed over to Mrs Singh who ran the main part of the class in the what used to be the Ladies courtyard of the hotel. Mrs Singh was the head chef along with a sous chef, a barman who would get a drink whenever we were thirsty and finally someone who was in control of the BBQ. The traditional cooking style of the dung patties was something we had seen on our village tour in Ramathra but it was the first time we had eaten food prepared that way.
First thing on the agenda was a brief explanation of the whole and ground spices that are typically used in Indian Cuisine, some of the reasons for their uses and a little story about chilli. We both donned fetching aprons and got to work, I started the first hands on recipe of the evening, and made Chena. This is a soft cheese curd that was then served with honey and cumin, the Chena had a springy feel with a nice warmth as the cheese had just been cooked, the honey and cumin added a sweet and spicy element to complete the dish. When pressed, it becomes Paneer- I had no idea it was so easy to make!
Next up were masala potatoes, I should add that the sous chef was also roasting an aubergine on an open flame as we were cooking, that would come later. The ingredients were lined up in order from right to left as to how they should go in the pan. Firstly we heated the oil until just smoking and then put in the 4 whole spices (Black cardamon, cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves) and learnt that if the oil is too cold the spices will just soak it up, if the oil is hot the spices will impart their flavour into the dish. Then the remaining ingredients were added once the onions had cooked down a little. With the garlic and ginger we were given a great tip to prevent them from burning -we put them into a separate bowl and mixed them with a little water (or other cooking liquid you may be using) When added to the pan nothing will catch on the pan and the water will evaporate to just leave the wonderful warming flavours. In fact as Mr Singh had told us earlier, chilli was not introduced to Indian cuisine until after Mexico was discovered so original Indian dishes were flavoured only with spices with the heat coming from black pepper. Nothing like the eye watering, chilli laden versions we get back home! When the sauce was completed it was just a case of adding the potatoes and mixing them together. The final touch was to pour lime juice onto the potatoes (not onto the hot pan- I got told off!) and then place to one side to eat later.
It was then Casey’s moment to shine when she took on the cooking of of two aubergine dishes. Baingan Bharta which is an aubergine dip and masala aubergines, firstly the blackened and charred skin of the aubergine had to be removed slowly leaving only the soft flesh the beauty of cooking on the open flame is the wonderful smoky flavour which is left behind. After 5 minutes of scraping it was ready to go. The two dishes were made as one until the the end when the mashed aubergine was added, at this point it was split into the two dishes, the cold Baingan Bharta into a bowl with yoghurt (made fresh that day in the hotel) which is a bit like babaganoush and the hot masala aubergine dish. The potatoes were then reheated and we had the three dishes with some poppadoms for the cold dip and roti for the warm aubergine. Aubergine has now become a favourite vegetable from this trip, I had only every had mousaka before which I did not enjoy. The aubergine masala was wonderfully smoky and spicy whilst the dip was creamy and light and just right for a pre dinner snack.
After the starters and sides we then moved onto attempting to roll out chapatis (which is a lot harder than it looks). I tried in vain to pick up the knack but you need plenty of practice. The chapatis were to be cooked along with the curry.
Before starting we had all the ingredients laid out to the left of the pan and started with hot oil and the dried spices. This was to create the Garam Masala curry sauce which all other curry’s then split off from (for example Rogan Josh adds more tomato). We both had a hand in creating the sauce which was good so we could both see/feel for the amount of ingredients. After the dry ingredients it was the onion, tomato and garlic followed by some yoghurt and the ground spices. This was cooked out for 10 minutes before we added the left over whey from the Chena (this was a lovely whey 😉 to use all of the ingredients with no waste). We were then allowed to put our feet up as Mrs Singh finished off the curry with some pre-boiled chicken.
We took a seat as all of the mains that we had cooked were being finished off. We ate Garam Masala Chicken Curry, Coconut cooked goat, Chapatis, Paratha, and a selection of other treats from that evenings dinner. While we were eating Mrs Singh joined us for food and we had a great half hour just talking about life, what we did back in the UK and travel. It was the best way to end our time in Jaipur and we would definitely come back.
A cooking class was top of my list for things to do in India and we had an excellent night. Everything we ate was delicious, we learnt a lot of new things and enjoyed the company. Even if you don’t stay at Dera Mandawa, its definitely worth asking them if you can attend a class.
T: +91-141-4037377, 4037378, 2366637 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dera Mandawa, New Mandawa House, Adjoining Punjab National Bank,
Sansar Chandra Road, JAIPUR – 302 001