Eating out in Udaipur

The city of Udaipur was a surprise for many reasons, not least its food.  The small, manageable spaces around Lal Ghat where our hotel was located turned out to be the very best location we could have chosen.  We ended up being within easy walking distance of all the main attractions and best eateries in the area.  Beware, not only does Lal Ghat have lots of undulating peaks and troughs in its rambling streets, most of its best restaurants are located on rooftops, which require healthy knees to keep climbing up and down.  Watch out if you’re with elderly people.

  1. Rainbow Restaurant

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The rooftop terrace of Rainbow Restaurant in Lal Ghat

My father and I arrived in Udaipur on a late evening after a tiring flight and journey to Lal Ghat, ensconced in the Old City, right next to Lake Pichola.  Our hotel overlooked the lake as well as Rainbow restaurant across the narrow street from us.  After we’d freshened up, everyone around us had only one place to recommend – Rainbow restaurant.  Also, as rooftop terrace restaurants go, it was the only one with just one flight of stairs.  The rest all seemed to be on the third floor and higher in the area around us.  We ascended the steps and found a charcoal fire burning in a corner of the terrace rooftop restaurant as well as a sprawl of various sized tables dotted around a wide expanse of space.  Soft candlelight threw faces into relief and I caught bits of muted chatter and laughter spreading around us.  We found a table away from Lake Pichola’s edge but where we could still see Jagdish island and the Taj Lake Palace lighted up in the distance on the lake. We split a helping of Lemon, coriander and mushroom soup, then helped ourselves to pungent but tasty Lal Maas (a Rajasthani specialty) and plain naan.  Our first night in Udaipur was made easy and comfortable by the thought of having such a well -recommended restaurant with very tasty, affordable food at our disposal and we ended up having two dinners, one sundowner session and even breakfast one morning at this restaurant.

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Romantic view across Lake Pichola from a loveseat at Rainbow restaurant
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Continental breakfast option at Rainbow restaurant
  1. Jaiwana Bistro

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Matari Poha at Jaiwana Bistro

Adjacent to our restaurant was Jaiwana Haveli which had a ground floor Bistro open for breakfast and tea.  We decided to save the climbing for the City Palace in Udaipur, which we were going to see later that day, so sat down to French Toast, Hazelnut cappuccino and a local version of Poha (yellow rice flakes) called Matari Poha, consisting of peas and fried vermicelli (also known as sev).  The French toast was very good as was the cappuccino but we were the first to enter the shop and the coffee machine took so long to warm up that I knew I wasn’t going to waste time with another breakfast visit here.  The coffee I’d asked for first ended up coming last, after twenty minutes.

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French toast at Jaiwana Bistro
  1. Ozen

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A view of the narrow streets looking out from inside Ozen’s doorway

We walked past Ozen on our way from Lal Ghat to the City Palace and after four hours of intensive sight-seeing (Jagdish temple and the City Palace) were relieved to enter this relatively empty first floor restaurant.  It also had a rooftop terrace, but we’d been climbing up and down five storeys of stairs in the City Palace so were in no mood to brave any more than necessary.  The room had tasteful turquoise and white decor and wide glass windows where you could see the rooftops of surrounding houses and temples.  My father had a really delicious tandoori chicken wrap with yoghurt sauce and I ordered a butter chicken with plain naan.  If I’d stayed longer in Udaipur, this is one of the places I would have returned to, besides Rainbow restaurant.

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Chicken tandoori wrap and Butter chicken at Ozen restaurant
  1. Millets of Mewar

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Delicious shakes and smoothies at Millets of Mew

We walked across Dalji bridge, from Gangaur Ghat to Hanuman Ghat and spotted Millets along the way.  My brother had seen it mentioned in his guide for healthy food options so we decided to try it and ascended two flights of stairs to get to their cosy middle floor of a three floor restaurant.  We had to block the partial lake view completely in order to sit comfortably in the shade and ordered drinks on that suddenly hot, unexpectedly bright afternoon.  The service was pleasant enough and it was nice to have vegan, gluten-free options on the organic food menu but everything we ordered lacked zing.  I swapped my Ginger orange smoothie with my sister-in-law’s Apple, coconut, date and walnut one which was infinitely more refreshing and delicious.  It helped that she liked ginger as well as the drink was infused with so much ginger, I could taste nothing else.  We had a curry, some naan and a veggie wrap but all were lacklustre though claimed to be healthy and made with organic ingredients.  We decided not to have a coffee there when they told us they sold coffee grounds but didn’t have a machine, so unfortunately couldn’t satisfy our cappuccino cravings.  I’m guessing that the reason this place has rave reviews is that they pitch themselves to the ‘healthy, vegan, gluten-free, organic’ crowd when so many other just as healthy and much much tastier food options abound in the area.

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Mushroom and Olive pizza at Millets of Mewar
  1. Natural View restaurant

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View across the lake during the daytime from Lal Ghat

Although it is one floor higher than its sisterly counterpart the Rainbow restaurant, we were not impressed at all with this restaurant, its appallingly poor service (albeit with a smile!) or its exorbitant fare which we had for bigger portions at half the cost at Rainbow.  We ordered two soups, a couple of cocktails and a half-tandoori chicken, which ended up being four small, disappointing pieces of chicken for the price of a full chicken at Rainbow.  We had to order a kebab, which was well done and tasty enough, but even the partial view of City Palace Udaipur combined with the Lake Palace on Lake Pichola at night wasn’t enough to make us ever want to return there, let alone write a good review of the place.  Oh, and since I’m at it, this restaurant is certainly NOT the best rooftop restaurant around.  Those would be the rooftop restaurants on the opposite bank at Ambrai Ghat like Upre, for instance, which have the best views of the City Palace looming over Lake Pichola, so do NOT be fooled by false advertising.

 

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Signboard at the staircase entrance to Natural View restaurant
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Eating out in Jaipur

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At the Italian restaurant, Bar Palladio

I’m not a foodie. The word seems to have been appropriated by food lovers masquerading as experts of gourmet food when they have no idea about the processes involved in food preparation let alone the preparation of the dish they’re consuming, let alone any understanding of the individual ingredients that knit the dish together.  Nope, not a foodie but I do love good food (not as much as my pillow, but there we are).

I confess that being Goan (read – loving my meat) I wondered if I would struggle in vegetarian Rajasthan.  Yes, Jaipur might cater to non-veg tourists, but not as much as you’d think.  I, for one, was pretty relieved to find mouth-wateringly delicious vegetarian food prepared there.  We also found a couple of great restaurants that catered to the continental palate.  Here are a handful of places we visited and what we ate there.

1. Anokhi Cafe (Veg)

 

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The Blue cheese salad at Anokhi cafe and Pomegranate Orange juice

Tucked away on the second floor of a building in what is probably Jaipur’s poshest area, C-scheme, is the flagship Anokhi shop that popularized Jaipur’s famous block print textiles. More importantly, just next to it is the quiet, neat, unassuming Anokhi café that has its vegetarian fare on display in a window, waiting for you to choose from. Fresh fruit juices, organic teas and vegan desserts round up a very tempting selection of food and beverages on offer here. I shared an Arrabiata pasta with my dad, which ended up being too big a portion for the two of us, especially when accompanied by the wonderful blue cheese, horseradish and tomato green leaf salad that I couldn’t get enough of. I might have had some place for a tempting tart if I hadn’t filled up on fresh Pomegranate & Orange juice. The others at our table ordered a fantastic concoction of hummus and brinjal paste, slathered in sesame seeds and pomegranate, accompanied by pita bread.

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Salad, Pasta and Hummus mix at Anokhi Cafe

 

2. Peacock Rooftop Restaurant

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Strawberry Mojito mocktail at Peacock Rooftop Restaurant

It was our second, rather cool (temperature-wise about 15deg C), night in Jaipur and our first dinner out. We decided to go to the Pearl Palace Hotel’s much-lauded Peacock Rooftop restaurant to see what the fuss was all about. The third floor rooftop terrace was a steep climb up but the tempting smells from the kitchen above kept us committed. The top opened up to the sky and we saw the bejewelled city-sprawl lit up at night. A couple of large open charcoal fires in rusty metal bins made the restaurant toasty. We sat under a covered area, next to the kitchen. Admittedly, it was a little disappointing to note that the place didn’t have an alcohol license but the strawberry mojito mocktail sort of made up for it in taste and quality. We ordered a couple of curries, some chicken kebab and plain naan to warm our bellies full, but what really stood out for us was one of the Rajasthani specialties – Lal Maas – which was fall-off-the-bone mutton in an angry red yet very aromatic masala that we soon found to be as addictive as it was enticing.

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Lal Maas curry at Peacock Rooftop restaurant

 3. LMB Hotel (Veg)

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Dal, Paneer and Raita with naan at LMB hotel

On our second day of sight-seeing, we covered Jaipur’s Amer Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Jal Mahal before giving in to our growling stomachs and deciding that it was time for a Rajasthani thali. We’d heard that the thali was a specialty of LMB (Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar) hotel and directed our driver to park there. We saw the spacious hall tightly packed with tourists and a few locals. LMB hotel’s famous pure-veg restaurant and sweet shop has been functioning since 1954, which makes it a real institution and therefore, a popular tourist stop for plenty of bloggers and (non) foodies too. We were lucky to get a small booth and settled in with our menus. We were soon disappointed to learn that there was only one thali on offer here: the Rajasthan Royal thali – which as it turned out was a huge undertaking that would require more commitment and stomach space than any of us was willing to give at that point. The thali itself cost Rs. 560 and came with a warning that there was no sharing allowed, except with an additional charge of Rs 360 per person. There were no other thali options on offer, so we ordered a tasty Dal Fry, delectable Boondi raita and succulent Paneer makhani instead to go with our naan, rice and Lime sodas.

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The components of the Rajasthani Royal Thali at LMB hotel

 4. Nibs Café (Veg)

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Interior of Nibs cafe near MGF mall

We’d heard people talking about the all-veg Nibs and were told the food was good, so our last lunch was here. We took a cab to the one near MGF mall. Though the décor was busy, quirky and therefore interesting, I realized too late that it mostly attracted the college crowd and so we found ourselves desperate for a quiet, sit-down lunch in a hectic place with poor service and loud-ish pop music. I can see why it attracts younger professionals and students though, with its thick, exotic chocolate shakes and wonderful looking desserts including piled-high waffles and pancakes. The waiters seemed new and nervous except for the manager who I had to speak to in order to ensure that the correct order had been noted. When our food arrived, it was fresh and very tasty, and thankfully by then, most of the room where we were sitting had cleared out and the music volume lowered. Nibs is a franchise spreading out slowly across Jaipur, so if you do visit I’d recommend the Quattro Fromaggi pizza on thin crust base and the Pita Pockets.  But honestly, almost everything on the menu sounds exotic and tempting.

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Pita pockets at Nibs cafe
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Quattro Formaggi pizza at Nibs cafe

5. Bar Palladio

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The bright decor of Bar Palladio inside Narain Niwas Palace Hotel

I was curious about this Italian restaurant, belonging to Hotel Narain Niwas, because of the fantastic interiors that I’d seen online. Also, it was our final night in Jaipur and by then, we were jonesing for an injection of something stronger than a mojito mocktail. A few whiskies and a bottle of excellent Cosecha Tarapaca 2014 (Cabernet Sauvignon) from Chile later, the bonhomie was flowing freely and we were left alone by the waiters to enjoy our candlelight Italian fare in mock Tuscan décor crossed with wall-size Victorian paintings. I shared the Antipasto platter with my father, salivating over fresh parma ham, something I hadn’t tasted since my last trip to England and could barely finish my rather large portion of Orange Roasted Lamb with buttery mashed potatoes. With no place for dessert, we Uber-ed our way home to bed with the assistance of the maître d’ who obligingly booked two separate cars for us after the rickshaws outside the hotel refused to lower their extortionate night prices.

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Goats cheese and the Antipasto platter for starters
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Orange Roasted Lamb and mashed potatoes for mains

Finally, I should add that the cosy little haveli where we were staying had chef Divya Kalwara making us very tasty breakfasts included in the room price.  Every morning we we could choose from a wide selection of bananas, cornflakes, poha, toast with jam, butter or honey, hot-fresh chapatis, eggs prepared any way we liked and a choice of masala chai or coffee with hot milk.  It made the cool mornings easy to look forward to and we felt ready for a full day of sight-seeing after this hearty breakfast.  To add, we had breakfast in an extraordinarily beautiful blue room, hand painted by local Rajasthani artists.

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Breakfast at Haveli Kalwara

With a bit of research beforehand, you’ll be able to find a variety of restaurants offering tasty veg and non-veg fare in Jaipur.  Just be prepared to use rickshaws to get you from one place of the city to another if needed, or better yet, be prepared to Uber your way around, and you won’t be disappointed at all with the food choices.

Visited in December 2017

 

Silver and Blue in #Jodhpur

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Muscular Mehangarh fort looks down protectively over Jodhpur from a height.

I visited Jodhpur in Rajasthan for a work trip twice.  Both times we were driven out of the city by our colleagues, into the Thar desert to meet desert village communities that were struggling to survive in agricultural lands with barely a drop of water to share between them. Drought in these lands has a different meaning altogether. They rely on water tankers, reservoir tanks and wells. We’d worked with communities to identify shared spaces where we had built water reservoirs and rainwater harvesting structures so that they could collect water for their daily needs. While my work trip was engrossing and very engaging, especially meeting the communities and getting to learn about the vulnerabilities they face, my colleagues and I managed to carve out a free day over the weekend to take in the blue city.

My sight-seeing priority was to visit Mehangarh fort, built around 1460. The steep incline leading to its entrance is worth the climb if only to see the best views of Jodhpur’s blue-walled city from across the impressive walls of the structure.  There are lots of entrance gates to the fort, each with its own unique historic moment and the story behind it, but Loha Pol was probably the most disturbing one I encountered.  It supposedly has the handprints of all the royal widows who have committed ‘sati’ that is the Hindu ritual of wives burning themselves on the funeral pyre with their dead husbands.  On closer examination, the hand imprints, though of varying sizes, look a little too uniform to be original.  Perhaps the imprint once made was further worked on and embellished to appear more clearly as evidence that the widow had indeed committed ‘sati.’  The thought that these were palm prints of real people made me shiver.  But a love for the ironic struck me: I wondered whether they all had lifelines that reflected their unnatural deaths.  Unfortunately the palm prints on the wall weren’t defined enough to reveal this.

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Handprints of ‘sati’ royal wives at Loha Pol (gate)

My favourite room of all the interiors was the extravagant and elaborately decorated zenana where royal wives and court women played cards, discussed their love lives and delved into political intrigue.

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Interior chamber room – Takhat vilas

The museum inside the fort has got an interesting collection of fine and applied arts. The rulers of the area had close links with the Mughals, so you’ll also find objects that once belonged to them here. There’s an interesting collection of palanquins, folios from medieval manuscripts and various other objects d’art of significant beauty and value. After visiting the fort, I wanted to buy myself some silver jewellery.  Rajasthan is known for particular silver craftsmanship and designs.  I bought a chain, two stone pendants and a bracelet all in silver, all of which I treasure to this day.

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Traditional silver jewellery design – snake weave bracelet

Next time, if I’m lucky enough to return, I plan to visit the second most popular attraction in Jodhpur: Umaid Bhavan Palace.

If you’re interested in reading more about Rajasthan, read about my visit to Jaipur.

Visited in 2007, 2009

Romance of #thepinkcity #jaipur in #rajasthan

For two years I’d wanted to attend the #JaipurLiteraryFestival. Ironically, when I lived in Delhi, I was so busy with my job that I couldn’t make the time to go there. Only after I moved back to Goa I was able to have the mind space to plan a trip there. My Jaipur visit was part of a long-held dream of wanting to visit the Pink city anyway. So, it made sense to couple my visit with a literary-festival-author-talk binge. I’d been to Jodhpur years before, but again, for work. And everyone knows a work visit isn’t quite the same as a holiday visit. There’s a different kind of focus.

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At Jaipur Lit fest 2015

I booked a room with a heater (it was a cold, windy January in the Rajasthan desert at the time) in an old haveli that was kept together by a few family members and some strutting peacocks. They were all over the place, the peacocks, that is.

The literary festival itself was fun, though packed full of people. I managed to get a seat to most events I wanted to attend and learned about a few new authors that sounded interesting. I listened to Jeet Thayil interview Will Self, heard Hanif Kureishi talk about his writing, watched a fascinating presentation by Simon Singh about the show The Simpsons and where all the mathematical principles presented in the show come from (the show’s writers are all Ivy League graduates in Maths), heard ex-president Abdul Kalam speak to a packed audience that almost caused a stampede. I saw travel writer, Mark Tully, and Welsh novelist, Sarah Waters, strolling around the grounds and attended the launch of Granta’s ‘India’ edition, presented by Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan books.

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Simon Singh’s presentation on Maths in The Simpsons at JLF

I took two days out to rent a cab for a tour of the city and saw these gorgeous highlights, in photo form below:

Hawa Mahal (the palace of winds): 

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Amber Fort:

Exterior views –

Interior views –

Jaipur city Palace:

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If you have time to only see one thing in Jaipur, its the Four Seasons doors at the City palace.  Pay the entry fee and wander deep into the palace till you find the courtyard with the four doors.  You’ve got to get close-up to each one to spot the unique detailing and vibrant colouring of each one, that tells a story of its own.  These photos below barely do it justice.

Blue Pottery:  

Ok, I openly admit that I have a fetish for Blue (and Iznik) pottery.  I spent a couple of hours at the place below buying soapfishes, coaster tiles, bowls and toothbrush holders.

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The Albert Hall museum (state museum of Rajasthan): 

They had a LOT of beautiful objects that I whisked past due to limited time, including an armoury with medieval weapons and lots of interesting earthenware.  There was a floor of fascinating folios from a version of The Panchatantra that I loved.

And I spent an entire afternoon at the Anokhi showroom, buying ethnic wear in print block patterns (yes, yes, another thing I have a fetish for!) and stocking up on their gorgeous blank diaries.

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Block print pattern journals from Anokhi

Visited Jaipur in Jan 2015