With a dash of divine

Decadent milk-based desserts, calorie-rich meals and mouth-watering snacks, the cuisine of Mathura and Vrindavan is every foodie’s heaven, writes Aruna Chandaraju

Bedmi Poori

O h, the kachori! We meant to eat only one and then move on to the parathas, but ended up making a meal of these crispy and filled dough-balls. We were in Mathura, on a pilgrimage, and had stopped for breakfast near Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple, where we had a prasad of fresh makhan-mishri, butter infused with sugar.

The waiter served hot moong-dal kachoris flavoured with fennel and cumin seeds, sans onion and garlic, and desi ghee poured all over.  Potato curry and green chutney were accompaniments. Our murmurs of delight as we dug into these seemed to have encouraged him. He brought over sweet kachoris, stuffed with dry fruits and mava. Delectable! We asked for more.... thus, a breakfast of kachoris alone.

Simple is the way

Sathvik cuisine and dishes based heavily on milk and milk products like ghee, butter and curd largely sum up the food experience in Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, regarded sacred for their association with Lord Krishna, who was born and spent his childhood here. Krishna’s fondness for butter, yoghurt and milk, and his endearing nickname of makhan-chor is the stuff of legend and a major influence on the local cuisine. 

 Sathvik cuisine refers to vegetarian food, simple, freshly cooked and believed to be conducive to positive thoughts, ahimsa and spiritual pursuits.  It eschews onion and garlic because they are considered rajasik. 

Mathura and Vrindavan are a foodie’s paradise. You will find good food everywhere: tiny gullies, fancy restaurants, and even in temples. Since the milk, mostly cow milk, and curd are fresh and of good quality, they ensure that the standard of food, even in humble eateries, rarely falls below a decent level. For example, bhalle papdi and dahi vadas come with fresh, thick curd. Following sathvik cuisine rules, most chaats are not sprinkled with chopped onions. However, most foods are calorie-rich. Some are a veritable calorie-bomb, drenched in ghee or laden with cream or butter and loaded with dry fruits. 

After the kachori breakfast, we visited Madan Mohan Temple and the South-Indian style Rang Ji Temple. The latter had a few stalls around selling idli-vadas, but we preferred the region’s real deal — puris with dubkiwale aloo — potato curry spiced with amchoor, cinnamon, black pepper, jeera, chillies, etc, followed by spongy khaman and saffron-topped jalebis.

Two friends ate at ISKCON Temple’s dining hall where they were served delicious sathvik meals — rotis, mildly flavoured curries, dals, rice and kheer.

World of desserts

Tramping through cramped gullies and narrow streets, avoiding countless wandering cows, we found mithai shops. The twin cities have countless sweet-shops, all stacked with sweets. Famous ones include Gosai Pedewala, Brijwasi Mithaiwala and  Shankar Mithaiwala.

The famous Mathura peda, a milk-based sweet, comes in a wide variety of colours, flavours, shapes and range of prices. Brijwasi pedas are legendary. Among other sweet delights are ghewar with a thick layer of dry fruits; rabri and jalebis with a topping of saffron strands and nuts; gujiyas, chenna, khurchan, rasamalai, flaky soan papdi (in cardamom, orange, coconut, and even chocolate flavour), malpua, laddoos, flavoured-milk, etc. Wandering through the lanes and bylanes around Mathura-Vrindavan temples, we found rows of small restaurants, kiosks, stalls and pushcarts selling fast food.

The famous Mathura peda, a milk-based sweet, comes in a wide variety of colours, flavours, shapes and range of prices.
The famous Mathura peda, a milk-based sweet, comes in a wide variety of colours, flavours, shapes and range of prices. 

Dinner was at Vrindavan’s Nidhivan Sarovar Portico Hotel, which is known for authentic local cuisine. We wanted a break from street food, so we feasted on regional specialities — bedmi puri, gravy-rich curries, kadhi, butter-smeared parathas, plump rasagullas, rasamalai and jalebis with dollops of rabri. Explained Praveen Jha, executive chef, Nidhivan Sarovar Portico: “The whole area of Braj is rich with stories of food centered around four items beginning with M, namely milk, makhan, misri and malai.” 

Rich & refined

Next morning, after indulging in masala chai, puris, dhoklas, tikkis and chole-bhature, we visited a food legend. Govardhan Hill was held aloft by Krishna for a week to shelter the Mathura residents from the wrath of thunder-god Indra, during which he missed his eight meals a day (one for each of eight prahars). So, when the calamity passed, grateful Mathuravaasis served him chhappan bhog — 56 delicacies to make up for the 56 missed meals!

By noon, we were thirsty and perspiring. We had countless varieties of lassi to choose from. Vrindavan Special Lassi, Gulab-Kesar Lassi, Mishriyukth Lassi, Masala Lassi, Nimbu-Pudina Lassi, Malai Lassi, seasonal Bhang Lassi, etc., all mostly served in kulhads. Among the best-known lassi speciality shops are Nathoo Lassiwala and Mathurawalo Ki Pracheen Dukaan. 

Lunch was a scrumptious Tripti Restaurant thali in Nidhivan Sarovar Portico where Praveen Jha was telling tourists about temple prasad. “Radha-Vallabh Temple’s khichadi is special and many varieties are served during Khichadi Mahotsav in January. Radha Raman Temple prasad is kuliya made of makhan and misri. There’s a tradition — lunch of kachcha prasad and dinner is pakwaan. Kachcha prasad has preparations without spices such as vegetables, potato dishes, kadhi, rice, phulka. Pakwaan has puri, kachori, dahi vada, dry vegetables, gravy, rabdi, kheer, etc. Chhappan bhog has a variety of sweets, papdi, vegetables, kheer, puri, pheni, murabba, malai, mohan, etc.  It is served in many temples, especially the day after Diwali during Govardhan Puja.”

 

RECIPE

Kheeranand 

Kheeranand
Kheeranand

Ingredients:

Govindbhog Rice: 150 gm

Cow Milk: 1 lt

Sugar: 150 gm

Saffron: Few threads soaked in milk

Almonds: Soaked in water & chopped

Desi ghee: 2 tbsp

Khoya: 1 tbsp

Method:

1.       Wash rice and drain the water. Allow the rice to dry for a while.

2.       Boil milk and allow to simmer.

3.       Heat one tablespoon desi ghee in a pan and sauté rice.

4.       Add the sauteed rice to boiling milk.

5.       Add saffron and khoya and stir well.

6.       Cook until rice until milk is fully absorbed.

7.       Add one tablespoon of desi ghee.

8.       Add sugar and cook on slow fire till it dissolves.

9.       Garnish with pistachio.

(Courtesy: Praveen Jha, executive chef, Nidhivan Sarovar Portico)

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