Dal Batti Churma, a Rajasthani feast

Banwari making bhattis
During Christmas week I was staying at a castle that a friend is renovating in the desert state of Rajasthan in India. Strangely, this seemed the perfect place to be at Christmas. Looking off the ramparts across the village, one could imagine that it was the town of Bethlehem with the low, flat-roofed buildings and muddy lanes running between; with cows, goats and pigs wandering about and camels pulling carts of goods from one place to another.

On New Year's Day we were all invited to lunch at Banwari's farm, a friend of my friend. We planned to get there by camel cart and around noon the camel, his driver and the rustic wooden cart arrived. A great performance followed while the cart was fitted with mattress, bolsters and an embroidered quilt to make a suitably comfortable conveyance for the five of us. Banwari joined us and the camel driver perched on the framework between the cart and the camel with his hand resting lightly on the camel's tail as we bumped down the rocky hill into the village. Voices called out as we passed, Namaste, Namaste (traditional Hindu greeting) and children ran alongside giggling.

As we rode along through fields of vegetables, many hands reached up to us filled with offerings of daikon radishes and other freshly picked local produce. Suddenly what looked like a Kiwi fruit landed in my hands. "Kiwi?" I thought, "Around here?" Then I realized that what I was holding was a camel turd that had popped neatly out of the camel and projected right into my hands! I quickly tossed it overboard and everyone had a good laugh.

IPreparing the mealt was about a half hour ride to Banwari´s farm. When we got there we stopped under a tree which the camel immediately began devouring. Banwari´s wife and sister-in-law were already hard at work by an outdoor fire pit and chula (small clay fireplace) preparing a typical Rajasthani feast, Dal Batti Churma. They retrieved bun size bricks of bread from deep in the coals of a fire fueled by dried cow dung cakes, dusted off the ashes and pounded some of the hard baked bread buns into crumbs with a pestle in a metal bowl. The crumbs would be re-formed into another dish that is part of the meal. A pot of mooli (daikon radish) and mooli greens was bubbling on the chula. We were offered fresh chhach (buttermilk) which I had never tried before, but accepted. It was delicately flavoured with cumin and was delicious.

Enjoying the feastCharpoys (four-legged string beds) were carried way out into an adjoining field under a tree for us to sit on while we were waiting for lunch. It was a beautiful sunny day (as usual) and I sat with my bare feet digging into the warm sandy field. Eventually (nothing happens quickly in India) a woven carpet, several containers of food and a bucket of water were brought out for the picnic. Disposable plates made from banana leaves were handed out with three small banana leaf bowls on each to contain the various goodies. A dal (spicy lentil soup) was served, with two vegetables, a bun of very dense, incredibly delicious bread (the battis), and a millet chapati (flatbread). A big soft ball of churma made from the pounded bread crumbs, sesame seeds, spices and sugar cane syrup was added for dessert. Everything was scrumptious, definitely one of the best meals I have ever had in my life, served in the most exquisite of surroundings. When we were finished, the banana leaf plates were stashed under a nearby bush for some lucky animal to find later. After many thank yous and words of appreciation for the meal, we climbed back into the camel cart and bumped back down the road.

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