By Sourish Bhattacharyya
JAIPUR'S 175-YEAR-OLD Samode Haveli, the boutique luxury hotel at the bustling Gangapole, will soon have a heritage cuisine restaurant that promises to be the Pink City's new culinary destination. It is the brainchild of Yadavendra Singh, the younger of the two brothers who have put Samode, an old principality of the Amber (Jaipur) state 40km away from the city, on the world luxury traveller's map.
|A quiet corner of the ornate restaurant at the Samode|
Haveli, which will soon have a new menu based on
an old manuscript with 400 recipes of forgotten
dishes, including 12 varieties of taftan.
The addition of the restaurant will be a bonus for Jaipur, which does not have many options other than the tried, tested but predictable LMB, or Johari Bazaar's Laxmi Misthan Bhandar, and Niro's, which was opened in 1949 by a former manager of Delhi's Kwality restaurant and has over the years attained iconic status. Like so many disappointed travellers, Yadavendra Singh, who has been a passionate cook since the age of 13, wonders why Jaipur does not have a "seriously ethnic, authentic Indian restaurant". It upsets him to see people equating Rajasthani cuisine with Lal Maas, which "does not exist the way restaurants present it because it is our everyday mutton curry and each family has its own recipe for it."
A descendant of Rawal Berisal, who signed the 1818 treaty with the East India Company making Jaipur a protectorate, and of Rawal Sheo Singh, who served as the state's prime minister for many years and built the Indo-Saracenic Samode Palace, Yadavendra Singh can tap into a multi-ethnic gene pool. His maternal grandmother is from Tripura's royal family, which explains his passion for fish and seafood, and his paternal grandmother is from Nepal, which is why the elaborate Nepalese thali is on the Samode menu with the rider that you have to order it a day in advance.
The food that will be served at the upcoming restaurant, though, will be drawn from an old hand-written manuscript with 400 recipes that Yadavendra Singh dusted out from a pile of hand-me-downs. An uncle of his deciphered the text and an old jeweller converted the weights and measures (sers and chhataks) into modern metric units. The manuscript is strewn with surprises and recipes of dishes that have long been forgotten. It has recipes for 35 different kinds of breads, including 12 varieties of taftan and the Goan poi, a breakfast staple which is like a baguette in texture.
"Making a menu is the most difficult part," Yadavendra Singh says. "It doesn't come in a day." Not that he's complaining, because nothing pleases him more than the opportunity to discover and try out new recipes. You can sense the excitement from the way he talks about the recipes collected painstakingly from royal houses across the country by Raja Dilip Singh of Sailana, whose son Digvijay Singh put them together in the best-selling cookbook, Cooking Delights of the Maharajas. Yadavendra Singh's eyes light up when he talks about memorable dishes from the book, such as Safed Maas and Mutton Dahi Bhalla.
"I enjoy food and love wine, and I cook every day," Yadavendra Singh says, listing Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines are his personal favourites. "I can cook 90 per cent of the dishes on the Samode menu." When I met him, he was planning a trip to Thalassery (the old pepper town of Tellicherry) in North Malabar for a 10-day homestay and Mappila cookery course at Ayisha Manzil, which is run by C.P. Moosa and his wife Faiza. Yadavendra Singh brings passion to the table. I am sure it will show up in his restaurant.