One of the biggest appeals of India to foreign travelers is her food. Indian restaurants can be found in the largest of cities and the smallest of towns all over the world. But, while the dishes at these restaurants are certainly delicious, they’ll never be the “real thing.” For travelers who are coming to India in part to try their favorite cuisine directly from the source, there’s no better place to do it than the Ikaki Niwas Hotel.
During our stay here in Jaipur, we had the unique opportunity to participate in the cooking demonstrate that’s offered a few times a week at the hotel. Here, we could get up close and personal not only with Indian cuisine, but the people behind it.
At around 6:30 P.M., we were called from our rooms to come down for the cooking demonstration, led by Devika Rathore. She and her husband, JD, own the hotel, and she was by far one of the best parts about the cooking demonstration, offering her smiles and kind words to travelers. After chatting with her, it’s easy to see that the secret ingredient in the dishes she makes is nothing other than “love.”
We briefly introduced ourselves to the other travelers coming to see the demonstration; a mother and son from Brazil. Though they were only in Jaipur for a night and not staying at Ikaki Niwas, we learned that it’s possible to join the cooking demonstration even if you won’t be putting your head down at the hotel after eating. We talked briefly on the hotel’s terrace, where other groups of friendly tourists were gathered, having a beverage and enjoying each other’s company. The weather was brisk, and out from the terrace, the moon shone brightly in the sky above the city.
We were gestured over to the sitting area in front of a table with a portable stove top, spices, bowls, and pans. Devika stood behind it and told us what we’d be cooking today: lentil papadum curry, halwa and chapatis. I couldn’t wait. Devika gently introduced us to the different ingredients she used, and while I can’t recite all of them now, you will get your own recipe card if you visit Ikaki Niwas for this demonstration. For some reason, the fresh bay leaves she used stuck out to me, and I kept my eye on them as she added them to the wok. She also explained Rajasthani food. Rajasthani cuisine is different than anywhere else in India, because it’s defined by ingredients that come from the desert, that can go several days without needing to be heated. Lots of lentils, beans, gram, spices, etc., and not many vegetables, make up the dishes. But, make no mistake, Despite the fact that ingredients have been limited in the past, the Rajasthani people have learned to make incredible dishes with what they have.
Devika made cooking Indian food look so easy. I’ve tried it myself on a few different occasions, as my boyfriend and I like to eat vegetarian, and many Indian dishes don’t contain meat. Devika talked to us throughout the demonstration, and I found her natural and genuine multi-tasking abilities to be amazing. She and JD had a young son, too, who was walking around making conversation with the guests.
At this point, the smells radiating off the stove were mouth-watering, and even though we were out on the terrace, the scents lingered and didn’t drift away in the cool night time air.
Finally, it was our turn to participate in the cooking demonstration.We looked over at the others with hesitation. We were clearly both afraid of doing something wrong! Surely, we couldn’t do it as well as Devika! Luckily, she already took care of the hard stuff. All we had to do was cook the chapatis, which didn’t seem too difficult. Devika showed us how to make the bread with flour, water, and salt, and I couldn’t believe all this time at home I had been spending hours trying to create the perfect naan bread with tons of other ingredients!
When it was my turn to step up to the plate – or, pan rather – Devika instructed me on how to roll, flatten and pinch the dough to create the right shape for the chapati. With the thin pan hot and ready, I hesitated slightly before placing my chapati on the pan. Devika guided my hands and let me know when it was time to flip the bread. And, viola! The chapati was made. The remaining participants cooked their chapati, too, and before we knew it, it was time to eat.
We moved inside to the dining area, and the table was all set. Dinesh, the server and helper that had been waiting on us since our arrival at the hotel, smiled graciously and gestured for us to sit down. He brought the food over, and went around the table to ask each of us what we would like to drink. After, he served us a little bit of each dish onto our plates, and we added our own spoonfuls of rice and a chapati. I wondered as I took from the basket which one was mine, but they all looked amazing. Devika was a great teacher, after all.
As we ate, we talked more about life in Jaipur, the hotel, the people that come to visit, and what everyone’s plans were for the following day. This cooking demonstration really sums up what Ikaki Niwas does — bringing people together in a foreign country, over something we can all share and enjoy:
Delicious, homemade, Rajasthani food.