They once flocked to Northern India for the Taj Mahal, now visitors come for the authentic recipes, says Joanna Sugden


With two gas rings, a concrete worktop and no sink, the small lilac kitchen in Udaipur doesn’t look like the most popular attraction in India’s answer to Venice. But the backpackers and holidaymakers beating a path to its door tell a different story.

They are here for Shashi’s cooking class. If you believe TripAdvisor, this is the “number one tour” in the Rajasthani city of breathtaking lakes and palaces.

Shashi Sanadhya, the widow who runs the classes in her two-room home, washed clothes for a living until three years ago. Then some Irish tourists who befriended her two sons asked her to teach them a few curries and encouraged her to go into business. Now the 45-year-old is capitalising on the growing trend for cookery tourism.

Sanadhya teaches travellers to make north Indian dishes and breads in her little brick kitchen that opens out on to the streets made famous by Roger Moore in Octopussy. And despite working seven days a week giving two five-hour lessons a day, the indefatigable cook often has more pupils than she can accommodate.

Our class of four — a Canadian couple recently engaged at the Taj Mahal, a New York lawyer on a cycle tour of India and me — are the latest to fall under her spell. Huddled around her coffee table on plastic chairs, we’re listening to Sanadhya in her turmeric-coloured sari explaining the character of north Indian cuisine.

“Wheat flour more, rice less. Coconut oil just for hair in the north not for cooking. In south people are eating coconut oil,” Shashi says, using her hands to elaborate broken English. “Indians not using much cream,” she tells us. “You eating cream and feeling heavy, this one is light. Cashew nut powder making rich gravy; not cream.”

Chastened for our love of spicy saturated fat, we move to the kitchen where we’re put to work crushing ginger, cardamom and black pepper for masala chai, a sweet aromatic milky tea and the fuel on which Indians run. Coriander, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, all for the vegetable pilau, arrive chopped and diced by Shashi’s son Ashish.

Sanadhya tells us some of her Indian kitchen secrets: hard tomatoes are best for curry; a pinch of bicarbonate of soda helps chickpeas to cook faster; good dough is the key to a great chapati. During the five-hour lesson, which costs 500 rupees (£6.50), we learn to make squashy naan bread topped with cheese and tomato and how to spin a roti (Indian flat bread) on a hotplate.

But the most captivating thing about the class is the way Sanadhya blends her own story into the lesson. While learning the recipe for the perfect pakora, we hear a tale of arranged marriage, a husband murdered by his business partner leaving two young children and a widow who can never remarry because of the rules of her Brahmin cast. It’s an insight into Indian family intrigue that can’t be gained at the forts and palaces of Rajasthan.

More than three quarters of a million British tourists visited India in 2010, and that number is on the rise. Many are lured by the promise of a stunning variety of dishes with aromas and flavours as exotic as the country’s architecture and wildlife. Increasing numbers want to learn to cook like a local while they’re here.

Alex Mead, editor of Food and Travel Magazine, estimates that, globally, the number of destinations offering cookery courses has grown threefold in the past 18 months. “Everyone is trying to get in on it,” he says, “every hotel you go to will offer you something so that you can make the local dishes.” Leaving the little lilac kitchen, we cross paths with the next group of tourists. Izzy Wayling and her boyfriend Matt Jonns, both 23 and from East London, are looking for culinary souvenirs. “It’s something to bring back with us, to recreate,” Izzy says. They’ve just come from Jaipur, the pink city and capital of Rajasthan, where I head next to cook with a family from the warrior Rajput caste.

Divya Singh began offering cooking classes when tourists visiting her home to eat traditional food wanted to know how to cook the dishes she served.

“Now in Europe you have the Indian stores where all the ingredients are so easily available but people don’t necessarily know what to do with them,” Singh, 36, tells me while we chop onions on her rooftop terrace.

The Singh family has lived on this site for 285 years, as long as there has been a city in Jaipur. So I’m trying not to burn the place down as Singh tells me to place an aubergine smeared in oil and punctured with garlic on to a naked gas flame.

In our three-hour lesson (£32 with dinner), we’re making fired aubergine, a Rajasthani speciality with a chargrilled, buttery, garlicky flavour and a spicy aroma that fills the large kitchen as we mash the aubergine flesh into fried onion, chilli, coriander and turmeric.

“There’s a definite order of spices but one family’s curry will be different from another, it is passed down from mother to daughter,” says Singh, who runs four or five classes a week, up from four or five a month when she started 11 years ago. “A lot of people ask if we have a curry powder in our spice box. It’s a big misconception. There is no curry powder,” she says. “They are putting a lot of spices together and fooling a person. The curry is the gravy which is made by putting together onion, garlic, ginger and the dry spices.”

On the next gas ring my husband, Andrew, is making what look like Pizza Express dough balls but are in fact baati, oily wheat dough discs cooked in a flame tandoor (stove-top oven) and dipped in clarified butter or ghee. Alongside curried lentils — Dal Baati — they are served at special occasions such as Holi , the spring harvest festival, which this year falls on March 8 and 9.

We sit down to eat in the grand surroundings of the Singhs’ drawing room around a traditional Rajasthani low-slung silver-plated table. It’s a long way from Shashi’s coffee table in Udaipur but the food tastes just as satisfying, fresh and authentic. Even if we did make it ourselves.


This article is originated from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jaipurfect-2md9hmn7ws8

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