Madhya Pradesh’s cuisine is a reflection of its central location. Bound by Bundelkhand and Mewar to the north, Gujarat to the west and Maharashtra to the south, the state has a distinct culture and language, though its cuisine borrows some elements from its neighbours–be it Gujarati kadhi-fafda and khaman (dhokla) and Rajasthani style dal-baati–churma with a twist, to the love for poha stemming from its proximity to Maharashtra. Still, MP has its own set of treats unique to certain places.
If Gwalior has its bedai and Jabalpur its badkul, then Burhanpur is known for its mawa jalebis, maande and daraba. Bhopal has a Chatori Gali (Eat Street), buzzing with food stalls selling kebabs and paaya (trotter soup). But all culinary journeys in M.P. begin in Indore, the imperial city of the Holkars. Despite the local fondness for namkeen (savoury snacks) and charkha (spicy) flavours, Indoris love their sweets. So much so, that poha-jalebi is considered as acceptable as macaroni and cheese.
Breakfast rests on the four pillars of samosa, kachori, poha and jalebi. Chhappan Dukaan, a precinct of 56 shops, mostly food joints, is Indore’s street food centre. Visitors flock to local food legends like Vijay Chaat House and Johnny Hot Dog. By night, the party shifts to Sarafa, where jewellery shops down their shutters at dusk and food stalls reclaim the streets. Locals and tourists alike feast on garadu (deep fried yam), sabudana khichdi, dahi bada, bhutte ka kees, kachori, desi pizzas, pasta and Maggi, besides desserts like mawa-bati, khoprapak (a coconut-based sweet), shrikhand and malpua.
The bustling business hub of Sarafa Bazaar in Indore morphs into an open-air food court every evening.
Here’s a look at 25 typical treats from the region:
Gwalior’s local snack bedai is a puri stuffed with spiced lentils. Every morning, regulars queue up at S.S. Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old shop in Naya Bazaar for bedai, samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. And while you’re on the foodie trail, stop by at Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s legendary ladoos , which had a big patron in former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Jabalpur’s version of a jalebi is made of khoya and arrowroot batter. It is believed that the dark coloured sweet with a spongy texture was invented in 1889 by Harprasad Badkul, after whom it is named.
A specialty from the western MP region of Malwa, khopra patties are golden-hued deep-fried aloo bondas with a stuffing of khopra (grated coconut) and dry fruits like cashews and raisins! Insanely delicious, it’s served with green mint-coriander chutney and red tamarind chutney. Try it at Vijay Chaat House in Indore or Amrit Sweets in Dewas.
Unlike Delhi’s lemonade, the shikanji in MP is a sweet mocktail of reduced milk, dry fruits & spices.
Indore’s shikanji is a thick, milkshake enriched with dry fruits. It is regarded as a concoction created by Nagori Mishthan Bhandar in Bada Sarafa, which still churns out a limited batch daily. Since it is a blend of various ingredients, it is called shikanji (literally ‘mixture’) made from kesar, elaichi, javitri, jaiphal, kishmish, mattha and milk reduced for 12 hours and cooled for another 12 hours before being served cold. Shyam Sharma ji from Beawar in Rajasthan started a small sweet shop 35 years ago and called it Madhuram as he wanted a short and sweet name. Sporting a Krishna medallion, the cheery mustachioed owner, personally ladles out shikanji for visitors. “Aise gatak ke mat peena, ismein alag alag taste khojna!” (Don’t gulp it. Savour it slowly to discover its different hidden flavours). First shrikhand, then rabdi, dry fruit and milk.
A signature sweet from Bhind in Morena, gajak (sesame brittle) is mostly made of roasted sesame or peanuts and cashew, with jaggery and ghee. Gajak is a winter specialty with shops lined with these goodies. In Gwalior, Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar are trusted for their quality products.
Poha is the go-to breakfast and teatime snack across Madhya Pradesh.
Unlike the Maharashtrian style poha, the Indori poha is much lighter with less use of oil and spices. It is topped with sev or mixture, chopped onion and coriander and served with a wedge of lime. Usually paired with hot scrumptious jalebis, you got to try the combo to believe it.
In the winter months, you’ll often see milk being reduced in large vessels outside sweet shops and hot jalebis dunked in it and served. A Khandwa specialty, the town’s famous son Kishore Kumar often longed to leave Bombay and go back to his roots. His common refrain was, “Doodh-jalebi khayenge, Khandwa mein bas jayenge.”
Bhutte ka kees is a popular preparation made of grated corn cooked in ghee and spices.
Across the Malwa region, maize is eaten as bhutte ka kees, made with grated corn (keesna means to ‘grate’), roasted in ghee and cooked in milk with spices. Sarafa Bazaar in Indore is the place to have it.
Corn is also used to make paniya or maize flour cakes, sandwiched between aak ka patta (leaves of Calotropis gigantea) and cooked on an open fire of dried cowpat. Best enjoyed at Hotel Gurukripa in Mandu, paniya is slightly bigger and flatter than a bafla, but served with the same accompaniments – dal, sabzi. onion and chutneys.
Baafla being grilled at Sai Palace Hotel near Mangalnath Temple in Ujjain.
The traditional bread is bafla, a small ball of wheat dough. The bafla is typically boiled in water, roasted over dung cakes on an iron griddle and dunked in ghee. It is served as a thali meal with dal, kadhi, aloo sabzi and chutneys of garlic and coriander, often rounded off with laddoos. At Hotel Sai Palace near Mangalnath temple in Ujjain, turbaned stewards serve an unlimited meal for Rs. 200.
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