The rich culinary history of Akheraj Deolia, with its wide array of influences, from the Rajputs to the Mughals, was on showcase recently at the ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru.
Akheraj Deolia is a region in Rajasthan that lies sandwiched between Marwar and Mewar. Founded by Rao Akheraj, the grandson of Rao Chandrasen of Jodhpur, the region has had a wide array of influences, from neighbouring kingdoms of Marwar and Mewar, as well as the Mughals. The cuisine in the royal kitchens, interestingly, incorporated ingredients and recipes not just due to geo-political trends but also owing to marriages with families hailing from other parts of the country. Across the centuries, these varying influences ensured the trademark flavours of the Akheraj Deolia cuisine constantly evolved.
Chef Akshraj Jodha, the 14th descendant of Rao Akheraj, has mastered the culinary arts over nearly two decades and is today the executive chef at ITC Windsor, Bengaluru and the custodian of Rajasthani cuisine for the company. It was under his watchful eye that the special menu showcasing food from the royal kitchens of Akheraj Deolia were on offer at the Cubbon Pavilion of ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru.
“Akheraj Deolia food has been influenced by Mewar, Marwar and Mughal cuisine along with the ingredients and recipes brought in by inter-regional marriage alliances. And the evolution of the food continued as the kitchen was managed by different generations. I started my career with the dum pukht style of cooking, it was only later that I got interested in Rajasthani food,” says chef Jodha.
“I realised the food I’ve grown up eating at home is an amazing treasure trove of knowledge. So, I did some R&D into the history of the region’s food. I started speaking to my parents and veteran cooks about stories of the older days. Mind you, these recipes weren’t written down for ready reference; they had been passed on orally across generations. It dawned on me that I could curate an entire menu just by drawing on these traditional preparations. That was the source of inspiration when for the first time, we showcased the cuisine of Akheraj Deolia at ITC Maurya around five to six years ago.”
Many of the ingredients used in this cuisine are specific to the region. Millets or bajra is a grain that is used extensively in this part of the country as it absorbs moisture and is a filling staple. Given the region’s predominantly dry weather, many ingredients are used in both fresh and dried form and usually have a long shelf life.
Chef Jodha provides an example: “Kachri (wild melon) is a vegetable that is used fresh as well as to tenderise meats in its dehydrated form. And this is something you won’t get anywhere else.”
When asked about his recommendation from the menu, Chef Jodha, without a pause, offers up ‘Junglee Maas’. “It’s a recipe from the days when the royals would go hunting. The method was simple, they used to take along ghee, whole red chillies and rock salt. Whatever game was in the bag would be coated with these spices and then slow cooked over a flame. Its brilliance lies in its simplicity and it’s a dish I recommend to everyone.”
While the pop-up at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru might be done for the moment, keep an eye out for similar upcoming specials. The chance to sample traditional foods, as it was made in kitchens centuries ago, is rare and one that provides unparalleled insight into our country’s rich history.