Another popular local delicacy, chakki ki shaak is made of steamed wheat dough cooked in a curd-based gravy. Tapu, a local variety of wheat, is also used to make sweet cakes that are used in religious occasions and festivities.
While kachoris are popular all over the country, in Indore it’s stuffed not with spiced lentils, but with batla (green pea). The best place to have it is Vijay Chaat House, started in 1969 by Dayashankar Thakar of Surat. Their flagship shop D. Harishankar Dhanjibhai Bhajiyawala has been running in Surat since 108 years.
Sev is a savoury noodle-shaped snack made from chickpea flour paste seasoned with spices, sieved and deep-fried in oil. It is of varied thickness and is consumed as a stand-alone snack across MP or as a garnish on poha, mixtures or chaats like bhel puri and sev puri. Each region has its flavour variants–from Ratlami sev to finer Ujjaini sev. In Ratlam, you get long (clove) flavoured sev while in Indore, the lasuniya (garlic) flavoured sev is the rage. Shops sell a mind-boggling assortment of sev: palak (spinach), tamatar (tomato), dhaniya-pudina (coriander-mint) and hing (asafoetida).
Unlike regular jalebis, the Burhanpur jalebi is made of mawa and is quite popular at food stalls stretching from Bohri Mohalla to Minara Masjid in Mumbai or Mominpura in Nagpur during Ramzan. Thick and chewy, some add arrowroot to bulk it up, but it is best enjoyed fresh in its city of origin at Burhanpur Jalebi Centre.
Sabudana or pearl sago is used to make khichdi (though its consistency is not like porridge but drier like poha or upma). At Indore’s Sarafa bazaar, Sanvariya Seth mixes the sago pearls by hand, tossing in some chopped onions, coriander, chilli, lime juice and sev.
Malwa’s ancient capital Mandu is home to giant baobab trees, gifted by the Caliphs of Egypt to the sultans of Mandu sometime in the 14th century. Locally, it is called Khorasani imli (tamarind from Khorasan, ancient Persia) and makes a good souring agent for curries like imli ki kadhi. It is deseeded and sold in packets by local vendors, along with other seeds, barks and agro produce.
The region of Khandesh is legendary for its maande (roomali rotis), hand stretched and tossed with flourish at roadside stalls. The workers dexterously fling the rotis on to the upturned tava and then to the take-away counter, where it is neatly folded into rectangles and taken home.
Burhanpur’s signature sweet is daraba, made of sugar, semolina and ghee whipped together into a fluffy consistency. The word daraba could be derived from the act of beating. Local INTACH convener and owner of Hotel Ambar, Hoshang Havildar, says the sweet used to be really soft and smooth earlier. “Isey ghoy ghot ke, ghot ghot ke banate the (They used to beat it for hours). It was so fine, if you touched it to your eye, you wouldn’t feel a thing.” Sold at Milan Sweets, it is relished during the annual Balaji ka Mela on the banks of the Tapti river.
Another Gujarati touch, fafda (chickpea flour crackers) is typically served with kadhi or buttermilk based curry. Locals swarm shops like Shri Balaji Chaat Corner in Indore, dipping their fafdas in the tangy curry and biting into fried green chillis.
While khaman (or dhokla as it is better known) is universally loved, in western Madhya Pradesh it is also available in a fried version and sprinkled with chaat masala. While regular khaman is made from besan, for the fried version only Surti khaman, made from chana dal, is used as it is firmer and handles deep frying much better.
In Mandu and its surrounding regions, there’s a giant cucumber called baalam kakdi, which is served with salt, chilli and lime. Unlike regular cucumbers, it is lemon green in colour with a soft, fleshy pulp and a texture that’s more like steamed squash.
Similar to a stuffed gulab jamun, the mawa-based dough is filled with mawa, dry fruits and nuts, deep-fried till brown and lightly soaked in sugar syrup. Sometimes, it is dusted with desiccated coconut powder.
If Delhi loves its aloo chaat in winters, Indore goes weak-kneed for garadu, a tuber from the yam or sweet potato family. Cut into cubes and deep fried, it is sprinkled with chaat masala and a dash of lime before being devoured by locals.
Another local specialty is a sooty country chicken called ‘Kadaknath’. Charcoal black in colour, its blood is believed to be dark and even its skin tone is purple-grey. A connoisseur’s delight, this extremely rare fowl is sold at twice the price of a regular country chicken. However, it is not available on regular restaurant menus and patrons must procure it before it can be prepared.
Richard Holkar, royal scion of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, renovated the queen’s royal seat Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar and revived its weaving and cultural traditions. A gourmand, he also authored Cooking of the Maharajas in 1975 and often joins his guests for conversations over a drink or meals. His creation, the legendary Batteesee chutney is a secret recipe involving as many as 32 ingredients.