Is the title of the story too confusing? Ok, let me assure you, it is just a teaser. By the time you finish reading this story, it would appear to be the simplest to you.
Nobody would believe that me living in Delhi, would not have visited Jaipur, a nearby city of Rajasthan, in the last couple of decades or so. Whereas many families and friends simply pick up the car and drive down to Jaipur frequently over weekends for a quick vacation. Somehow it could never workout for us. Strange but true.
This week I had planned to go to Jaipur to meet a social obligation. Friend Sanjay too had some work there and is a regular visitor to the city. He offered to drive me down and navigate the streets there for me. We negotiated and settled for the Lohri day for the travel.
Having started early, we reached half way by about 930. On our way, a sustained advertising by a roadside dhaba inviting travelers to its unavoidable food caught our fancy and we stopped at this, famous Prince Dhaba, for our breakfast. Must say that the tandoori paranthas and the omelette we ordered, though were served in no time, were just below expectations. We were hungry so ate but nothing to write back home about it. In fact, even the pictures I took of those have also turned out to be below ordinary. So let’s not talk about that any more.
Having tanked up of sorts, we continued the drive and reached the city by almost noon. Completed our work in next about three hours, safely negotiating our way out of all the offers of tea and snacks made to us during the various meetings we had in the city. One of the meetings was with an illustrious family of Rajasthan which comprised Doctors, Senior Executives and above all a retired IPS officer in his 80s who took early retirement and then served as a member of parliament for one term. The discussion with the three generations of the family was so very interesting that I, thankfully though, forgot to eat anything offered by them, barring a good cup of coffee.
Having done with our work, though it was much past the usual lunch time, I wanted to go to a particular restaurant for lunch. I informed Sanjay that I want to go to Handi on the MI Road. His face suddenly lit up. He knew the way, he knew the owner and had heard that their food was good but had not eaten there. His favorite has been Niros slightly ahead of Handi on the same road. I promised him that next time we shall go there but this time it has to be Handi. He drove me straight to that place.
I believe the restaurant would certainly have a very strong following of its regulars. I say this because if you don’t know the location, you might miss it while driving through that busy road. There is a small signage outside amongst many more significant brands and has a small entrance to the allay which leads you to the restaurant inside.
The wooden façade at the entrance tells you what kind of settings to expect inside. The gate like wooden structure has typical Rajasthani pillars, with a thatched sort of structure on top and a wind chime suspended in the middle. A wooden blind which is called a chic has been rolled up and above it hangs a wooden plaque announcing Handi with TM written alongside, meaning trademark. Then there is a large Tandoor shell kept alongside the entrance. Inside, the furniture comprised plain tables with cane-like upright chairs. The walls adorned village like murals and motifs. The roof and the wall partitioning the office and the washrooms was created with crisscross bamboo sticks. The place didn’t seem to be air conditioned but the pleasant weather ensured that it was more than comfortable inside. In all, the settings were close to a country side shack or a roadside dhaba.
We chose a table next to the wall and Sanjay introduced me to the owner. Having exchanged pleasantries, he took leave with a word of advice to the staff to take care of us. The order taker immediately came to us and politely asked for our choice. Since I keep on reading food books and following foodie and cookery shows on TV, I have some basic information on what to explore and where. So, the first dish to be asked for is a no brainier- the legendary Laal Maas !! The guy taking the order politely asked me if I liked spicy. I know I can’t but the urge to taste that dish was so strong that I said that it would be fine. Still he warned us that it would be quite spicy. Nevertheless, I didn’t desist from ordering. Then I asked for the dish which even Sanjay got skeptical about- Junglee Maas (meaning Wild Meat)!! This brought a smile on the face of the order taker and a sense of confusion on my friend’s face. The guy then suggested that we taste Tandoori Bajra Roti instead of regular Roti or Naan. We agreed and requested him to bring us the Junglee Maas first and the main dish of Laal Maas and Bajra Roti later.
We didn’t have to wait much. The Junglee Maas arrived. The aroma of the dish announced what to expect. The beauty of the dish was glowing in the backdrop of the dark rustic plate in which the dish was served. Four pieces of dry mutton accompanied by fiery red chillies sat there gracefully. The dish resembled the traditional Mutton Burra but it wasn’t. Having admired the looks, it was time to taste it. One bite of the succulent meat and it did wonders on the palate. It was a ghee-roast mughalai kind of a dish which had mild but amazing flavors. No one flavor was over powering the other. Rather they were complimenting each other and making an amazing dish. After having recovered from the hypotonic of the initial bites, I squeezed out few drops of lemon over the meat. Oh…it enhanced the flavors and floored both of us. The Mutton was flavorful and juicy. The meat was not falling off the bones but was easily coming off while eating. It was tender and visibly dark pinkish when one bites into the tissues. In all, it was a symphony of flavors where meat flavors were the hero and not solely dependent upon the spices alone. I am told that the mildly marinated goat meat with bones is first slow-cooked in ghee and finally seared in a pan with basic spices and dry red chillies. Though prepared in dried red chillies, the dish wasn’t that hot at all.
The pieces of dry Mutton named Junglee Maas soon vanished from our plates leaving us craving for more and further enhancing our appetite for the Laal Maas.
Again, we didn’t have to wait long. However, I wanted to cleanse my palate and the plate to be able to taste the next dish afresh. So, first I requested them to replace my plate with a fresh one. Then I asked them to refill our bowl of potato wafers which they served us in the beginning while we placed the order and were waiting. Potato wafers combined with a dash of green mint-curd chutney soothed the palate. A few minutes and the Laal Maas arrived.
Sitting in a dark rustic bowl, the Mutton Curry arrived which was close to the fiery red color of chillies. I was expecting a watery-oily bright red coloured dish (I had seen a few pics of the dish and seen its preparation in one of the TV shows). However, the dish on the table before us was with a slightly thick gravy. Maybe I had wrong impressions of the dish in my mind. I didn’t want to invest anymore time thinking on that. So served a portion in my plate and quickly, yet cautiously put one spoonful in my mouth. Was ready for the big hit of heat of the red chillies. Surprisingly no ! It was instead quite flavorful. Encouraged, I helped myself to quick 2-3 more spoonfuls. Hey wait…the chillies had slightly crept in on to your palate and had started making their fierce presence felt as an after taste and had its effect on the back of the throat. Oh, like scotch, it would have its effect gradually. The gravy was thick but had a smooth texture. The spices were not very loud but distinguishable. It had all the Mughalai spices with a dominant dash of red chilly. In nutshell, the dish was very flavorful and the chilly-effect did not deter me to carry on. Before attacking the Mutton pieces in the dish, I took my eyes off the dish to look at Sanjay sitting across. He had started sweating by then but was munching on the meat from the bones. He confessed it was hot but very enjoyable. I got encouraged that I didn’t commit an offense by ordering Laal Maas and therefore ventured to try the Mutton. Once again, the meat was tender, juicy and succulent. It was intact with the bone but was easily coming off. The flavors were entrenched in every bit. Once recovered from the initial attack of the flavors of the dish, I tried the Bajra Roti. It is believed that Bajra is healthy but a little bitter and dry. Somehow, it wasn’t bitter and wasn’t even that dry. Perhaps, the mild layer of white butter handled the dryness. It tasted great on its own and beautifully complimented Laal Maas when eaten together. Even when we were done with the roti, I couldn’t resist having few spoons of gravy on its own to enjoy the taste. Overall, a spicy yet flavorful preparation. I am told that the version of Laal Maas at Handi is slightly less hot than its versions available in the interiors which is actually fiery.
By this time, we were almost done. Palate burning with the attack of red chillies and faces having sweat all over but something was still amiss. Perhaps we read each other and suddenly Sanjay proposed why not to have another round of Junglee Maas. I seconded it and placed the order for repeating the dish and yes, one more bowl of potato wafers.
The Junglee Maas came, we polished off that too and experienced the sort of nirvana.
Before concluding, I asked the waiter if they make a dish called Safed Maas ? He gave me a polite yet confused look, as if asking me if was talking sense, but said no there is nothing like that. I know some restaurants in Jaipur do make it perhaps not here in Handi. Anyways, we paid our bill. We were given a discount in our bill, probably on account of our handshake with the owner. The discounted amount was happily passed on by us as tip to the staff for the good service and the great food.
So, Laal Maas or Junglee Maas– I don’t want to pass judgement in favor of any one particular dish. Both are great and have Magic Of Flavors in them. Once you are in Rajasthan, Laal Maas is a must for the foodies and worshippers of red chillies. However, one thing is pretty sure for me. Any future visit to the pink city of Jaipur shall be incomplete if I do not have Junglee Maas at least once.
Post lunch, the round of the city included customary visits to Rawat Mishthan Bhandar and Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar (LMB) to check out on Kachoris and other sweet dishes. That is a sweet- savoury story in itself, so some other time.
However, I hope, as promised at the beginning of this article, by now the title of the story would be appearing very simple.
Bon appetit !!