In 1927, Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner hosted a grand banquet for which he invited kings and queens from all over the world. The guests were treated not only to the quintessential Rajput hospitality but also to finest European cuisines. The seven-course dinner consisted of classic French delicacies like Potage andalous, Filler de Pomfret, croquettes de Canard Suvages, and fromage et fruits apart from plat de Bikaner. The guests are said to have returned in awe of the culinary abilities of the Palace’s kitchen.
90 years later, the banquet is being repeated. The venue is king’s cigar room, awash with glow of a grand 19th century chandelier, gilded with 42 kilograms of pure gold, and dominated by a huge dining table. Only it is no longer restricted to kings and queens.
Not very far from Bikaner, in the desert town of Jaisalmer, another feast is being set up. Large thaals have been placed on chawkis dressed in strings of marigold and meters of rich silks. Soon, an elaborate six-course meal dating back to the time of the mughals will be served in the courtyard overlooking the fort.
In Jaipur meanwhile, a room made of three and a half lakh mirrors awaits its patrons. Tables are adorned with silver platters and finest crystal; hundreds of candles create a mosaic of illusions on the walls, strings of flute play in the background, and centuries old recipes preserved by the finest cooks in the state are ready to be presented to the guests over five elaborate courses.
Welcome to the world of curated culinary experiences that are taking the country by storm, one royal meal at a time.
Often hosted in erstwhile palaces and new age boutique hotels, these experiences recreate a part of the royal life hitherto inaccessible to the common man, and the results are spell binding. “As a concept, it takes a while to believe that you are being served the same menu that was cooked for the king’s guests,” says journalist and photographer Vernika Awal. “The experiences are one-of-a-kind because of the ambience, the hospitality, and of course, the menu. It brings the best of the royal life together for one to glimpse at how the Maharajahs lived.” She adds.
Recipes of royal families started making appearance way back in the 80s when the luxury hotels brought some age-old cuisines to their fine dining restaurants. The hotels, however, were few and far between, and the experiences too expensive for a common man. “The genesis of royal culinary experiences started with palace hotels years ago, but until recently these were available to only a select few,” explains author and blogger Kalyan Karmakar who has witnessed the recent surge of niche offereings. “In the last year or so however, more and more places have started to offer fine-dining with aristocratic themes. I think the reason is simple—royalty is aspirational,” he goes on to add.
Royalty indeed is aspirational and also exciting, and fascinating in equal parts. Royal lifestyles have always intrigued the common man and almost everyone has a secret desire to live the life of a Maharaja if only for a day. The long-standing desire seems to have met its match with hotels going the extra mile to turn this dream into reality.
“We want to bring the lifestyle of our king to our guests.” Says Siddartha Yadav, Vice President MRS Hotels. “Maharaja Ganga Singh ji was the most iconic king India has ever seen and we have replicated his most famous banquet for our guests. We present the same menu in the same way—you have bearers bringing in courses, butlers serving it in the finest china, and chefs explaining each preparation to you,” he goes on describe the royal luncheon experience at the hotel.
The chefs, not surprisingly, form an integral part of the experiences. Majority come from a lineage of cooks and therefore not only carry forward the skills but also recipes of their forefathers, who, more often than not, cooked for the kings. They themselves come with decades of experience. “We take a lot of pride in our chefs; our head chef, Chef Kishan Singh, has been with us for over a decade and is an asset to the experience we curate,” says Siddartha. In spite of being at the center of the experience, food is only one part of these royal outings, the authenticity of the setting, and the ambience matters as much, if not more.
“Our endeavor is to create an experience of a lifetime,” Mr. Asim Mamgain, F&B director of JW Marriot Resort & Spa Jaipur, tells us on the phone. “From the minute the guest steps in, to the time he steps out, he should be completely drawn into the setting.” He adds. The guest, feels Mamgain, should recall the experience for years. That also explains why his team hands over specially designed gifts to every guest, ‘to help recreate a part of the evening at home.’
No two royal experiences however are alike, with exclusivity being the differentiator every experience aims to create something new. If French cuisine dominates in the cigar room of Bikaner, glistening mirrors enchant you in Jaipur, and Persian flavours await you in Jaisalmer.
“Our signature experience is an ode to the Bhatiyara community of Jaisalmer.” Nakul Hada, manager at Suryagarh, Jaisalmer, tells us. “An amalgamation of Rajasthani and Persian cultures, this experience is completely different from all others. The food served is not your typical Rajasthani fare, and the setting is unique too,” emphasizes Hada. Set in the backdrop of imposing Jaisalmer skyline, the six-course meal perfectly recreates the experience of living in the golden city in the 14th century.
Monika Manchanda, a culinary consultant and recipe developer sums the significance of the experiences aptly. “In royal kitchens recipes are often passed from khansama to khansama over generations, they are also documented and followed to the T. So even today everything is cooked exactly the way it was made back in the day, which also means that we are preserving our culinary heritage and traditions.” Preserving traditions and learning while experiencing royalty, that is one experience no one should let go of.
Where can you experience the Royal Culinary Experiences.
Lakshmi Niwas Palace, Dr. Karni Singh Ji Road, BIkaner. Tel. + 01512200088
2. Suryagarh Thali
Suryagarh Jaisalmer, Kahala Phata, Sam Road, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan 345001
Phone: 02992 269 22
3. Mohan Mahal
JW Marriot Jaipur Resort & Spa,Jaipur Delhi Highway, Kukas, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302028
Phone 01426 666 00