Laal maas and how game meat has evolved in Rajasthan

A look into the bygone era of shikaar that gave this state a plethora of game meat recipes; beyond the usual Laal Maas.
Rajasthani thaalis are truly the stuff of gourmand dreams, replete with delicious laal maas for non-vegetarians. Image: shutterstock.
Rajasthani thaalis are truly the stuff of gourmand dreams, replete with delicious laal maas for non-vegetarians. Image: Shutterstock.

Rajasthan is one of India’s most culturally rich states, with its own unique heritage, topography, colours, customs, cuisines and folk music. Over the years, the state has become a tourist hotspot for both Indian and international folks alike. 

From the serene lakes of Udaipur to the forts of Jodhpur, everything about Rajasthan is picturesque and unique. What adds to its intriguing history is not just its cuisine, but also how it has come to evolve over the last few decades.

As it stands, most eateries and hotels in Rajasthan today pay homage to the state’s authentic cuisine. A trip to Rajasthan simply isn’t complete without the famous Rajasthani Thali replete with Gatta, Ker Sangri, Papad bhujia ki sabzi, the famous Dal Bati Churma. And if you’re a non vegetarian, you’ll spot a Laal Maas in your thali as well. Tender cooked cubes of mutton simmered in a rich spicy gravy dotted with Mathania chillies, making for a signature dish. 

However, the quintessential Laal Maas wasn’t always this! In fact most of the Rajasthani dishes that have maas in their title didn’t specifically mean mutton. That’s gradually come to be the meat of choice for today’s Rajasthan.

Laal maas as we love it today wasn't always this way. Rajasthan's idea of maas simply evolved from game meats to what's more accessible. Image: shutterstock.
Laal Maas as we love it today wasn’t always this way. Rajasthan’s idea of maas simply evolved from game meats to what’s more accessible. Image: Shutterstock.

As the name signifies, Rajasthan is an erstwhile collection of kingdoms ruled by the first Rajputs and then with influences from the Mughals. These Rajput noble families used to indulge in shikaar, or hunting, which was a customary tradition especially when state guests came to visit. Game meat continued to be a huge part of the state’s cuisine up until 1951 when hunting was banned.

So when you said Laal Maas, it was mostly deer or boar meat that was cooked with chilis indigenous to the area to mask the gamey smell. Similarly, dishes that gained a following included the likes of Junglee Maas, where game meat cooked with whole garlic and chillies. Other popular dishes included the Sharabi Maas, where local booze was poured into game meat to tenderise it. The level of chilli in the dish also signified your socio-economic status. People who weren’t well off had to rely on only chilli to flavour their food, as they didn’t have access to the array of spices the nobles’ kitchens were stocked up with. 

Most royal households have recipes from this era that have been passed down from generation to generation. Today, they’ve been adapted to replace game meats with other more accessible meats.

From rabbit to boar, deer to hare, game meat has been prominent across rajasthani cuisine. Image: shutterstock.
From rabbit to boar, deer to hare, game meat has been prominent across Rajasthani cuisine. Image: Shutterstock.

Another interesting dish from the game meat era is the Khada Khargosh. The rabbit or hare was marinated in a choice of spices, wrapped in rotis and was dug in a pit for about 6-8 hours. While recent times have seen the use of mostly mutton, the dish retains the interesting technique of pit cooking. Apart from deer, boar and hare, smaller game birds like partridge, quail and pigeon were also extremely popular. Today, they’ve been replaced with chicken instead. 

The fables from Royal households of Rajasthan are truly fascinating, and illustrate their affinity towards the hunt and game meats that resulted in the formation of a whole culture. Owing to the scarcity of water in Rajasthan, garlic and chillies were often in the centre stage on the cooking front. Most dishes, especially ones with game meat used garlic and yoghurt liberally.

Yoghurt also came in handy to tenderise game meat, with a distinct odour of its own. That ‘s when other tenderisers also came into the fore, such as Kachri. The local fruit was used to tenderise the offal and disguise the odour. Infact, these royal kitchens used a technique very similar to modern day brining to soften the meat and make it more palatable to the nobility.

In addition to using yoghut, kachri, a local fruit was used to distinguish the odour of gamey meat during mariantion. Image: shutterstock.
In addition to using yoghut, kachri, a local fruit was used to distinguish the odour of gamey meat during mariantion. Image: Shutterstock.

It’s interesting to note that even before the Mughals got kebabs to India, the Rajputs had their own version called the suley, This of course, resulted from the hunts and abundance of game meat. Meat was tenderised, marinated, again mostly in garlic, yoghurt and chilli as they could keep limited spices in the hunting kitchens. These chunks of meat were then cooked over charcoal, rendering a smokey flavour.

Most people continue to attribute the use of meat to Awadhi or Lucknowi cuisine, or even the Mughal influences. But the fact remains that the Rajputs gave so much respect to their game meat, using it from beak to tail and devising new recipes for different kinds of meat.

Today, we may not be able to try most of these delicacies in their original form. But on your next trip, it’s possible to try and delve deeper, try some Dhungar maas and switch things up. The dish is a mutton curry smoked with coal – the best one I’ve had was this restaurant called Upre in Udaipur. You could also opt for the Junglee Maas – Spice court in Jaipur makes an amazing one or even Mohan maas which is mutton cooked in Milk.

Vidushi sharma
A chef with a passion for travel, Vidushi Sharma’s wanderlust has taken her through the globe and it’s varied cuisines. Learning under the best culinary minds of Cordon Bleu and having experienced gastronomy at it’s finest, Vidushi created Truffle & Co, a bespoke chocolate gifting company synonymous with minimal luxury. And now, she has brought Mensho Tokyo – a Global Ramen Chain that prides itself on being hearty and authentic to India

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